Baker’s Nightmare: Spot Overworked Dough|Save That Recipe

Here’s how to recognize and understand overworked dough and what it actually feels like.

What Does Overworked Dough Look Like?

Here’s what overworked dough looks like, in some instances, sometimes it will look very wet, and sticky and be super smooth to the point where it just looks stringy. It will start to stick everywhere in the bowl and it will be hard to knead and form. It will be very hard to form into a ball or any shape.

When you try to stretch it wouldn’t hold its form and it will just snap and keep on breaking. When the dough is overworked it’s very noticeable and it’s hard to miss because you’ll notice that the dough is no longer easy to work with and you won’t be able to get the shape that you’re looking for. 

There is so much more to dough and will talk more about how you know the dough is overhydrated and what to do to fix it.

How Do You Know That The Dough Is Overhydrated?

The dough is overhydrated when it is wet or there’s not enough kneading done to create gluten which creates the form and structure of the dough. It does help to continue to fold the dough where necessary until you get a smooth surface. There is an option to add more flour to the dough if the dough is still wet despite kneading the dough.

But there’s a risk of the dough becoming dense once baked. If your dough is very wet it is recommended to bake the dough as is and eat it as a flatbread or toss it and start all over again. The over-hydrated dough is usually very sticky and it’s hard to work with especially if you are a beginner. If your flour is low quality that plays a part in how well the flour handles liquid. The higher quality the flour, the better it handles hydration.

What Would Happen If You Overworked The Dough?

Here’s what happens when you overwork the dough. The dough loses its elasticity and it will break more often. The elasticity in the dough is what allows the leavening ingredients to help the bread rise. Without this it causes the bread not to bake and rise properly.

When the gluten in your dough is overworked too much the dough will start to be too rubbery. There is an option to leave it for 30 minutes and try to re-work it again but it isn’t guaranteed. Note, that it’s very hard to overwork your dough especially if done by hand. This happens if you are using an electric mixer and you mix it for too long.

Can You Save Overworked Dough?

It is possible to save overworked dough by adding more flour, mixing it and then letting it sit for a bit and reassessing your dough to see if it has got back some of its form. But it’s not guaranteed sometimes it’s hard to get back the form and you may need to just bake as is.

The temperature of your current environment can play a huge role in the hydration of your dough. If it’s very warm where you are you may need to use more flour than the ingredients suggests in order to get the right dough consistency. 

Here are a few things to keep in mind when making your dough.

It isn’t necessary to knead your dough for an excessive amount of time. You just need to knead it enough until smooth, has form and the ingredients are combined.

You don’t need a lot of flour to keep your dough from sticking to the counter you just need to dust the flour on the counter.

If your dough is nicely formed and tight and has a nice stretch then all of a sudden it becomes sticky and starts breaking. That’s your sign to stop kneading your dough and you have gone too far. You may need to try the recommendations mentioned above or just start over again. 

Here’s how you should handle your dough

  1. When you’re kneading your dough it should be gentle, you don’t need to be rough with it. If every time you fold your dough and it’s breaking apart, it means that you’re working it too hard. Be gentle.
  2. Tap your dough on the counter to break any bubbles.
  3. Then gently fold your dough while it’s in a lump to start creating that smooth surface. The goal here when folding is not to have it break but fold it as far as possible.
  4. Then flip your dough on the other side so you can repeat. Fold etc.

If you want to get better at working your dough read this article to get more out of your dough.

Is Overworked Dough Sticky?

Dough that is sticky doesn’t always necessarily mean that it is overworked. Sometimes it may just need more flour. Letting your dough sit for a while before kneading can make all the difference. Sometimes it just takes a while for the water to fully absorb. When you first combine the ingredients at first the dough is going to be sticky. 

But leaving it to sit for 30 minutes or so will make the dough less sticky. Then from there, you would start stretching and folding your dough and kneading the dough until the dough has developed gluten. 

Here are a few things to look out for when you have sticky dough. 

Look at the type of flour used. If the flour is not high in protein you may find that your dough is stickier. In most recipes, adding a little more flour and then mixing the dough again is all you need to do if your dough feels too sticky. It is perfectly normal because the person that created the recipe is probably using a different flour type and the amount of flour it required was right for them.

From there you will assess your dough again. Is it too soft? Is it a nice squishy roundball or is it too hard and dry? You may need to add more water. But it’s important to do it in small amounts. You don’t want to do too much and then mess up the dough to the point where it’s hard to control and get it back to a point where the gluten is perfectly developed in the dough. 

It is possible to knead sticky dough, with enough folding eventually the dough won’t be as sticky. Sometimes using oil or water on your fingertips helps the dough not stick too much so it’s easy to handle. 

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