Why You're Not Happy with the Bread You Make (and the instant fix)

Moroccans seal the lids on their tagines with this, infant school kids use it as an improv glue - flour and water, mix ‘em together and much stickiness results. Splodge, plop, gloop.

We all know this, almost intuitively perhaps, so what is it that makes us forget?

Take out your bread making recipe and get stuck in, and very quickly you’re going to be up to your wrists in it. Splodge, plop, gloop. Dough is sticky.

At the beginning of the pandemic my eldest daughter texted me for a simple breadmaking recipe (she was filling out her lockdown time wisely, eh…). And she obviously set to in the kitchen pretty quickly, shooting a text straight back at me: “Is it meant to be this sticky?!”

Absolutely it is.

Flour and water, mix them together... Splodge, plop, gloop. It’s inevitable. And you kind of know it. And so, what we lack in familiarity of the breadmaking process we can make up for in developing some faith that if the recipe we are using is reliable and we have followed it accurately, then that’s how this particular dough should be at this stage in the process.

Faith that over the next 45 minutes or so (or 10-12 minutes if we’re kneading) the initial stickiness will transform to a coherent elasticity as the gluten unfailingly develops in your (now much less sticky) dough.

It’s the classic schoolboy error in the home baker’s kitchen and the No.1 hurdle at which we stumble as beginners: throwing flour at the dough in an attempt to alleviate that initial stickiness and make it more manageable. Yet all we are doing is fundamentally changing a perfectly good recipe, turning a potentially vital and fluid dough… into clay. And when we put clay in the oven what we then take out is a brick. (Which we then eat in solitude as the rest of the family tucks into the industrial loaf - the whole reason we embarked on this infernally frustrating endeavour in the first place. I know, I’ve been there, man... I’ve been there.)

Wetter is better, goes the artisan baking sectors’ slogan. Splodge, plop, gloop. Have faith that all is well with your dough. Resist adding more flour.

And before you know it you’ll be baking amazing bread in your very own kitchen.