We have all been there before: You allow your dough to bulk ferment on the counter for a few hours, when it is time to shape the dough, you find a blob of sticky and lax sourdough! Nothing is more disappointing when you’ve been looking forward to fresh homemade bread.
Unfortunately, a sticky and lax sourdough can happen all too easily. It does not happen often for me, but every once in a while my dough just doesn’t turn out! I experienced a very sad sticky sourdough just last week and it was quite disheartening. Fortunately, I was able to turn things around, it is important to have a few tricks up your sleeve for when your sourdough is not cooperating.
Why doesn’t sourdough hold shape sometimes?
This can happen for many reasons but one of the main symptoms is a lack of proper gluten development. Gluten development is essential to a light, springy sourdough. Here are a few reasons your gluten may not be developing properly:
Your starter is not active enough
If your starter is not bubbly and active, the dough will not rise. This is the most common reason for a lack of gluten development. How can you achieve an active starter? Read my blog about how to get an active, bubbly sourdough starter here.
Skipping the Autolyse
Skipping the autolyse can impact your dough. Autolysing your dough gives it time to rest before being stretched and allows the flour to hydrate.
Your stretch and folds are not working
Stretching and folding the dough is vital to gluten development! When the dough is stretched, it becomes more elastic and less sticky. With proper gluten development, you will see dough that holds shape and is almost bouncy to the touch. If you suspect that this technique is affecting the outcome of your dough, you might want to watch a few tutorials on stretch and fold techniques to brush up on your technique and or try doing coil folds.
Supplies you will need for sticky sourdough
-I prefer to use stone to bake because I find the bread to bake more evenly.
~to score your dough. This is the one I use and love!
~for bulk fermenting your dough
A Baker with Lid
I love to use beeswax wrap to cover my bread while fermenting
Temperature may be affecting your dough
Temperature always affects my dough. I live in an old home with very funky temperature changes. In the summer, my dough can get very warm and easily become over proved. In the wintertime, I struggle to get a rise from my dough because the house can be too cool. If you think temperature may be affecting your dough, you can try a few things:
To achieve warmer dough:
Place dough in the oven with only the light on
Place dough near an air vent releasing warm air
Place dough near your fireplace or woodburning stove
Place dough where afternoon sun will find it. For my house, there are a few western-facing windows where winter afternoon sun pours in and will gently warm my dough.
To achieve cooler dough:
Place dough near an air vent releasing AC
Place dough in a cool corner of the house, this is usually not in the kitchen, but in a closet or bathroom
Place dough under a towel damp with cool water
What to do with a sticky sourdough?
Do not panic or throw away your dough. I know you are feeling very annoyed right now, but it is important not to lose hope! You can still enjoy your bread, but it might be a little different than intended.
Do not add flour
Never add flour after the bulk fermentation, it will change the chemistry of your dough and will not solve the problem.
Do not continue to bake as usual
Technically, you can do this, but if you do, your bread will not be able to hold its shape and will be very flat and dense.
How to still enjoy your sticky sourdough:
Turn underdeveloped dough into sandwich bread
Once you discover your dough is not holding shape, gently transfer it to an oiled bread stone and allow it to rise for a few hours before baking as usual. The walls of the loaf stone will give structure to the dough, allowing it to rise in the oven.
Make impromptu sourdough muffins
Gently turn out your sticky dough and divide it into small pieces suitable to fit in a muffin mold. Now is a great time to add dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, or any other muffin flavorings you prefer. Place each piece in a muffin cup and allow to rise for a few hours or overnight before baking!