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My wife created her own sour dough starter. She’s been feeding it unbleached white flour. It’s doing great. When she is making her dough during the first step she is using a recipe that calls for bread flour and whole wheat flour. However we don’t have bread flour so we are using all purpose flour.

She’s rested the dough a few times and when she is trying to work it in the preshaping step the dough is really wet and doesn’t seem to have good surface tension. She keeps adding flour to try to dry it out.

The dough basically is just flat on the counter...

What are we doing wrong? Do we need to adjust the recipe for the all purpose flour? Or work the dough differently?

update I did more research and Cook’s Illustrated suggested holding the salt temporarily for 15 minutes. Salt hinders autolyse. They found that delaying salt hastened gluten development by an hour.

ratios/recipe
400 g warm water
100 g sour dough starter
400 g bread flour (which we don’t have)
100 g whole wheat flour
Rest for 60 min
add 10g salt and 10g water
Repeat following 3x:
Then stretch and fold, etc.
Rest 60 min

After this the dough was as described in my post.

  • Don't add flour. Use wet hands. – J... May 27 at 16:56
  • I think the ideal way to compare some of the suggested solutions would be to make two different ratios at the same time and see how they turn out at the end. The bread that my wife made which led to this post actually tuned out pretty good. She baked it in a small cast iron so the bread could not flatten out during baking. :) – milesmeow May 28 at 8:05
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(I am assuming your starter is at 100% hydration, i.e., that it is half water, half flour. I am also assuming you have no/little experience in baking bread. Please correct me if wrong.)

Looking at your ratios, you have a total of 460g water (400g as water, 50g in the starter, 10g with the salt) to a total of 550g flour (including 50g from the starter). This gives you an overall hydration of just over 83%, which is definitely a wetter dough. Handling wet dough is not easy. I think there might not be anything wrong with your dough itself (although see below), and you just need to get more experience working with wetter doughs.

One thing that may make the dough wetter than the recipe assumes: both bread flour and (especially) whole wheat flour absorb more water than AP flour. Substituting AP flour for the bread flour is not going to make a huge difference, but still might make the dough wetter than is expected.

My advice: lower the hydration to somewhere in the 65%-70% range (i.e., replace the 400g water with 297g-325g). Learn to handle this dough (this might take a few trials), then start increasing the hydration.

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    None of the grocery stores in my area are carrying bread flour so I have resorted to using AP. My dough is definitely wetter and I cut back on the water for that reason. – Rob May 27 at 9:29
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You don't state how you are handling the dough from the autolyse through the pre-shaping. It sounds to me like you are lacking in gluten strength. So, after the autolyse, what is your kneading regimen? When I make sour dough, especially with high hydration formulas, the initial kneading serves an important role. So, whether you are using a mechanical mixer, or doing slap and fold, a solid 8 - 10 minutes is necessary. It is often a sticky mess at the beginning, but as the gluten develops things get easier. Then, 30 minute rest, followed by a set of slap and folds, followed by a 30 minute rest. This usually happens 4 times. Avoid the urge to add more flour in these steps. Let the process, and time, do the work. Then, rest for the remainder of bulk fermentation. The suggestion of trying a slightly lower hydration until you get the feel for things is a good one. However, given your description, I think an important improvement to make is the development of the gluten structure in your dough. It should work just fine with AP flour.

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  • OP states they perform a 60 minute autolyse, followed by three "stretch and folds", which sounds like they are following a 'no knead' method. Even with high hydration doughs, such a method can work fine. – LSchoon May 27 at 13:23
  • @LSchoon thanks for pointing that out, but it doesn't address the initial kneading or stretch and fold step as I describe it, which I have found especially helpful with high hydration dough. – moscafj May 27 at 13:30
  • My point is that you do not need to go through 10 minutes of kneading or slap and folds several times to develop enough gluten for the dough to hold together. – LSchoon May 27 at 13:37
  • @LSchoon ...just sharing my experience. I have found it extremely useful, especially in high hydration dough. I feel even more strongly about it given the lack of high protein flour, and the description of the issue the OP is facing in this situation. – moscafj May 27 at 13:57

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