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It seems that every dough recipe that I try ends up needing more liquid than the recipe calls for. This applies to pasta dough as well as bread dough. I don't think I've made but one recipe where the ingredients worked out.

Typically, I'm using a recipe from something like a youtube video, so I know what the dough should look like. Theirs might be soft and pliable, where mine "tears" when I try to knead it and won't come together.

I occasionally have to add flour, but mostly I end up adding water which makes a slimy mess on my hand till it absorbs into the dough. I'd like to get the amount correct from the get go. I know that the amount of required liquid can vary with certain factors, like cooking times varying at different elevations, but it shouldn't be a problem where I live. I'm just tired of trying a recipe and following the directions to the letter, only to find out my dough needs more water.

Am I going to have to deal with this every time I make a dough recipe and write down my adjustments for the next time? Is there enough liquid there and I just need to let it absorb into the flour? What do you think is going on? I do realize that recipes usually need a little tweaking, but I don't run into this consistent problem with any other recipe I make.

EDIT: I live in the South East, USA. One recipe example is the one off of youtube.com from 'America's Test Kitchen' that if for pasta. I can't remember the recipe exactly, I don't even think it calls for water, just eggs and flour, but the issue with too little liquid happens every time I make it. If I can find a bread recipe that calls for water, I've used, I'll post it as well.

Edit: (5/12/2015) I tried to make a recipe I had for Ryan's Rolls. It wanted 1 cup of water and 1/4 cup of honey for the liquid and wanted me to add 3 cups of flour and use the paddle attachment till it came together in a sticky mass, then add an additional 1 cup of flour. I did as instructed, and while it was a sticky mass, I'm not sure it came together in the way they were thinking. I went to add the additional flour and knew it wouldn't take it all, so I added half a cup. It was so dry I took a 1/2 cup of water and added it a little at a time. The dough finally started to do right, but was very tough. I ended up having to stop the kitchen aid a few times and kneed by had to help pull it together. It was easier to work after resting a couple of hours, but my rolls still ended up with weird layers where I was kneading and it wasn't coming together, because it was overly dry and/or tough, and that was leaving out flour and adding almost 1/3rd again the liquid. I also pulled out my scale for this and measured everything by weight to get it exactly right. It's a good example of what I was talking about.

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    Where are you in the world? Where are the recipes from? Could you post one you are using? – GdD May 7 '15 at 15:19
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    How are you measuring the flour? If using volume (eg, cups) instead of weight (grams, ounces), how you measure can make a huge difference with flour. – Joe May 7 '15 at 15:31
  • I edited my post to include where I am. I included where you can find one recipe I use and I'll try add one where the liquid is water. I typically measure my flour in a measuring cup. I do have a scale, and I use it, but most recipes are by cups and not weight. I could make the calculation and try it, but I tend to follow the recipes and use the measurements they call for. @GdD – Dalton May 7 '15 at 20:27
  • If you're using an America's Test Kitchen recipe, most - if not all - of their recipes are by weight, particularly for things like this. The Cook's Illustrated (same company as ATK) recipe for egg pasta is 10 oz (2 cups) unbleached all purpose flour and 3 eggs. That's it. – Catija May 7 '15 at 21:43
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    I am very surprised by your last addition. 3.5 cups flour and 1 cup water make 57% hydration, which is quite standard (classic French bread is 60% hydration), and the honey should have made it even softer. You say you used a scale - what were your exact weights? – rumtscho May 13 '15 at 12:38
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There are at least four likely causes that could be factors:

  1. I'd say the most common problem for your issue is measurement error. If you aren't measuring flour by weight, it's nearly impossible to be consistent. And many recipe sources will assume different methods for measuring flour by volume. You could use the "spoon and level" method where you use a tablespoon or something to gradually add flour loosely to your measuring cup and then level off with a knife or straightedge. You could use the "scoop and sweep" method where you stick the entire measuring cup into the flour and sweep it against the edge of the bag or bin of flour to level it. The latter one will pack the flour more and result in more flour per cup. Or, you might not be leveling the flour at all, or shaking it off until it's roughly level. You could be packing the flour in tight or scooping it from a tightly settled bag, or you could be using flour that was loose after being poured or even put through a sifter to aerate it further.

    In any case, different volume measuring techniques can produce an error of 30% or more in flour measurement, which can make the difference between a dough that's stiff and dry vs. a dough that's so sticky you can't handle it. Most recipes that use volume measurements assume either a "spoon and level" or "scoop and sweep" method. If your source doesn't specify, try using a measurement method that won't pack the flour down as much -- which might solve your dry dough problem.

  2. As already mentioned by ElendilTheTall, flours can vary significantly in terms of the amount of water they absorb. There's the issue of type: high-gluten vs. bread flour vs. "all-purpose" vs. pastry vs. cake. If you are using a high-protein/high-gluten flour like bread flour but the recipe requests all-purpose, your flour will likely absorb too much water. Similarly, some brands of flour are made from harder or softer wheats, even they are all termed "all-purpose." In the U.S., for example, King Arthur all-purpose will absorb more water than Gold Medal all-purpose, and both will absorb a lot more than "southern" all-purpose flours like White Lily. Flours in other countries may vary in their processing and content in other ways (ash content, extraction, milling size, etc.). And even flours from the same company will vary by batch, age, etc.

    In general, try using the type of flour recommended by the recipe. If that isn't working, you might consider a different brand, a "softer flour," or simply use less.

  3. Kitchen environment can make a big difference, particularly temperature and humidity. Flour will absorb or lose moisture over time when stored in conditions with changing humidity. Dough will also absorb or lose moisture at different rates depending on your kitchen conditions. Thus, even if you measure flour by weight, you can sometimes see significant discrepancies from batch to batch. If you're using recipes that were designed in a place which was much more humid than your kitchen, it could explain some differences in outcome.

  4. Bad recipes. It's perhaps obvious, but if you've mostly been using one or two sources for recipes, it's possible that there are consistent errors or problems. (Or, it's possible that the cookbooks/chefs/sources assume specific measuring techniques, flour types, etc. from what you're using.)

Regardless of what the problem is, if you're noticing a consistent error, then the most obvious solution is to try to quantify how big that error is, and then plan for it. For example, try reducing your flour measurement in every recipe by 10%, and see what happens. As you point out, it's often more annoying to add water to a dough than to add flour, so it's better to start out a bit moist and continue adding flour until you get the right texture.

If the error is consistent, and you can always fix it by reducing your amounts by X proportion, you've solved the issue. The alternative is to consider the various potential causes I mentioned above and see whether you can vary them until you find a solution.

  • Thanks for the answers. Just to answer a few of the points, I get recipes from multiple different cooking sites and a lot from youtube. I always use the type of flour called for, but probably not the same brand (ie: all-purpose, self-rising, etc...). What you suggested about cutting back on the flour is actually what I've been doing. I'll add most of the called for flour, but I'll cut back and add the rest if it looks like it needs it. I try to go for the look andfeel the cook talks about if they do. I just worry about over kneeding and that kind of thing. I don't like to go too far off recipe – Dalton May 7 '15 at 20:33
  • @Dalton - Just to briefly respond to your edit of the question - you mentioned a pasta recipe which only includes eggs. Pasta dough can be VERY tough, depending on the recipe. I've made recipes involving only flour and eggs, and sometimes it seems like I'm kneading a hard, dry dough ball. Most bread doughs should NOT be like that, though. (Bagel doughs might be one exception, though even they aren't usually as tough as pasta dough.) – Athanasius May 8 '15 at 13:10
  • That was just the only recipe I could remember off the top of my head. The others were bread dough recipes, though, such as baugettes, hamburger buns, and others. – Dalton May 8 '15 at 15:09
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Different flours have different levels of absorption. I'm in the UK, and whenever I use a US recipe for bread, I always, without fail, have to use considerably more water in order to get a proper consistency. Absorption will vary between brands and even between batches within brands. Baking with flour (especially baking bread) is part science, part art, and part experience.

  • The wheat cultivars/species (winter, spring, red, white, hard, soft...) used for flours of a certain type seem to differ between the US and Europe... – rackandboneman May 7 '15 at 15:58
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I always buy King Arthur flour. I had some whole wheat flour stored out in the garage through cold and heat. It was 5 months past expiration, but it smelled OK, so I started making loaves of bread with it. Same recipe, flour, and measuring technique as always (scoop and level), but I had to add an extra 1/4 cup of water to every loaf.

I just go by feel and appearance of the dough. As much water as I can add without the dough getting too sticky (smearing around the stem of the paddle), and a smooth look, not shaggy. It's a lot easier to use a bread machine. Just watch the dough as the machine kneads. If you can tell right away that the dough is way too dry, you can add some water immediately, but don't put in the final amount until after the rest period (where the flour absorbs water), especially for whole wheat.

I guess my flour dried out a lot with temperatures in the 90's, even though the paper sacks were enclosed in plastic bags. But if you get a bread machine, you don't have to worry. It will be slimy when you first add water, but you won't feel it! You won't have to worry about figuring out the exact amount of water in advance. You just stand there and look at the dough, give it a push with your finger, and then add a tablespoon of water if needed, waiting for it to be absorbed before adding more.

I only use the machine for kneading. The dough is not always risen enough before it starts baking in a machine. I also don't like the oddly shaped loaves of a machine. You can get new old stock of bread machines on ebay rather cheaply. Somebody got one for Christmas, never used it, then cleans out the attic years later.

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