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Often, doughs (be it quickbread, enriched yeast bread or cake doughs based on these) turn out too dry or wet in home baking practice, be it by temperature issues, measurement imprecisions, properties of local ingredients, wrong assumptions. A typical response is adding liquid (same as originally added, or maybe even just milk or water if all available wet ingredient mix is already used up) or flour when discovering the problem. Since that means adding these ingredients into an already hydrated dough or even a partially built gluten structure, it is obvious that there will be differences in outcome vs a dough that has been mixed to a perfect ratio from the beginning.

What additions, in what amount/at what time in a mixing/kneading process, cause what change in final texture is confusing. Gross deviations in ratio are obvious (the dough is swimming/immersed in liquid, or sitting in dry flour, or falling apart because of layers of dry flour), my question is more about the range where a usable result is still made.

Are there documented experience values on WHAT these changes in outcome will be? On the other hand, can these effects ever be used for a textural advantage?

  • An answer would probably depend a lot on the type of dough - you should never forget that some doughs are quite tolerant, others extremely sensitive as far as ratios and handling / kneading is concerned. – Stephie Oct 19 '16 at 12:08
  • Specifying the type of dough is difficult because the problem most often strikes when building, not following a recipe :) – rackandboneman Oct 19 '16 at 13:05
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    I think this is too broad, it's more like 4 questions than one. It's also not clear what is being asked. What are documented experience values, for example. – GdD Oct 20 '16 at 9:27
  • I agree with too broad - I had hoped for some restrictions after my first comment. And even if working from scratch I believe that a cook / baker has at least an idea what kind of dough they are aiming for. – Stephie Oct 20 '16 at 11:22
  • Shall post restrictions when I've found the right words :) – rackandboneman Oct 20 '16 at 11:26
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The effect that adding flour or water after initial mixing will vary depending on what you are trying to build. Different techniques leverage different properties of flour, water, and fat and so will behave differently.

The differences come down to fat and protein. I'm sure you know that wheat flour contains proteins (glutenin and gliadin) that, when mixed with water, form stretchy gluten.

In biscuits, quick breads, cakes, etc., the stretchiness of gluten is very undesirable and the techniques focus on minimizing it.
The biscuit method is cutting fat into the flour and then mixing the liquid in very briefly. The lack of agitation minimizes the gluten formation.
The muffin method involves beating sugar and fat and then mixing in the flour and liquid. The sugar makes the fat fluffy which is vital to the texture. The large amount of fat coats the flour and prevents it from mixing with water.

Bread dough is completely the opposite. Gluten makes bread what it is. The more gluten the better. Flour is mixed with water and either kneaded or allowed to sit in the fridge for a long time to maximize gluten. Fat is sometimes used for flavor or to soften the bread but it is mixed in completely.

The implications:

For doughs that rely on minimizing gluten by minimizing mixing, adding more flour or liquid is undesirable.
Adding the flour a little at a time means that it will have a lot of time to be kneaded and the product will be much tougher.
A good example is the second rolling of a batch of biscuits. The first rolling is always lighter and fluffier and when the scraps are rolled out again, the dough forms more gluten and the second set of biscuits are tougher and don't rise as much.

For doughs that distract the gluten with fat adding more is fine within reason.
Mixing will create more gluten but if it is still coated with fat it won't be too bad. It is bad if the ratio of fat to flour is thrown off. I can't tell you how far off you can get and still have a good product.

With bread doughs, flour and water can be added at any time and still be good.
The problem is purely mechanical. It's easy to add water to flour. It's easy to add flour to bread dough. It's hard to add water to bread dough- the water just splashes around and it takes a while to get it integrated.
When kneading bread by hand, it is good to start with too little flour because adding water is so difficult. In a mixer it's not so bad because it's doing the work and the mess is contained.

Remember that flour and water have almost no flavor and adding too much will dilute the flavor of the product. Even in cases where the flour itself provides much of the flavor, as with yeast risen bread, there won't be enough salt. How much you can dilute the recipe with flour depends entirely on the recipe and your own personal preference.

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