Working very wet dough
I haven’t been baking bread nearly as much as usual, but when I do, I like to use a rather high hydration bread dough. When baker’s talk about percentages, you are comparing the percent of whatever item to the amount of flour. I always weigh out my ingredients because it’s more accurate, but not all recipes give weights, so I like to think about things in percentages instead.
Example: For a regular loaf, I usually use a 70% hydration dough. This means that for every 500g of flour, I would put in 350g water (with 2g salt and 1g yeast).
In mathy terms:
Amount of water = Amount of flour X percentage
Amount of water = 500g flour X 70% = 350g water
This produces a quite wet dough. It’s not so wet that you can’t knead it, but you do have to use a modified method. It’s more like stretch&fold and not really fold&push, which is the more conventional way of thinking about kneading.
So this brings me to a neat little article I found this morning on Serious Eats about working with very wet dough. You basically lay the dough on the counter, oil up your hands (and the counter so the dough won’t stick) and then you take each of the edges and fold it into the middle, origami style. Now, the dough won’t behave just like a neat little piece of paper, but the more you "knead" it, the more it will start to behave and act the way you want. You usually fold all the edges to the center (start with the farthest edge, fold the near edge, then do left and then right), turn the dough packet over and then let it sit for a little while. While it sits, the dough relaxes a bit and organises its gluten strands.
(The whole point of kneading is to organise and align the gluten strands in the dough.)
My alternate method is the slap and fold from Richard Bertinet, but it requires a lower hydration dough (about 65%) than what I’m used to working with.
(Note to self: pick up a dough scraper already so you can stop using spatulas to scrape up the dough while kneading.)