Essentially, there are two ways of dealing with this problem and it’s the same advice I always give to my bread baking courses students.
Either ignore the stickiness or use a light coating of oil on your hands.
I tend to prefer the first option, which is simply ignoring the fact that the dough is sticking and carry on kneading. Occasionally, I use a dough scraper to keep the dough away from my hands, but as I’m kneading my bread, the stickiness goes away anyway.
By the time I finish kneading my dough (in about 10 minutes) the dough is lovely and elastic and it’s not sticking anymore.
I honestly don’t mind my dough sticking to my hands, because that just means that there is quite a lot of water in my bread dough. High hydration (a lot of water) means a light and fluffy bread and that’s exactly what I’m after.
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Why is dough sticking to our hands?
To put it simply, bread dough is sticky, because of the amount of water. But certain ‘stickiness’ is expected.
Unless you’ve misread the recipe and added way too much water, your dough should be a little sticky at the beginning anyway. That’s absolutely normal!
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When can you expect dough to be sticky and how to stop it from sticking to your hands
Kneading your dough
When you are starting to knead your dough, use a little bit of oil, if you feel that the dough is sticking and you can’t cope with that. I usually just pour a small amount of vegetable oil to one side of my working/kneading surface and lightly dab my hands in it. Only take what you need and carry on kneading!
Make sure you work with your palms and not your fingers and don’t rip the dough apart whilst you are kneading it. Piercing the dough top layer and breaking the gluten strands causes the bread dough to become sticky again.
If you really can’t handle the sticky dough or you have made a mistake with adding too much water (or not enough of flour), add a few tablespoons of bread flour and carry on kneading.
Extra flour will help to unstick your hands and make it easier to knead, but make sure you don’t keep adding flour indefinitely! If you do that, you’ll end up with a fairly hard bread as the flour needs enough time to develop gluten.
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Folding your bread dough
Use a little bit of water or oil on your fingers and handle the dough very lightly. You can also use a dough scraper to fold the dough. This is particularly useful when you are working with sourdough bread.
Shaping your Dough (after the proving)
I only use a little bit of oil for this stage and often the dough is not sticky at all. Handle the dough as little as you can, whilst still shape it into your favourite bread shape.
How to prevent your dough sticking too much next time?
Add enough water to mix the dough into a firmer dough. You might prefer to knead the dough if it’s a little firmer and not sticking to your hands.
When you finish with kneading, make sure you add more water in and incorporate it into the dough. This way, you don’t spend 10 minutes worried about your sticking hands, you’ll knead your bread well and add the rest of the water in the end.
Strangely enough, adding water into the dough when it’s nearly done, doesn’t make your hands sticky!