Bread baking is part science experiment, part art. It takes a bit of practice to make a rustic, bakery-worthy loaf with a chewy golden crust and tender, airy interior. But that’s what also makes bread baking so rewarding. That, and the incredible smell of a freshly-baked loaf.
Most recipes for loaves of yeasted sandwich-type bread (like sourdough, focaccia, or potato loaves) produce a very wet dough, which is a good thing—that’s what helps form all of those big holes that keep the loaf light and airy inside. The softer and more elastic the dough, the more tender the crumb will be.
When you’re working with sticky, wet dough, there’s a natural tendency to want to sprinkle flour all over it, to make it feel more smooth and dry. And that’s where a lot of people go wrong. Paige Grandjean, Southern Living Test Kitchen Professional and our unofficial guru on all things bread-related, says that you should add flour with a very a light hand when handling or kneading bread dough. Too much flour will give the bread a tough and crumbly texture.
Watch: 10 Breakfast Breads to Make This Weekend
Grandjean recommends dusting your work surface with just enough flour that you can still see the surface underneath. Think of it like a dusting of snow. As you knead the dough, it will turn smooth and elastic as the gluten develops. Don’t be tempted to sprinkle the dough with more flour unless you really need it. A bench scraper is a handy tool to have on hand to easily scrape up dough that sticks to the work surface. Or if the dough is really too wet to knead by hand, you can use a stand mixer instead.