Question: Is there a good way to fix dough stickiness without drying it out?
A sticky dough can indeed create a sticky situation. There are a number of things that can cause the condition, therefore there are a number of solutions to the problems. Some of the more common reasons for sticky dough and the appropriate solutions are as follows:
Excessive Dough Absorption: This results in a decidedly wet, tacky feel. The only real corrective action is to reduce the amount of water added to the dough. I generally recommend making these corrections in increments of two percent (based on the weight of flour in the dough).
Under-mixed Dough: This has a sticky feel. Any dough that has not been mixed long enough to develop a smooth skin on it during the mixing stage will likely be somewhat sticky. Some people don’t find this to be a problem because they use a lot of dusting flour as a part of their crust’s signature.
Excessive Use of Malt: This can result in a sticky dough that just doesn’t seem to be corrected by any changes to the dough absorption or mixing time. The only corrective action is to reduce the amount of malt syrup added to the dough, or to change over to a non-diastatic (enzyme free) malt syrup. What is happening here is that the amylase enzyme in the malt syrup is breaking down part of the starch in the flour and converting it to fermentable sugars for metabolism by the yeast. Wen these starches are hydrolyzed, the water that they are holding is released into the dough and that, combined with the newly formed sugars, creates a decidedly sticky dough feel.
Every few years we hear about wheat that has sprouted while it is still in the field awaiting harvest. When the wheat sprouts, the enzymatic activity increases in a hurry, and when this wheat finds its way into your flour, it will result in a higher than normal enzyme activity in the flour. Here in the U.S. this is seldom a problem as the flour millers are diligent in keeping this from happening. But for readers in other countries, you may not be as fortunate. In this case, just be sure to put a light coating of oil on the dough before you remove it from the mixer. This should help to alleviate some of the stickiness.
Insufficient Salt Content: This creates dough stickiness that can easily be corrected by increasing the salt level to at least 1.75 percent of the weight of flour used in the formula.
Incorrect Hydration of Active Dry Yeast: When this is the case, some of the glutathione from the ADY is leached out. ADY should always be hydrated in warm water (105-110 F). If the ADY is hydrated in cold water, the glutathione that is leached out of the yeast can easily cause a soft, slightly sticky dough condition. In this case, it should also be noted that the dough performance will probably be less than ideal due to the impaired yeast condition. This can also happen with instant dry yeast that is hydrated in cold water.
In the end, if you find yourself in a sticky situation, just remember that application of oil to the dough is probably the single most effective action to take, regardless of the cause of the stickiness.