Have you ever found yourself eagerly diving into a baking project, only to be met with the frustrating sight of dough crumbling and breaking apart?
It’s a scenario that has left many bakers feeling defeated, questioning their culinary skills. But fear not, for in the world of dough, as in life, challenges are simply opportunities in disguise.
If you are making pastry and the dough keeps falling apart, a quick and easy way to fix the problem is by adding a small amount of water at a time. By small I mean very small.
When you add water to the pastry dough, it will fix the crumbly problem but will not ruin the dough.
A tiny bit of water can do wonders! While it can fix your crumbly dough, it can also create the opposite problem when it comes to wet pastry dough.
My guess is that if we’re talking about a normal wheat-flour dough, there probably won’t be anything else causing it to crack or break.
Bread dough that is properly hydrated should be somewhat moist and elastic, and it can only be broken by stretching it hard and fast.
It is difficult to fix this situation. Adding more water to it may help, but it tends to slide off the surface when you knead it.
You can spread it out as thin as you can, spray or rub a little water on it, fold and knead it, and repeat.
Why Does Dough Get Crumbly And Fall Apart?
When the dough is too dry, it becomes crumbly. Insufficient moisture will cause the dough to crumble. It’s that simple!
As I mentioned earlier, it’s actually not quite as simple as it sounds, because the dough dried up for a variety of reasons.
It will be easier to repair your dough if you understand what caused it to dry out and crumble!
1. Using Different Type of Flour
You may find that your dough is quite crumbly if your recipe calls for All Purpose flour but you used whole wheat.
There is a wide range of absorbency rates of flour, and whole wheat flour will absorb water quite quickly, drying out your pastry dough and causing it to crumble.
Whenever possible, use the type of flour your recipe calls for or find a recipe that uses the type of flour you prefer.
2. Not Mixed Enough
The gluten in the flour, which holds the dough together, will not be developed if you do not mix your dough thoroughly. Your pastry will be crumbly if you don’t mix and let the gluten firm up.
There are two ways to form gluten: mechanically or through time. The majority of people prefer to use mechanical action, which involves kneading, to form gluten.
Some people don’t know when they’ve kneaded their dough enough. Consequently, the dough can break apart easily due to insufficient gluten development.
3. Old Dough
It is quite possible that you might take your dough out of the fridge after a long time and find that it is now quite dry and crumbly.
It is common for old dough to do this as the fridge quickly dries out your dough, especially if it is not tightly wrapped. A crumbly dough is a dry dough!
4. Not Enough Water
For perfect pastry dough, measurement is key. You will definitely have dry, crumbly dough if you skimp on the water.
A dough that is too wet will be sticky, so make sure there isn’t too much water in the dough. To avoid crumbly dough and sticky dough, measure your ingredients accurately, especially the water!
5. Too Much Salt
Due to salt’s ability to absorb water, it absorbs some of the water in pastry dough when it is used in the recipe.
You can cause the dough to crumble if you add too much salt which absorbs a lot of moisture in the dough.
Make sure you measure the salt accurately and do not add too much (everyone hates salty pastry dough, right?).
6. Too Much Flour
The dough will be crumbly if you add too much flour. The dough can fall apart if there is too much flour in it.
The dough will fall apart within minutes if you add just a tablespoon or two more than the recipe calls for. To prevent the dough from drying out, measure the flour accurately.
You’ll get different results if you make your pastry dough on a hot, humid summer day versus a dry, cold winter day.
A dough’s texture can be greatly affected by the amount of moisture in the air. On a dry day, your pastry may crumble more easily even if you measure your ingredients exactly the same way every time.
Gluten Is Essential
These points all revolve around gluten, as you may have noticed. The reason for this is that gluten is literally the foundation of good bread. The dough would not be able to rise without it, so it would be as dense as a brick.
All these points relate in some way to each other since water turns protein from flour into gluten when kneaded or over time.
How To Fix Crumbly Dough?
Identifying what is causing your pastry to crumble will help you solve the problem. In order to get a nice smooth pastry, mix the dough for a little bit longer if you did not mix it enough.
If you have crumbly dough, you can fix it by adding more water, which is effective for almost any dry dough issue.
1. Make Sure There Is Enough Water In The Dough
It’s not enough to just pour water over the dough and hope for the best. This will result in a wet, sticky pastry dough instead of a crumbly one.
It would be inedible and not even close to the pastry dough you needed! Add more flour, add more water, add more flour…you’ll have something that is inedible!
If you want your pastry dough to bind together, add more water by following these steps:
- Take a small bowl of cold water and dip your fingers into it.
- Using your fingers, lightly mix your dough after flicking some water over it. The dough should be moistened with about a teaspoon of water.
- Make sure the pastry is no longer crumbly by assessing the texture.
- To make the dough softer, spray it again with water after dipping your fingers in it.
- Mix once more lightly and assess.
When you add a little water at a time, the pastry will stop crumbling but the dough won’t be ruined.
Even a tiny bit of water can work wonders! If you have crumbly dough, this can fix it, but if you have wet pastry dough, it can cause the opposite issue. It will be a slow and steady race to victory!
If you want to make sure the dough is smooth, knead it a few minutes after everything has been combined instead of throwing in water whenever you think it needs it.
Try adding a tablespoon of water at a time if the dough is still very dry and see if you can make it a bit tacky or sticky. Do not add more flour, even if it is sticky. You will notice that it becomes less sticky as you knead it.
Having enough hydration and gluten development will allow dough to form a smooth ball. This makes it easy for it to break apart when shaped when it does not have these traits.
2. Knead The Dough Properly
There is an understandable reason why many beginners fail to knead their dough enough. You cannot determine when your dough has been sufficiently kneaded without knowing what fully kneaded dough feels like.
The signs that your dough is fully kneaded make it easy to determine when it has been fully kneaded. Beginners are likely to knead less than they need to since it’s hard for them to gauge how much dough to knead.
The good news is that people can use two popular tests to determine whether their dough is sufficiently kneaded. Windowpane and poke tests.
In order to test whether sufficient gluten has been developed, these two methods are used in conjunction with kneading dough.
The Poke Test
A finger should be inserted about an inch into the dough after you’ve rolled the dough into a tight ball.
It should spring back relatively quickly if the dough has been fully kneaded. Insufficient kneading will cause the indentation to remain deep in the dough with little spring back.
Dough’s elasticity causes this to happen. Upon being pushed against, the gluten network springs back.
The Windowpane Test
This is my personal favorite of the two tests. A thin piece of dough can be stretched so thin that light passes through it, almost as clear as a window…
Stretching dough as thin as possible is the key to doing this. There should be no problem getting it very thin. If the gluten has developed enough, you should be able to see light through it when you hold it up to a light.
When the dough tears easily when stretched out, it lacks gluten development. Try kneading it for a few minutes more if it tears.
For best results, rest the dough for a few minutes so the gluten can relax. By doing this, it becomes easier to stretch it without tearing.
3. Knead With Oil or Water
The use of oil or water can be easier if your dough is too sticky, and you do not wish to use additional flour.
You can prevent some sticking by smearing either liquid on the work surface, but eventually it will stick.
Alternatively, you can work through the stickiness until the dough is smooth and well-kneaded.
If you would like, you can mix all your ingredients until a mess form in the bowl, then turn it out to knead in your choice of liquid.
It depends on the kind of bread I’m making whether I knead on oil or not. It also helps to hydrate your dough if it’s feeling a little dry if you use water.
4. Add Less Flour When Kneading
Adding too much flour to the dough when kneading is one of the biggest mistakes beginner bakers make.
Floured work surfaces are often called for in recipes, but this can result in the dough being hydrated less overall because more flour is incorporated into the dough.
It is best to knead dough with a minimal amount of flour on the work surface. You won’t be affecting the dough’s hydration by adding extra flour, and you won’t risk drying it out by adding lots of flour.
As more gluten develops, the dough will become less sticky. To achieve great results, try the slap and fold or stretch and fold methods if the dough is too sticky for traditional kneading.
5. Stretch And Shape It After Letting It Rest
Working with gluten can sometimes be challenging. The gluten in your dough can make it easy for it to spring back when you’re stretching or shaping it.
The gluten needs to relax for 5-15 minutes sometimes so that the dough can rise. When it is taken from the fridge straight after kneading or if it has been kept in the refrigerator for a while.
It is important to treat dough gently, even when you are making pizza, because gluten can tighten up quickly. You’ll end up with something that is much easier to manage if you leave the dough alone.
You can easily rehydrate your dough by dipping your hands in warm water while kneading it until it reaches the desired consistency. When your dough becomes sticky from too much hydration, add more flour.