We've all been there. You've followed the recipe, but the dough just isn't coming together. A shaggy dry mess forms in the bowl, but nothing that resembles pie dough , bread dough, or cookie dough. There's a bunch of flour collected at the base of the bowl and it's just not incorporating. Dry doughs feel like a disaster, but unlike other baking problems , this issue can often be solved (and quite easily). Yes, you will need to add more liquid to the dough, but this has to be done carefully, and it also helps to know why your dough is dry, so you can avoid this problem in the future. Here's what to do next time your dough turns out drier than expected.
Why Your Dough Is Dry
In order to fix the problem, you need to identify what went wrong. Here are a few of the most common reasons your dough turned out dry.
You haven't let it rest.
Some of the flakiest pie dough starts as a dry, shaggy pile of dough. You might be tempted to add more water, but before you do, let it rest. Flour doesn't fully hydrate just after mixing, but if you let the dough rest, tightly wrapped in plastic , the flour has a chance to fully absorb the moisture in the dough. A short 30 minute rest in the fridge and that dry pile of dough might be smooth and ready to roll. This goes for more than pie dough. If you have crumbly cookie dough , it can benefit from a rest. In fact, most bakeries rest their cookie dough overnight, both so that the butter can chill for better baking, but also so the flour can hydrate and create more tender cookies.
You might have (accidentally) added too much flour.
Professional bakers prefer scales for a reason; measuring cups, if not used properly, can add much more flour than you realize. If you are simply scooping the flour directly from the bag into the cup, you're more than likely packing it in, and in effect adding more flour than you intend to. A more accurate way to measure flour is to spoon it into the measuring cup then level the cup off with the back of a butter knife.
You haven't put in enough elbow grease.
Sometimes all it takes to fix dry dough is some elbow grease. If a dough seems dry it could be because the liquid isn't evenly distributed. The center of the dough can often be wet while the outside is dry. Give the dough a little extra kneading, just until it comes together, and that alone might be enough to fix it. If using a stand mixer, try finishing the dough by hand. Sometimes stand mixers can't evenly mix the dough and can create wet pockets.
How To Fix Dry Bread or Pie Dough
Okay, you've identified the problem, now you have to fix it. This may seem obvious, but don't just dump more water into your bread dough . To incorporate more water into the mixture, add only 1 tablespoon of additional liquid at a time, kneading the dough just until it comes together. Too much kneading and the dough might not be dry anymore, but now it's tough.
You want to add the additional liquid slowly, otherwise you aren't giving the dough enough time to absorb it. Only use whatever liquid the recipe originally calls for whether that's water or milk. If working with pie dough, keep the water cold, for other doughs try to use room temperature liquids, especially for yeasted doughs where temperature really matters.
A great technique for incorporating extra water into bread or pie dough is to do it with your hands. Run your hands under water, and then with them dripping wet, knead the dough. The water on your hands will get slowly absorbed into the dough without creating any pools of liquid and this way you can avoid excessive kneading.
How To Fix Dry Cookie Dough
Since most cookie doughs don't call for water or milk, you have to take a bit of a different approach. Sometimes cookie dough is dry because it lacks enough fat to bring the dough together and adding additional fat can help it become more cohesive. However, much like water you'll want to do this slowly, as too much added fat will yield greasy cookies that spread too much. Start by adding 1 teaspoon of fat into dough at a time, whatever the recipe originally called for, usually butter or oil, until it's moistened. Your hands are the best tool for this job, as you can much more gently bring the dough together than a mixer, and too much mixing will make for some tough cookies.