by Les Saidel - April, 2011

What is the correct way to knead dough?

That is a tough one. The diplomatic answer would be "There is no one correct way to knead dough, but many". That is essentially the truth. Many people knead dough in different ways and they are probably mostly correct.

I think a better way to approach answering this question is by examining what the process of kneading achieves. The bottom line is that kneading is required to create a gluten structure in the dough. This topic has been detailed exhaustively in other articles in this forum so I am not going to repeat it here. Suffice it to say that in order to develop gluten structure in the dough you need a repeated process of stretching and layering. This creates a spiders web network of gluten strands that trap the gases formed by the yeast and allow the dough to rise.

So there you have it. Any method of kneading that involves stretching the dough and folding it upon itself, over and over again, is a correct kneading process.

You can knead the dough by hand or using an electric mixer with the dough spiral mixer attachment. The spiral mixer blade twists and stretches the dough and folds it over on itself to perform the kneading.

For hand kneading there are two popular schools - kneading directly in the bowl or kneading on a floured board. Kneading the dough directly in the bowl it is mixed in is less messy (all the mess remains in the bowl) but it is also more physically restrictive. Working on a floured board you have more elbow room, but the flour goes all over everything and it takes longer to clean up. Use whichever method suits your personality. (I personally do not have this dilemma in our bakery since when I hand knead doughs, this is usually done in an enormous 50 litre tub, so there is no lack of space - it is the best of both worlds - the cleanliness of a bowl and the spaciousness of a board).

I will describe to you how I hand knead, but as I said, if your method adheres to the principles of stretching and layering it is probably good too. I grab a handful of dough from the mass and pull it away from the mass, stretching it (not too much though that it tears, just a little - as you knead more, the dough will become more elastic and you will be able to stretch it further). I then take that stretched piece and fold it back over into the center of the mass of dough and press down. I then rotate the bowl slightly and take another handful of dough adjacent to the previously stretched handful and repeat the procedure. You just keep stretching, folding back into the center, pressing down, rotating and repeating.

It is recommended to keep a small portion of the flour from the recipe aside for kneading. It is possible to hand knead a sticky dough, but the task becomes easier if you lightly flour the dough while kneading. Take care not to add too much extra flour when kneading as this may upset the balance between water and flour in the mixture and alter the recipe. That is why it is recommended to set aside a portion of flour from the recipe to use during kneading.

How long should one knead dough? There is also not one definitive answer to that question. It depends on what crumb structure you are trying to achieve. Basically there are three major types of kneading/mixing - Short, Medium and Intensive. If you want to achieve the tight crumb structure with tiny holes reminiscent of white sandwich loaf bread, you require an intensive kneading process. If you prefer an open crumb structure with larger air holes in the crumb you can suffice with a short kneading process. The compromise between these two is the medium type.

It is almost impossible to achieve an intensive kneading by hand, it requires machines operating at high speeds of 200 rev's per minute for 8-10 minutes to obtain this kind of mix. To do the same thing manually, you would have to stretch and fold over 2000 times by hand. That would take you a long time and probably exhaust you in the process. Most hand kneading more closely resembles short to medium mixes. Hand kneading at normal, average pace for 15 minutes is equivalent to a short mix. Many people make the mistake of not kneading long enough and developing the gluten enough in their doughs. This results either in heavy bread or flopped pancake loaves.

It takes a little experience to know when the dough is kneaded enough. It will start to take on a satiny texture and it will be able to be stretched to membrane thinness without tearing. Knead your dough fully. Feel free to take breaks in the middle for a breather. You will find hand kneading to be an excellent form of exercise and meditation. Try alternating hands, that way you can develop strength in both arms and rest one while the other takes over (it takes a little practise for those who are not ambidextrous).

Is it possible to over knead dough? If you knead by hand, the answer to that is probably no (unless you are Hercules). If you knead by machine the answer is a resounding yes. The purpose of kneading dough is to develop gluten and elasticity by stretching and layering. However there is also too much of a good thing. If you over knead the dough, by running the electric mixer for too long, you can over stretch the dough beyond its elastic limit. What will happen then is that the dough will degenerate into a soupy mess from which there is no return and the only recourse is to throw the dough out and start again. A dough should never be mixed for more than 10 minutes on high speed (200 revs/min) in an electric mixer.

That's it, all you knead to know about needing, I mean all you need to know about kneading. Go to it!

Les Saidel

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