Bread Baking Technique #5 - Mixing and kneading bread
We knead bread for three reasons. The first is very simply to mix the ingredients together. The second is that the mixing promotes the formation of the gluten in the flour. It makes the dough more elastic. The third is to bootstrap the fermentation.
Gluten are long chains of a protein. The easiest way to imagine them is like sticky rubber bands. The long pieces of "elastic" is lying up next to each other and can be stretched very long before they release. This is what makes a dough elastic.
If you, on the other hand, knead the dough a lot and get all the "elastics" tangled together in large knots. It is easy to imagine that a dough of long knotted "elastics" will be tough, and if you pull it will pull back to the same shape again. That's why a dough sometimes must rest before you can shape it again. The gluten knots will slowly unwinds when they are at rest.
A dough that has not been kneaded enough and is less elastic will work like an old balloon. One can only blow it up so much before it punctures. If the dough has been kneaded long enough and the gluten has been released into the flour, then the dough is elastic and it will be like a fresh new balloon. It can inflate a lot without puncturing and you will get large air bubbles in the bread crumb.
Gluten is not found in the flour from the start. It is formed by a combination of the two proteins "gliadin" and "glutenin" when the flour becomes wet and is kneaded.
It also means that the higher the protein content of the same flour has the longer the dough need to be kneaded to form more gluten.
When you mix the ingredients you should not mix salt and the yeast as the first ingredients. You run the risk of killing the yeast. At least place them on opposite sides of the bowl, or mix the salt into the flour first so it will be diluted.
You should also put in the fat as late as possible. The fat can encapsulate the yeast and so it raises poorly. A good tactic is to pour in at least half the flour before adding the fat.
If you use a pre-ferment, divide it up into smaller pieces so that it is evenly distributed.
If you use a wet pre-ferment then pour it up first and add the rest of the liquid to the pre-ferment and eventually the rest of the ingredients.
You cannot be 100% accurate in the use of a recipe when it comes to baking. The reason is that the flour can be different from time to time. So there will always be an artisan aspect in judging whether or not your dough is right. It can only be learned by experience. So just add 90% of the flour when you start. Then you can always add more later. If it becomes too dry you can add more liquid.
The mistake novice bakers make most often is that they make the dough too dry, because that makes it easier to handle it. Try to make it wetter than you expect it should be. I always try to make it as wet as I can possibly get away with, within the type of dough it is.
Kneading - Manual or by Machine
Let me say it right away. If you are a good baker, there is no difference in the quality of machine or hand-kneaded bread. If you are a romantic, or in a good shape, then do it by hand. If you are a practical, busy or just lazy baker, feel free to use a machine. There is a bigger chance that your dough is kneaded properly with a machine. Or you can chose to use wet doughs and long fermentation times, so you don't have to knead much.
I've had a few of the Kenwood machines. They kneaded very well, and was not that expensive. Unfortunately, the noise was the infernal, and they danced across the table when kneading.
I have also used Kitchenaid. Besides looking prettier, it is also much quieter. It almost doesn't move while it kneads. The Danish model named "Teddy Bear" has an electronic engine so that it is a lot less noisy. Unfortunately, it is expensive and not very pretty in a home kitchen.
Currently I use an an "Magic Mill Assistent" machine. It is the best machine for kneading, of the home machines that you actually want to stand out in your kitchen. Especially for large portions.
You should start up using the flat "meat hook" until the dough is kneaded well together then change to the dough hook. Otherwise you will have to scrape the flour of the side of the mixinig bowl durin mixing. Most types of dough tends to be kneaded sufficiently after approx. 10 minutes at medium speed.
Rule of thumb: the longer you want the dough to ferment, the less it needs to be kneaded.
- When I ferment for 8 hours or longer I just mix the ingredients until there are no more dry flour in the mix.
- When I only ferment for ½-1 hour, I knead for at least 10 minutes if it is a relatively wet dough, and for at least 15 minutes if the dough is more dry.
There are many ways to knead a dough. I usually start by mixing all the ingredients in a bowl until the dough is collected in a large coarse ball.
Then I take it out on the table and knead by flattening it with my palms, then I fold the dough and repeat until the dough is completely kneaded. You can also swing it around in the air and slap it down on the table. And then fold it. But I find that this method makes a little too much mess in my home kitchen. There is also the roll and press method. Or the one-handed press and fold etc. etc. Just find a method that suits you and your arm strength. The actual method used does not make much of a difference.
If you knead a very wet dough, use wet or oily hands and keep the dough in the bowl. Otherwise you just get dough plastered all over the table and you will have to mix in too much flour in order to get it to let go, that it is not wet anymore. Hold the bowl with one hand and knead with the other. Use eg the "one-handed press and fold". If I have to knead a wet dough I do it always in the machine. The manual way is simply too bothersome.
A small trick
You can start by just kneading the liquid the and flour together for 4 minutes. After which you can let the dough rest for 20 minutes. You can then add the remaining ingredients and knead for a further 2-4 minutes. This is especially handy if you knead by hand as it almost halves the kneading time. The enzymes in the flour does most of the kneading for you while the dough is "resting".
When is the dough kneaded enough?
You can check if your dough is done by using the "window" method. Take a small lump of dough. Slightly smaller than a golf ball. Make the dough flat by pressing, drag, rotate and "cuddle" it gently from inside out the center. Until it looks like a small pizza. If the dough is adequately kneaded it will be elastic enough that you can pull it so thin that you can see a light through the middle. There will be a small "window". If it is not kneaded enough the dough breaks while you try this. Then just work it for a few more minutes before testing again.