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Knead the dough until smooth and soft
Kneading the dough is where most novice breadmakers meet their biggest challenges.
Kneading is the process of developing dough into a smooth, elastic ball.
When flour is mixed with liquid, GLUTEN strands are formed. Well-developed gluten allows the yeasted dough to stretch and expand as it rises.
Proper kneading also produces a finer grain or texture in bread.
Knead for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the dough feels smooth and elastic but still a little tacky.
You can knead by hand or in a stand mixer.
How to knead bread dough by hand
- Prep your work surface. Add a little flour to your kneading area, so the dough does not stick.
- Scrape your dough out of the bowl onto the work surface. Add a little flour on top. Your dough should be slightly sticky to work with.
- Knead the dough with authority. Press down on the dough with the heels of your hands. Then grab the back end and fold over towards your body. And press into the dough again with the heels of your hands.
- Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat step three. Add flour to the dough if the dough is sticky.
- Press and turn your dough several times, adding flour as needed. Repeat until the dough is smooth and elastic.
What happens if the dough is not kneaded enough?
If you peter out and do not knead your dough enough by hand, or if you don’t allow it enough time in your mixer, the dough will lack strength. The dough may even fall back onto itself and collapse as the gases produced by the yeast escape. Once baked, an under-kneaded bread loaf will be flat and dense in texture.
How do you know if the dough is smooth or elastic?
Some bakers rely on the “windowpane test” to ensure that dough is kneaded properly, in which you can stretch the dough thin enough that you can see through it.
A well-kneaded dough will be translucent, resembling a veil, stretchy, elastic, and bounce back when poked.
If it springs back immediately when lightly pressed and does not tear when you pull it, it’s been kneaded enough and is ready to rise.
If the dough does not spring back when pressed with a finger or tears when you pull it, it needs more kneading.
An underworked dough will not form a ball shape easily as gluten molecules have not developed yet, and the dough flops and tears. It has yet to come together and requires more kneading.
How do you know if the dough is overworked?
A well-kneaded dough will be stretchy, elastic, and bounce back when poked. If the dough feels very dense and tough when you knead it against the counter, that is a sign that it is starting to become over-kneaded. It won’t be easy to flatten the dough out and fold it over itself in a typical kneading pattern.
An overworked dough can happen when using a stand mixer. The dough will feel “tight” and tough, as the gluten molecules have become damaged, meaning that it will not stretch, only break when you try to pull or roll it.
The over-kneaded dough cannot be fixed and will result in a rock-hard loaf, so be careful to avoid this mistake.
Tips for kneading whole wheat bread dough by hand
Whole wheat bread traditionally needs a little more kneading to produce a less gritty texture.
The bran in wheat also interferes with gluten, so it takes a bit longer to rise.
When you knead, make sure the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
When the dough rises, watch for the size of the dough rather than the timer.
One trick I like to use with baking whole wheat bread is to add Vital Wheat Gluten. It gives whole wheat bread a better rise and helps combat the heaviness of baking with whole wheat. It also helps with elasticity and texture.
What if the bread machine recipe calls for nuts, fruit, or seeds?
Fruits, nuts, chocolate chips and seeds should be added toward the end of the kneading dough cycle.
Add them with 1–2 minutes left in the kneading process.
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