Kneading is important because it creates strength and structure in the dough. It makes your dough soft and gives it a cushiony feel. Flour usually contains two kinds of protein that combine to form gluten.
The gluten is what creates the elastic texture in the dough. When you knead, gluten creates a structure that traps gases and allows the dough to rise.
Kneading well requires mixing the dough to a proper stage of gluten development. For obvious reasons, the time you take while kneading by hand may be longer than the time taken when kneading on a mixer.
You need to learn to tell when your dough is properly developed. This is different for different kinds of bread. How well the gluten develops and how long it takes is highly dependent on the way you knead and the vigor you put into kneading. The instruction that you should knead by hand for 10 minutes is just a guess.
I admit that hand-kneading wears me out, and sometimes I have decided not to bake because even the simple thought of hand kneading tires me out. When I was a novice baker, I got intimidated by hand kneading. But I later learned that it is a basic process and stopped shying away from recipes that call for kneading.
I sometimes knead by hand and I discovered a technique that does not tire me out and also ensures I do not use more flour than is necessary. I simply use a plastic bowl scraper to mix the dough to a shaggy mass in the bowl.
The mixture is typically what you need to have before you start kneading by hand. I cover it and let it rest for approximately 30 minutes. Once it has rested, I use the plastic bowl scraper to lift the edge of the mass and fold it over the other dough in the bowl.
I put some vigor into this and repeat the motion approximately 20 times until I have worked my way around the bowl a few times. I then cover it and let it rest for another 30 minutes. I repeat the folding and resting cycle three more times. The results I get in the end are amazing.
You probably noticed that the process is quite similar to the “stretch and fold” method of dough development, but the difference is that the dough is never turned out on the bench.
I love this method because it works on all types of bread dough regardless of whether it is lean or enriched. I cannot specifically tell you for how long or at what speed you need to hand knead.
Alternatively, you can knead the dough on a flat surface like your kitchen counter or tabletop. Most people prefer this method. It takes just a few minutes and all you need to do is follow these simple steps.
The trick is using a countertop that allows you to extend your arms while kneading and doesn’t make you hunch over it.
- Sprinkle your flat surface with flour. Remove your dough from the bowl and place it on top of the surface sprinkled with flour.
- Begin kneading by pushing the dough down and then outwards. Use the heels of your hands for this, not your fingers.
- Fold the dough in half towards you and press it down. Push it down and outwards like you did the first time. As you do this you are stretching and lengthening the strands of gluten.
- Turn the dough and keep kneading. If it gets sticky, add more flour.
- Repeat the process until your dough becomes smooth and supple.
Tips to knead properly
- Since kneading can get messy, always wear an apron or if you don’t have one, wear old clothes while kneading. You wouldn’t want the flour to get on your good clothes.
- Always have some flour in a cup close to your work area. The dough may sometimes stick on to your counter and the flour helps to prevent it. It also comes in handy when the dough sticks to your hands.
- Never add to much flour as this may result in your bread being crumbly. If your dough is still sticky and you feel you have added enough flour, let it sit for 5 minutes. The dough will absorb the water making it easier to handle.
- To know if your dough is ready, use the ‘window test’. Take a small bit of dough and try stretching it out. If the dough breaks, you need to keep kneading, if it doesn’t, you have kneaded enough and your dough is ready.
Using a dough hook
Several people I know have had not so good experiences kneading in their mixers. Generally, mixers are not really up to the task of kneading.
Their motors tend to heat up and stall. Ideally, you should use lower speeds to blend the ingredients and speeds that are a bit higher to develop the dough. My mixer only has two speeds – speed 1 and speed 2. You can use your mixer to knead but always keep in mind that it was not intended for kneading.
I never used to get the same result when I knead by hand and when I use the mixer with a dough hook. However, I figured out the best way to use my mixer and still get the best results. Here is how I do it.
First, I place all my ingredients in the mixer bowl and attach the dough hook and let it mix for two minutes in my mixer’s lowest setting. I don’t pay attention to the order in which I add the ingredients because I found out it’s immaterial, so don’t make a fuss about it.
I then check to see if my mixture has the right amount of moisture i.e. not too dry and not too wet. If it is too wet I add a teaspoon of flour and mix again, and if it is too dry I add a teaspoon of water and repeat the process.
The kneading process begins here. Knead the dough on the lowest setting of your mixer. Knead for five minutes, let the mixer rest for five minutes, and then knead for another five minutes.
Continue the process until windows have formed in the dough. The windows are proof that gluten has developed so you do not need to knead the dough for longer.
When I am satisfied that the dough is ready, I shape it into a ball and place it in a bowl. I cover it with either a damp cloth or plastic wrap.
I always coat the bowl lightly with some vegetable oil for the best results. I then place the bowl in a warm place and let it rise until it doubles in size. If it is at night, I let it rise overnight in the refrigerator.
Which one is best? Hand kneading or Dough-hook
With hand kneading, you have an advantage because you don’t require any special equipment. All you need is a flat surface and some flour. You can also do it anywhere as long as there is a flat surface.
On the downside, hand kneading tends to be hard on your arms and wrists. You will also spend much more time kneading compared to when you use a mixer. However, some people say that they find hand kneading relaxing and it is a great way to relieve frustrations.
A stand mixer/ dough hook does a great job of developing the gluten in the dough. However, it does not perfectly mimic the motion of hand kneading. Kneading with a stand mixer is slightly faster than hand kneading. However, the time you use to clean the mixer bowl and dough hook pretty much uses up the time you would have saved.
The method you choose for kneading all depends on your personal preference. What works best for me might not be what works best for you. Alternatively, you can combine the two methods to get the best results.
Start with the mixer and then finish off by hand kneading. I have done this severally and I can say for sure that I have not been disappointed.
Converting machine kneading time to hand kneading time
Generally, machine kneading requires less time compared to hand kneading. It is also very easy to over-knead dough when you are using a machine so you must be very keen.
To convert machine kneading time to hand kneading time, I would either double it or triple it depending on how vigorous I am while kneading.
The possibility of over kneading when you are using your hands is pretty low compared to when you are using a machine. Over kneading by hand takes a lot of effort. I wouldn’t make a fuss about it.
When hand kneading, you can easily check to see whether your dough is ready by using the windows test we talked about earlier. Additionally, all hand kneading recipes tell you the result you should expect when you are done kneading.