It is true that there are different kitchen gadgets that can help you create a great bread dough. These machines can mix and knead large batches of bread dough in an instant. All you need is to dump the ingredients into the mixing bowl and let the machine do the work. However, nothing compares to pastry that’s made by hand. Seasoned bakers put a lot of love into every kneading motion that they execute. After all, kneading bread dough is a labor of love. In this article, we will explore how you can knead bread dough to perfection. You do not need fancy equipment. All you will need is patience and the willingness to use your hands in accomplishing the critical first step to any baking adventure.
First, Why Do We Have to Knead Bread Dough?
Flour consists of two major proteins – Glutenin and Gliadin. When these proteins combine with water, they form Gluten. Glutenin is a very complex protein molecule that gives bread dough its characteristic elasticity and strength. Meanwhile, Gliadin is a protein molecule that has adhesive properties. It is sticky and also possesses extensible property. These two proteins give Gluten its adhesive, tough, and elastic properties.
When Gluten combines with yeast or baking powder, it is able to stretch without breaking because of the properties of the two proteins. Bread dough also rises without falling apart, again because of Gliadin and Glutenin. There are four essential characteristics of Gluten that make it ideal for baking bread. It is sticky, elastic, and extensible. Moreover, Gluten also absorbs more water up to twice its weight.
So where does kneading enter the picture? When we mix the different bread dough ingredients, the two proteins are often in a knotted and random pattern. In other words, their structural components are not in perfect alignment. If you were to bake this dough at this stage, you may end up with an odd-looking bread. The only way you can “align” these proteins is by kneading the bread dough. As the proteins line up, they form strands of Gluten. This is the key to making a good bread.
Prepare the Kneading Surface
The first step to kneading bread dough is preparing the surface where you are going to knead the dough. For some, this is often the second step since they can combine the ingredient of their bread dough in a mixing bowl. However, there are also those who prefer to mix the dough ingredients right on the very same surface they are going to knead on. Regardless of dough mixing preferences, you will still need a clean flat surface to work on.
You can turn your countertop or dining table into a kneading surface for your bread dough. What is important is that it should be clean and free of any contaminants. If you are not sure about the sanitation of your chosen surface, it is wise to clean it with warm, soapy water. Make sure to dry it well using a clean piece of towel. Once dry, sprinkle some flour over the kneading surface.
If you don’t like cleaning your surface, you can place parchment paper on the surface. Make sure to sprinkle flour over the parchment paper before you start kneading.
There are recipes that call for the kneading of the bread dough in a mixing bowl. These are recipes that require kneading for under three minutes. If you have to knead the dough for at least 3 minutes, then doing it on a flat surface is best.
Combine Bread Dough Ingredients
Prepare your ingredients according to the recipe that you are using. In general, flour serves as the base. Basic bread dough ingredients often include flour, yeast, water, and salt. Most recipes call for the creation of a “crater” in the center of the mound of flour. Add the other ingredients in the “crater”.
Use your fingers to “mix” the yeast and wet ingredients in the center of the crater. Move your fingers in small circles. Little by little, mix in some of the flour from the edges of the crater. A wooden spoon is also a good alternative in case you don’t want to use your fingers in the mixing of the ingredients. Keep increasing the size of the circular motions until you’ve combined all the ingredients.
If you can still see some loose flour adhering to the sides of the bowl, the dough is not ready yet. What you want is a sticky and messy yet very soft lump of dough. A good sign that the dough is perfect for kneading is when it becomes more difficult to move the wooden spoon through the bread dough.
Knead the Bread Dough
By this stage you should already have a sticky bread dough. If you have not prepared your kneading surface yet, now is the time to apply a light dusting of flour. Some folks try to compensate for the dough’s stickiness by putting more flour on the surface. Don’t do this. You do not need more flour on your kneading surface at this point.
Wash and dry your hands. Remove all jewelry as you do not want any of them to get caught up in the dough. Dust some flour on your hands to help prevent the dough from sticking. This also helps make it easier to work the dough.
Now place the dough on the kneading surface. The first step is to “punch” the dough. This will help jumpstart the gluten in the dough. Punching the dough requires you to press your hands into the bread dough. Only use the heels of the hands, not the fingers. Try to push the dough a bit forward as you ‘punch’ it. What you want to achieve is a dough that is a little bit springy.
After “punching” the dough, you can now start with the kneading process. Fold the bread dough in half. Secure the end of the dough nearest you with your dominant hand. For purposes of this article, let us pretend that your dominant hand is the right hand and the left hand is non-dominant. Next, place the heel of the left hand on the dough about an inch or so from where your dominant hand is securing the dough. Rock the dough forward using only the heel of the left hand.
As the dough rolls out, use the fingers of your left hand to gather the leading edge of the dough. Fold it back towards the main body of the dough and roll it out again using the heel of the left hand. Do this about 3 to 4 times. Turn the bread dough 90 degrees to the right and employ the same dough stretching technique.
Always use the heel of the one hand to stretch the dough. For every 3 to 4 roll-outs and re-lumps of the dough, rotate it a quarter-turn or about 90 degrees. Over time, you will notice the bread dough to become less sticky.
Continue working on the bread dough. It is important to observe rhythmic and steady kneading. It is also important to work at a fast pace. Most recipes call for a 10-minute kneading process. If your hands and arms are aching at some point, you may want someone else to continue kneading the bread dough.
Know When the Kneading Process is Enough
One of the most important aspects of the kneading process is knowing when to stop. There are several ways you can do this.
First, look at the appearance of the bread dough. It should already turn smooth and shiny. Bread dough often starts out as lumpy and sticky. You will know that it is ready if it already feels tacky to your touch. It should also feel elastic. If you notice any part of the dough to be still sticky or with lumps, you should continue with the kneading process.
Second, a perfectly-kneaded bread dough will hold its shape. Try forming the dough into a large ball. Drop it onto the kneading surface. If it retains its shape, then you know that it’s been kneaded well enough.
Third, you can also check the dough’s firmness. You will notice that every time you knead the dough, it becomes firmer and more difficult to roll. It is almost the same as winding a spring. The closer you are at the spring’s maximum tension, the more difficult it is to wind it. Try pinching a bit of the bread dough. If you feel like the firmness of your earlobe, then it’s ready. If you are not sure, poke the dough with a finger. The dough should return to its original shape.
Depending on your recipe, you will need to let the bread dough rest for a few hours. This will allow it to increase in size. You will know that you have a perfect bread dough if it feels firm and springy and has a shiny appearance to it. This results in baked bread that has a crunchy exterior, but with a soft and chewy center. A poorly-kneaded dough often results in a dense, flat, and tough bread.