need to knead?
January 28, 2012 § 3 Comments
Kneading is the process of working the dough after all or most of the ingredients are mixed together. This develops the gluten structure of yeasted (or sourdough) breads that gives them their “chew” (as opposed to the melt-in-your-mouth tenderness of cakes). Without this structure, bread doughs wouldn’t be strong enough to rise during proofing or in the oven, and free form hearth-baked loaves would fall flat. In fact, getting the crumb structure you want inside of the bread is a balancing act between kneading (think of this as working time) to develop enough strength and stretch in the dough so it can rise, and the rise time (think of this as resting time) to allow the yeast to produce CO2 bubbles which gently expand the dough. If you let a dough rise (or rest) too long, the gluten strands can weaken, but you can “revive” them with a brief knead or fold-and-stretching action (called a turn) of the dough, which tightens the structure, releases the CO2 and trapped heat (both from the yeast). This is what you do when you “punch down” a dough, but don’t be too rough! Remember you want to maintain the structure and some of the airiness! Recipes tell you how many times to “punch down”, but you can do an extra turn on a weak dough (usually one that’s wet, think ciabatta), or skip it if a dough seems a bit tough or dry.
Recipes also seem to be very specific about what speed and how long you should knead. But how do you know when you have kneaded enough? And what is the difference between kneading in a bread machine, mixer, food processor, by hand or even using the “no knead” technique? If you haven’t made much bread, I suggest that you start by hand kneading so you get a feel how the dough changes from mixing the ingredients together to final gluten development. Basically the machines simply help you get the job done faster depending on their power and design for efficiently stretching the dough. I have a KitchenAid mixer which has plenty of power and is fairly well designed to knead the dough (a lot depends on the shape of the dough hook, and there’s a lot of variation in mixer attachments). Also, consider the amount of dough relative to bowl size; it has to have room to move around. Food processors have an excess of power and speed, so you need to make sure you don’t overwork the dough (use the plastic blade) or the gluten can actually break down from over mixing or from the heat that builds up from the friction of everything moving so fast. Because bread machines are designed to do everything from mix to bake, they accomplish each of those tasks modestly well, but don’t excel at any of them. They provide convenience and the smell of home-baked bread, but you won’t become a better baker using one. And how does the “No Knead” method work? You make a rough wet dough with a small amount of yeast, cover it and set it at room temperature for almost a day. The yeast and cooler temperature allows the bread to rise very slowly, which helps creates the gluten without over fermenting the dough. You do a few folds to strengthen the gluten and shape the loaf, let it proof, bake and voilá! No elbow grease needed, just need an extra day for the first rise!
Finally, kneading by hand…
You know what they say about “100 ways to love a cat”. The same applies to kneading, although many bread bakers no longer use the flour dusting of the board and pushing/turning method that I originally learned. The new result is a moister, more open crumb loaf. I use a technique that is a blend of a couple of methods. Here’s an article on Dan Lepard’s way to hand knead with a good description of first resting and then kneading the dough (I omit oiling the board, instead just scraping up the bits with my bench scraper). Also a video of Richard Bertinet hand kneading with an entertaining demo of basic bread making/baking, including his folding method to knead dough. Curious, these guys are both from England, although Richard is a transplanted Frenchman. I’m sure you’ll be able to adapt their methods to create a hand kneading technique that works for you.