Kneading is something that I really think puts people off making bread at home. It’s messy, it’s time consuming and there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there purporting to be the best way to knead etc… So, I thought I would share what, through experience, I’ve found the most effective technique. As with all creative ventures there’s not really a right way – just experiment and find whatever works best for you.
A lot of advice online and elsewhere tells you to scatter flour on your work surface prior to kneading dough. I would encourage not to do this, as your dough can get really dehydrated and tough because it will incorporate the extra flour while you are working it. I tend to either go for a bare worktop or one that is lightly oiled with a neutral oil such as sunflower, depending on what i’m making. Similarly I don’t scatter flour on top of my dough when kneading, as this again will dry out your mixture. I work with wet hands and a scraper to continuously fold and drag my dough over the worktop.
People knead in all sorts of different styles, but as a rule, if you’re stretching the dough in one way or another it will develop gluten properly and give you good structure. I knead with the heals of my hands, but lots of other techniques are just as good – just make sure that you do it for long enough.
I usually work my loaves for about 15 minutes each. That might sound like a long time, but while listening to some good tunes or a podcast, it easily drifts by, plus the more bread you bake, the more you get used the texture changing. I then use the windowpane test to check that the dough is on track. It should be at a stage where it can be stretched so thin that it’s like holding up a piece of paper. If you get tears at this point, the dough isn’t ready yet and needs more kneading!
I normally do all of my kneading by hand, but if you want to use a mixer, I suggest carefully adding a fraction more water, as they can rapidly dry out your dough and leave you with something really dense and raggedy.
Once you’re happy with the lovely stretchy, supple dough you should have after all that love and attention you’ve paid it, it’s time to pop it back in the bowl, cover and leave it to prove.
P.S. Of course, if you’re not up for kneading, let me introduce you to my beautiful no-knead dutch oven bread recipe which is very tasty and requires very little effort.