Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The 3 Keys To Breadmaking - #2 Kneading

Last week we covered choosing the right kind of flour for whole wheat bread and this time we’re looking into kneading and little tweaks you can do to improve your bread.

Kneading is crucial to having elastic dough. When flour is mixed with liquid, the gluten makes small chains that link together and become stronger during the mixing process. As the gluten chains become stronger and more elastic, they create pockets. This is where yeast enters the scene. Yeast casts off carbon dioxide which generates the gases that make flour products rise. Picture it like a hot air balloon. The canvas of the balloon (gluten chains) catches the hot air (carbon dioxide gas) and away you rise. If your canvas is too heavy or has giant holes, you will be grounded. Same with bread. If your gluten chains are not adequately stretched by kneading, then the carbon dioxide will have no place to puff up. The result? Squatty bread with a crumbly texture.

If your bread is short and the texture resembles a shot gun target, your culprit may be insufficient kneading. Below are three keys, I’ve found helpful when kneading my dough.

Bosch Kitchen Mixer

The Bosch Kitchen mixer is an all purpose mixer that also makes fantastic dough. When our growing family burned up three bread machines from having to make bread everyday, the Bosch mixer is what we turned to and we couldn’t be more happy with it. It can make up to four loaves at a time and I’ve used it about 3-4 times a week for the past 8 years. We’re actually on our second Bosch mixer (the last one's fate fell when we pushed it beyond its limits after years of service - live and learn!). The Bosch’s four speed option gives greater control over the kneading speed and we noticed a significant improvement over the traditional bread machine. Which leads to our second key...

Add Flour S-l-o-w-l-y

This past winter I hit a slump with my bread. It was short and heavy and I could not figure out what I was doing wrong. At that same time, I had a part-time business that had me working away from home, so my sister often stepped in to cover the bread making for me. I started noticing that her bread had a much more airy, softer texture than mine and became crazy to know her secret. Turned out that I’d become too antsy and was hurriedly dumping in flour, whereas May would sing through several hymns or read while she patiently spooned in flour. Since then, I’ve slowed way down and my bread is coming out much better (though I still think May has a special touch that should rank her as the new bread maker *winks*). Of course, how long this process should take will vary according to whether you hand or machine knead and the type of flour you use but try evaluating how you quickly you add flour and see what you find.

Longer Final Knead

Generally, 5-7 minutes is sufficient for your final kneading session. (Note: in my recipe this is the kneading time right after all the flour is added, and also is the final time I knead. If your recipe calls for one more knead before letting it rise to bake, then apply this to the knead right after all flour has been added.) Some recipes don’t allow a long enough kneading time so don’t be afraid to increase it beyond what is suggested. My recipe calls for a 5 minute kneading session, but I've found the bread rises best if I knead it for 6 minutes instead. Remember, the point of kneading is to work those gluten chains. Over-kneading is possible, but it is often easier to diagnose, and we bread makers tend to under-knead our dough.

 Acknowledgment: this series is based on an article I wrote for the March/April 2014 edition of the Molly Green Magazine. For information on how to subscribe to Molly Green Magazine, please visit http://mollygreen.com/


  1. That bread looks beautiful. :) Thank you for the posts on bread making, Kenzi!! They are very interesting - and especially how it's important to add the flour slowly. :)

  2. Thanks, Patience! (smiles broadly) Yes, May's little technique there taught me a lot! It's amazing how we never stop learning, no matter how long we've been at something. :)