Hand-kneading bread is a gratifying process with simple, enjoyable steps. Massaging your dough properly helps develop the gluten in the flour, which is key in forming the elastic texture needed for the baking process. Working the gluten also helps prevent baked goods from drying out and crumbling.
However, before you get started kneading your bread, there are a few things to know.
Finding the Ideal Workspace
A functioning workspace will make a difference when hand-kneading dough. Fortunately, a comfortable workspace for hand-kneading requires few materials and little setup. To avoid straining your back and arm muscles, choose a flat counter or tabletop high enough to prevent you from overextending your arms while kneading.
Clean and thoroughly dry your surface, read your recipe specifications before sprinkling the surface with flour, and then keep calm and knead on!
Techniques for Kneading
With the right technique, the perfect well-kneaded dough is simple and easy to achieve. Try the following tried-and-true hand-kneading techniques.
For beginners, the “Basic Fold” can be your go-to for hand kneading. Simply fold your dough round in half, press the dough with your palms, and repeat!
The “French Fold” works best on stickier, wet doughs, typically those with hydration over 65%. For this method, use both hands, stretch the dough toward you then fold the dough back over itself. Complete this process twice—no flour is required!
The Rubaud Method
This classic technique works well when baking traditional French bread loaves and if you are prepping large quantities of pre-fermented dough. It involves placing the dough in a bowl, cupping it with your hand, and pulling it toward yourself.
This method takes about 10-20 minutes and requires a bit of practice. Follow easy-to-do video instructions to perfect the technique.
Stretch and Fold
If your dough is dense, with less than 65% hydration, try the “Stretch and Fold.” To utilize this method:
- Do not flour the countertop
- Hold down the side of the dough closest to you
- Grab the other half of the dough; stretch it away from your body
- Fold the dough toward you, back on top of itself; rotate 90 degrees
- Repeat these steps for 10-30 minutes, rotating in the same direction
Knowing When It’s Right
Hand-kneading bread requires gentle, rhythmic motions to stretch your dough, which takes roughly 10 to 15 minutes. The dough needs to be sturdy and stretchy to properly rise, or your bread will dry out. So, how do you know when it’s ready to bake?
What Should Kneaded Dough Look Like?
A properly kneaded dough will look smooth and springy! If your dough starts out lumpy and wet, that’s normal. As you go through the kneading process, your dough should start to look and feel soft and cushiony—then the kneading process is complete.
Follow the Recipe
Following the recipe’s visual instructions will help achieve properly kneaded dough. Avoid working the dough too hard, as it can absorb too much heat from the palms of your hands. If you follow the steps, it’s unlikely you will over-knead by hand.
Over Kneaded Dough
While it’s difficult to over-knead by hand, it can happen! If you notice that your dough is warm and has turned from a nice classic tanned wheat to a dull, white color, you’ve likely over-kneaded.
The “windowpane” test will indicate if your dough is properly kneaded. Remove and hold a small circle of dough in front of you, then stretch it between your thumb and first two fingers. If you can stretch the dough thin enough, without tearing, that you can see light through it, you’ve reached the sweet spot! If it pulls apart, it needs a bit more kneading.
Helpful Kneading Tools for Your Kitchen
Kneading is a simple, repetitive skill that results in a delicious, fresh reward. It takes minutes to do with minimal requirements; however, there are a few items you can keep on hand to ensure the process goes smoothly.
Highly hydrated doughs are known to stick to your countertop and mixing bowls. An inexpensive dough scraper allows you to easily combine your ingredients, move the dough around your workspace, and prevent over-flouring.
Between sticky dough and loose flour, kneading by hand can be a messy process. Keep a dedicated apron on hand to keep your clothes clean!
Measuring Cup of Flour
Depending on hydration, not all doughs require additional flour. However, keeping a measuring cup of flour on hand while you work will help keep the dough from sticking to your hands, clothes, and countertop.
Purchase a small kitchen timer to keep track of your kneading. Though handy, avoid using your phone’s timer. Between the sticky dough and dense flour, your phone is at risk of becoming a mess!
Go Get That Bread!
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