Monday, August 6

The Essentials Of Kneading Bread Dough

Confession....I own a bread machine. Remember those? I bought mine during the height of bread machine mania. I spent entirely too much money for my machine {so unlike me, I'm a bit of a scrooge} and I no longer use it. In fact I haven't used it in years. Once I discovered the art of baking yeast breads I became hopelessly addicted to the feel of kneading dough by hand. It feels soft, somewhat elastic and “alive” under your hands as you knead it. I stand at my kitchen window as I knead, observing nature, children playing and the changing seasons. Time passes quickly and it gives me a quiet moment alone to reflect and think. I know...not normal.

Proper kneading is one of the most important steps in making bread. Kneading develops the gluten, which gives the dough elasticity by trapping the bubbles of gas formed by the yeast. Resulting in a bread with an even, light texture that is not crumbly or dry and slices beautifully.

The art of kneading dough is knowing when you're under-kneading or over-kneading, AND correcting it. This can mean the difference between a bummer loaf of bread and a fantastic one. I've made my share of bad loaves, but do you think that kept the P's from eating it anyway?? They ate those lopsided loaves with GUSTO!

You can tell if your dough is under-kneaded if it's loose, tears easily, and still looks shaggy. What to do? Hello?....just keep kneading. If you're trying to form the dough into a loaf and it won't keep it's shape, that's a sign that it didn't quite get kneaded enough. At this point, shape it into a ball and let it rest for 15 minutes. Knead for a few minutes and shape your loaf; if it doesn't hold it's shape let it rest again. Do this a few times until the dough holds it's shape without morphing into a pancake. You can then continue on with shaping your final loaf. IF you have under-kneaded your dough your results will be a flat-looking loaf with a dense texture that  tears when sliced.

If the dough feels dense and tough when you knead it, that's a sign that it's starting to become over-kneaded. It will be difficult to flatten the dough out, this means that the gluten is so tight that it has very little give. If you think you've over-kneaded the dough, try letting it rise a little longer before shaping it. You can't really 'undo' the damage of over-worked gluten, but the longer you let the dough rise the gluten will have time to relax a bit. Loaves made with over-kneaded dough often end up with a rock-hard crust and a dense, dry interior.

Don't get discouraged, as with any new skills it takes time and repetition to become a good baker of yeast breads.....but totally worth your time and effort. If you are following a recipe, you may have to ignore the kneading time. The weather, atmosphere and altitude can all affect bread dough...sometimes you have to just go by touch. Just remember, every time you make a mistake and pull a bum loaf out of the are actually teaching yourself what to do or what NOT to do. It's a learning process and no one is watching. Rest assured you are NOT wasting your time trying, you've learned new things and your family WILL eat that wonderful hot bread right out of the oven. They will think it's grand, and really.....aren't they the only ones who count?

Step-By-Step instructions to kneading dough.

Combine the ingredients for your dough according to the recipe directions. Mix in as much of the flour as you can.
Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a clean, well-floured surface.
Gather the dough into a pile and begin pressing it together.
Press the heels of your hands firmly into the dough, pushing forward slightly.
Fold the far edge of the dough upwards, towards you, and press it into the middle of the ball. Repeat this press-fold-turn step for the duration of the kneading process.
Most bread doughs should look something like this when you’re done kneading.

Later this week.....Pizza dough and homemade pizza!


 the domestic curator ~ ronda

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