Loaf  
whole wheat bread
with GREAT texture
 
line decor
line decor
 
 
 
 


 

The KNEADING Process

This section is the most important of this entire web site!

The process of

  • doing adequate kneading
  • not using excessive flour, and
  • proper development of the gluten in the wheat

will produce a loaf of 100% whole wheat bread with a fabulous, soft crumb texture.

Following the MIXING DIRECTIONS, combine your ingredients from THE RECIPE.

TOO MUCH WATER
or
TOO MUCH FLOUR?

To evaluate when you have the correct proportion of water and flour, moisten your hand, plunge it into the interior of the dough and squeeze a handful.  Laurel's description (from her Bread Book mentioned in right side bar) of when the proportion is correct is inspired:

"Does the dough resist your touch?  Does it strain the muscles in your fingers when you squeeze it?  Then it is too stiff.  On the other hand, the dough must have enough flour to hold its shape.  Does it feel waterlogged, as if the flour is not contributing much substance to it?  Does it have a runny, liquid quality?   Then it is too slack."

Here is a picture of what the dough looks like initially ...

This dough
has the correct proportion
of both water and flour

Start of dough
Click on image to see full size

And here is a picture of what the dough looks like when the kneading process is complete

done kneading
Click on image to see full size

The two pictures above were taken during the same loaf making session.  Nothing more was done or added to the top picture's dough to get it to the point pictured in the lower picture other than kneading.  Hence the choice of the word "magic"!!  Development of the gluten produced this soft, homogenous, smooth ball of dough out of the goopey, gloppy mess of dough that one starts out with.

In a food processor, this process takes from 1-5 minutes.  In a stand mixer with a dough hook, it will take 8-12 minutes.  By hand, plan on 20-30 minutes.

As you can see from the first picture above, when you first begin, the dough is a gloppy, gooey mess.  Like taffy, it sticks to EVERYTHING!  Squeezing it between your fingers will show it does have substance, but the average bread baker would still be inclined to add A LOT more flour. 

DON'T!!

Resist the urge to do so!!  Instead, simply begin kneading by your preferred method.

As you knead, the "magic" portion of bread making will begin to occur!   This gloppy, dull brown, non-uniform mass of dough will transform itself into what is pictured In the second of the two photos above ... a dough that is light golden tan, satiny-shiny, uniform in texture, and smooth to the touch, barely sticky at all.

Here are a few tips to help you
learn the process

When to stop adding water and/or flour is by far the trickiest part to learn.  However, once you have learned it, you will know this point by the feel and substance of the dough.  In the beginning, learning stages, err on the side of NOT adding too much flour.  As long as the dough has that characteristic described by Laurel of adequate substance, but not waterlogged, you'll do fine.  REMEMBER---IT WILL BE LIKE TAFFY ... A GOOEY MESS THAT STICKS TO EVERYTHING IT TOUCHES!

Even if you are using a food processor or mixer to mix the ingredients, you will have to use your hands at this point to evaluate the dough to determine if the water/flour proportions are correct.  Completely wet your hand and plunge it into the dough, grabbing a fistful and squeeze.  Wetting your hand will make it easier to scrape the dough off your hand.

Once you have decided that the amounts of water and flour are correct, begin the kneading process, stopping as needed to evaluate the gluten's development by touching and feeling the dough. Here is a picture of the dough more than halfway through the kneading process ...

Getting There
Click on image to see full size

As you can see, the dough's transformation has begun ... it is not near as sticky-gooey as when it started out, and its color has started to change from the dull brown to the lighter golden tan color.

But the texture is still not smooth and uniform ... in the full size picture you can see that it is still bumpy/lumpy.  And it does not have the sheen that the finished dough will have.  If you attempted to stretch out a piece of the dough at this point, it would tear.

In her Bread Book, Laurel gives an excellent guideline for when the kneading is complete.  When you can stretch out a piece of dough into a thin, translucent sheet, THEN you're done kneading.  The picture below shows the technique Laurel teaches to use to evaluate when the gluten is fully developed and therefore time to stop kneading:

The MAGIC point of
perfect gluten development

Goal
Click to see full size image

If you click on the image above to view the full size image, you will see that the dough is thin enough to let light through, and yet does not tear. The particles of bran are suspended throughout the dough.  The dough is barely tacky and does not stick to your fingers.  And if you notice the surface of the dough that is on the counter, you will see it is very shiny.

To test your dough in this manner, wet your hands and fingers and take a small portion of the dough and gently work it into a thin rectangle between the fingers of both hands.  Gently and gradually work the dough thinner and thinner until it is thin enough to let light through, holding as shown in the picture.  If the dough allows itself to be shaped this way without tearing, THIS is when you stop kneading.

CAN YOU KNEAD
TOO MUCH?

With a food processor ... YES, DEFINITELY!

Over kneading breaks down the gluten's structure which, after baking, will result in a BRICK worthy of any construction project!! Using a food processor you need to stop and test your dough about every 30 seconds initially, and after the first minute, about every 15 seconds.

With a mixer, again, yes, although it would take longer from the point of perfect gluten development to over-done-broken-down-gluten.

By hand, it would be almost impossible to over knead.  The engine powering the kneading would probably give out before the gluten does!

Go back to the MIXING PROCESS
Proceed to the RISING PROCESS
Proceed to the BAKING PROCESS

 
 

 

REFERENCE

I am indebted to the absolutely fabulous instructions found in

The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking

Once I mastered the technique she taught, I have been producing perfect whole wheat bread!

DO search out this book either in your library or via purchase. Reading through it will make you want to spend every day baking bread!!

The authors present so many wonderful types of bread to make, as well as presenting perfectly clear directions complete with illustrations, you'll feel like an expert just by reading through the various chapters.