The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Kneading bread dough

Kneading breadWhen all of the ingredients are in the bowl and the dough is getting hard to stir, clean off a table or countertop, toss down a handful of flour to keep the dough from sticking, and pour the contents of your bowl onto the counter.  Knead the bread by stretching it out, then folding it in half, turning ninety degrees after each stretch and fold.  You may have to add a bit more flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the counter, but try not to add too much --- a slightly sticky dough will produce fluffier bread.

Kneading your bread is kitchen alchemy.  Proteins in the flour combine with water to create gluten, and your kneading lets the gluten form long strands.  Have you ever noticed that well-made bread tears along lines while muffins simply crumble?  That's the difference between a dough in which gluten did and didn't form.

Gluten isn't only important for the texture of the bread --- it helps dough rise as well.  When yeast excretes carbon dioxide, strands of gluten trap that gas within the dough.  Without gluten, your bread would rise a bit, then fall.

The amount of gluten in your bread will depend on two factors.  First is the length of your kneading time.  Bread products that don't need much gluten (like pizza crusts) don't have to be kneaded very long, but if you want fluffy whole wheat bread, you might have to knead for as much as half an hour.

Type of flour is just as important as length of kneading.  If you use a low protein flour like all-purpose wheat flour, there simply won't be enough protein present to create as many gluten fibers.  Flours made from grains other than wheat can be high in protein but lack the specific proteins used to create gluten.  Finally, whole wheat flour has another problem --- the tough bran particles cut through the gluten, fragmenting the fibers even as you knead.  That's why it's often helpful to add some gluten to your recipe if you want fluffy bread made with flours other than wheat bread flour.

Weekend Homesteader paperbackFor a white bread like this one, ten minutes of kneading is sufficient.  It's not mandatory, but you'll find it easier to knead your dough if you stop after the first five minutes and give your dough five or ten minutes to relax before finishing the kneading process.

Relaxing your dough in the middle of the knead allows water to work its way into the flour.  As a result, your dough feels less sticky and you add less excess flour, so your bread's texture comes out perfect.

Stay tuned for more on the science and practice of bread-baking at lunchtime for the rest of the week.  Don't want to wait for future installments?  The information is excerpted from Weekend Homesteader: January, which is available for free on Amazon from today until December 23!  I hope you'll give the entire book a try (and leave me a review!)

This post is part of our Bread lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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