The Need to Knead: How to Knead Bread Dough

Kneading bread is not only relaxing but also crucial to the bread making process. Whether you’re doing it by hand or with a mixer, here’s how to knead bread dough for perfect loaves.

risen, kneaded dough

I really believe that kneading dough by hand is the most relaxing of all the kitchen tasks. I become entranced by its rhythmic movements: the soft push and pull, push and pull. You begin the process with a shaggy mass of dough with clumps of flour scattered throughout and then at the end of it you have a smooth ball of dough that looks nothing like how you started.

There’s an electric kitchen tool for practically every task these days, and I will indeed sometimes employ the stand mixer to do my dirty work for me when it comes to doughs. But when time allows, then I will indeed knead by hand. The process and methodical movements steady me and connect me to my grandmother and mom — who never would dream of using a machine to do the kneading.

bread ingredients

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[making bread dough

Why the need to knead?

Gluten has gotten such a bad rap lately but really, it’s not all bad. In fact, in this case, gluten is wonderful and exactly what we need to get a chewy bread with great structure.

You see, gluten is a protein present in flour; bread flour has a lot, cake flour has very little. With pastries; cakes, cookies, muffins, etc. you don’t want gluten. You want the finished product to be very moist, tender and light. So we will take care not to overmix those doughs and batters. But with bread the opposite is true; we want some chew, some pull, some bite, which comes when we develop the gluten. So that’s what we are doing when we knead — developing gluten.

before kneading

Where to begin?

Initially, your dough won’t look like much at all. It will be lumpy, sticky in parts and dry and over-floured in others. That’s perfectly fine.

1. Lightly flour the surface you are using to knead then dump out your dough.

2. Start by forming it into a rough rectangle. Take the back two sides of the rectangle and fold them towards you. Then use the palms of your hands to push the dough away.

Rotate the dough 90° then repeat that process for about 10 minutes or until the dough is smooth. Sometimes giving the dough a minute to relax and then going back to it helps to create that smooth mass.

kneading by hand kneading by hand kneading by hand kneading by hand kneading by hand kneading by hand
3. Continue to flour as needed without making a tight dough. If the dough is sticking to the surface or your hands, adding a bit of flour is perfectly fine.

4. You know you are done with the dough is smooth, a bit tacky and holds its shape. After you are done continue with the recipe which generally is to let the dough rest, covered in a warm spot. After all that work the dough needs some time to relax, hydrate, and to let the yeast eat up all the sugars and develop gas.

Note: The best flavored and textured breads get a good long fermentation (or resting). I will generally make my doughs then let them hang out in the fridge for at least one day and up to three.

Everyone adds their own personal flare to kneading. Some have a softer touch, others use it as their exercise regimen. As long as the basic motion is the same, you are developing the gluten and doing exactly as you should. Put away those machines and flour your hands, kneading by hand is the perfect stress reliever in the kitchen!

after kneading

Kneading in a stand mixer

Kneading in a mixer is a great alternative when you want to keep your hands clean and free to do other tasks.

1. Use the dough hook attachment and mix on medium speed, once all the ingredients are incorporated, until a smooth, stretchy, and slightly tacky dough forms, about 5 to 7 minutes.

2. Then continue with the recipe as instructed.

I’ve not noticed a huge difference in texture with kneading by the machine verses your hands. But, either way, soon you’ll have fresh bread and that is just about the most beautiful thing we can make with our hands or a machine.

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