What is Kneading?
Kneading is the process of working bread dough until it is formed into a smooth ball with an elastic texture. The process is key for forming a gluten matrix, responsible for giving bread structure and texture. Properly kneaded bread will have a finer grain, texture and crumb.
Dough can be kneaded by hand, but mechanical kneading is easier. Breads were originally kneaded by autolyse, slow rise, or folding the dough. The rise of mechanically mixed bread made kneading dough the standard, especially as the public became used to lighter, fluffier bread.1
Why it Matters
The wheat flour used in almost all bread products contains gliadin and glutenin as the main proteins. Combined, they form gluten. When the dough is mixed, the gluten proteins become tangled and clumped together. However, when it is kneaded, these proteins line up and create a matrix responsible for dough strength and structure. The dough can then trap gases released by leavening agents like yeast, and rise.2
Not all doughs need to be kneaded to turn into light, fluffy bread. No-knead breads form their gluten matrix from a 12 hour or more fermentation process. During that time enzymes break down the proteins, while the yeast inflates it. The proteins become so small, that the natural kneading of the rising yeast is enough to create the gluten matrix.
There are two ways to knead bread:
-This can take seven to 10 minutes to reach the optimal gluten matrix, by repeatedly folding and stretching the dough. Flour can be added to keep the dough from sticking. However, too much will dry out the dough and make it stiff.
-This is the most efficient way to knead. A dough hook attachment on a mechanical mixer will knead the dough it very short time period. The mixer should be set at a medium high speed, while checking every few minutes. If the dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl it is probably ready.
If a dough is under-kneaded, the loaf will spread out instead of up, and may collapse on itself as the yeast-produced gases escape. The bread will come out flat and dense. However, over-kneading the dough will make the crusts too hard, with the dough dry and dense. This time, it is because the gluten matrix has become too rigid.3
To know if the dough is properly mixed and kneaded, perform a “windowpane test.” Take a small handful of dough and stretch it out with both hands, holding between your thumb and forefingers. If the gluten is developed enough, it will not easily tear and will be somewhat translucent.
Keep in mind that kneading, especially mechanically, will increase the temperature of the dough due to the friction.4
1. Kaplan, Steven L. Good Bread Is Back: A Contemporary History of French Bread, the Way It Is Made, and the People Who Make It. Durham: Duke UP, 2006.
2. Maeda, Tatsuro, Mito Kokawa, Nobuhito Nango, Makoto Miura, Tetsuya Araki, Masaharu Yamada, Kōji Takeya, and Yasuyuki Sagara. “Development of a Quantification Method of the Gluten Matrix in Bread Dough by Fluorescence Microscopy and Image Analysis.” Food Bioprocess Technol Food and Bioprocess Technology 8.6 (2015): 1349-354
3. Auger, Frederic, Marie-Helene Morel, Jacques Lefebvre, Muriel Dewilde, and Andreas Redl. “A Parametric and Microstructural Study of the Formation of Gluten Network in Mixed Flour–water Batter.” Journal of Cereal Science 48.2 (2008): 349-58.
4. Kansou, Kamal, Hubert Chiron, Guy Della Valle, Amadou Ndiaye, and Philippe Roussel. “Predicting the Quality of Wheat Flour Dough at Mixing Using an Expert System.” Food Research International 64 (2014): 772-82.