Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Bread: Kneading and Proofing

Kneading works up the gluten that is necessary for bread to rise. Proofing gets the yeast active, develops some flavor, and gives you large bubbles for the final loaf if you don't burst them all during shaping.

Bread Machine:

A bread machine does a nice job kneading and proofing for the first rise. A bread machine can proof a larger amount of dough than it can bake into a finished bread. The instructions may tell you, or you can play with it. If you don't pull the dough out fairly soon after it finishes, you might find the dough lifting the lid...
  1. Load it up (see tips). 
  2. Follow the machine's instructions for making dough. Delayed cycle is great too, but not for a dough with eggs in it. 
  3. Make sure you check it a couple of times; refer to "Dough Texture", below.
  4. Go ahead and let the machine proof your dough (first rise).


I usually make dough with a Kitchenaid stand mixer now. It makes the dough more quickly than a bread machine, and you can make a larger amount at a time. However, you can't walk away and leave it running. The quality of the dough is the same either way.
Video: A very wet pizza dough, at the beginning of kneading. Note how it sticks to the bottom of the bowl.

Video: The same dough, at the end of kneading. Notice that the bottom of the bowl is "clean"; it can be seen clearly as the beater and dough move around in the bowl.
  1. Load the ingredients (see tips). 
  2. Ingredients combined with regular beater
    Start with the regular beater, and mix until combined and everything clumps to the beaters. This usually takes less than a minute. If you're new to bread dough, don't adjust water/flour amounts at this point, because it can fool you. 
  3. Swap to a dough hook, and knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth, soft, and stretchy. I always run it for 7 minutes.
  4. Listen and watch. 
    1. If you can clearly see the bowl all the way to the bottom during the first several minutes, it probably needs water. 
    2. If the dough clings to the bowl all the way to the sides and doesn't ball up much, it probably needs more flour.
    3. For the first half of the time, you're looking for about a 3-4 inch diameter circle of dough clinging to the bottom of the bowl, and the dough should 
    4. look smooth (as opposed to gnarly tree bark). As 
    5. time goes on, the bottom of the bowl may be clean, but that's ok. Look at the videos, above, for examples.
    6. Eventually you can tell if it's right by listening to the strain of the motor as the hook pushes into the dough. If it strains hard and rocks the mixer, too dry; if it runs smooth like nothing's there, too wet.  
  5. Note that a dough rich with eggs and butter always sticks to the sides in an odd way, compared to a regular dough.
  6. Make sure you check it a couple of times; refer to "Dough Texture", below.
Good: some dough stuck to bottom of bowl
Rich dough, looking characteristically messy.

Dough Texture

  • A good bread dough is soft, smooth, stretchy, and does not stick to your hands alot. If you roll it around on a countertop without oil or flour, it should still be a ball, with very little clinging to the counter or your hands. It is pliable, not like stiff knotted rubber bands. Make sure your hands and surface are dry, or it will certainly stick.
  • Pinch Test: If you pinch the dough ball, your fingers should meet little resistance until your fingers are about 1/2 inch or so from touching. At that point, you should feel a good springiness keeping your fingers apart. This takes practice to "get a feel for it". It feels similar to pinching the muscle in your hand between your thumb and fingers.

Texture troubleshooting tips

goopy, even after kneadingtoo wet; add flour
sticks to bowl and fingers; does not form a balltoo wet or gluten is not developed; knead some more, add flour if this doesn't help
super hard to pulltoo dry; add water
knotted, tight, tree barktoo dry; add water

no rise                                                 yeast: forgot to add any, coated it with oil, killed with heat,
                                                            or was too old
  1. Proof in a large covered bowl or container, sprayed with cooking oil spray. The cover can be plastic wrap or a lid. Spray the top of the dough too, in case you let it rise too long and it hits the top.
  2. Let it rise until doubled. At about 100° F it takes about 45 min. At room temperature, it may take a couple of hours. In the refrigerator, it may take a night. Above 115° F is too hot. 
  3. If the temperature feels warm or toasty to you, it's fine; if it feels hot to you, it's too hot for the yeast. If it's chilly, expect the dough to rise slowly.
Dough at beginning of proofing.
Dough risen well beyond double, almost hitting the lid.


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