Traditionally bread dough is kneaded by hand or using a mixer until the dough softens and becomes elastic. As I understand it, what takes place during the kneading is the development of elastic gluten strands in the dough. Typically bakers are instructed to knead for a given time (10 minutes is often specified), or until there is a discernible change in the elasticity of the loaf. Externally, the dough is said to be ’shiny’ or ’smooth’. It will also stretch without breaking, and one test that students are sometimes taught to apply is the ‘windowpane’ test. Stretch the dough out with one hand, and it should stretch out thin enough that you can start to see light through the dough (without breaking). This is Jack Lang’s picture  of a dough that has been developed to this stage.
However ever since reading Dan Lepard’s ‘The Handmade Loaf’ I have been a convert to a different method of developing bread dough. Dan describes a method which uses only brief hand kneads interspersed with resting the dough. This allows the flour to absorb water, and amazingly the gluten strands to develop without needing to be extensively handled, molested and bashed all over the benchtop.
But are the methods equivalent? Would I have better results if I used a more traditional method of kneading? (Bill mentioned last week that he kneads his doughs unless they are very high in water content, and his pictures of a 64% hydration loaf, are much more impressive than my attempts at the same recipe…)
To determine the effect of the type (and duration) of kneading on the crumb of a simple white sourdough.
As in previous weeks I used the Pane Francese  recipe (I remembered the wholemeal flour this week!!). I made three 1/2 quantity loaves.
The aim was to minimize any differences between the loaves apart from the kneading method. I therefore didn’t use ‘oil’ in the kneading of loaf 1, but instead used very sparse amounts of flour.
Added starter, water, flours and salt. Mixed all together to a rough sticky mess. Covered and left for ten minutes.
Scraped the dough onto a very lightly floured surface and kneaded for just 10 seconds. Put back in the bowl, and left for 10 minutes.
Scraped out the dough, kneaded for 10 seconds. Covered and left for 10 minutes
One last knead for 10 seconds, then put back in the bowl.
Mixed starter, water, flours and salt. Tipped out onto very lightly floured work surface and kneaded (stretch, fold, turn, repeat ad nauseam) for 6 minutes, adding the least possible extra flour.
Mixed starter, water, flours and salt. Kneaded for 12 minutes adding the least possible extra flour.
All of the doughs had a proof of about 4 hours (plus a couple of hours in the fridge), were shaped, and then left outside on the balconey (overnight min temp 7 degrees) for about 9 hours.
(Click on thumbnails to see a larger version)
The three loaves (1 to 3, left to right)
(~7g extra flour used in kneading)
(~20g extra flour used in kneading)
(~20g extra flour used in kneading)
As you can see from the above pictures, all of the loaves had a somewhat eccentric oven spring, with unsightly bulges along the side or base of the loaves. I particularly associate this phenomenon with loaves that are baked from the fridge (without warming up), as I think that the oven spring is so great that the loaves won’t constrain themselves to the slashes that I make. In this case I wondered if the cool temperature outside was simply too cold to allow enough proofing (the doughs had not risen percetibly by morning).
I couldn’t tell any great difference between the loaves externally. If pressed (and perhaps I am biased) I thought that the texture of loaf 1 was perhaps superior to the 6 and 12 minute kneaded loaves. In any case the longer hand kneads certainly didn’t seem to result in an improvement in the texture of the end loaf.
One difference with traditional hand kneading is the necessity to add extra flour. In this case I was as parsimonious as I possibly could be. Dan Lepard’s method usually involves spreading a teaspoon or so of olive oil on the benchtop, and on hands to facilitate kneading. There is no need to add extra flour while kneading. In this case I added the minimum extra flour, and for loaf one this changed the overall hydration from 69% to 68%.
The other two loaves however need extra flour added to permit kneading for the longer time, and although I was as stingy as possible, I still needed to add about 20g flour (reducing the overall hydration to 65%). (Looking at last week’s experiment  there was little difference between the 66% and 69% loaves, so I would not expect that to have substantially affected the end loaf)
One interesting aside. I cut into loaf one this morning before iit had cooled fully (though it had still cooled for an hour or so after baking. It is interesting to compare the texture of the cut loaf when cut while still slightly warm.
Hand-kneading for 6 or 12 minutes did not result in an improved texture of a simple white sourdough loaf (in fact possibly better texture with Dan Lepard’s technique), but did result in lower hydration due to the added flour.