The need to knead

Szkot

I have been baking bread on and off for years (with reasonable results, generally with commercial-yeast starters), but have only got truly serious about it in the past 8 months or so.  What inspired me was a copy of Andrew Whitley's 'Bread Matters', a brilliant book that lead me to purchasing my own flour directly from a mill and really trying to get to grips with sourdough (though I found hybrids easier).  Andrew is a proponent of kneading (12 mins by hand approx), and makes it clear that he feels there is no other way to develop the gluten effectively in the bread you are creating.  He particularly champions 'air kneading' - holding the dough in both hands and stretching it like a concertina.  This particular technique has been the way I have been kneading my bread for the past while - in fact, I was often  kneading my bread in this fashion for nearer 20 minutes (liked the feel of it, and it felt like a work-out!).  

 

However, having discovered this site, and its contributors' plentiful references to Dan Lepard's minimal-knead approach (10 seconds with 10 minute breaks etc), I thought I would try his technique go for a change, even though I was pretty doubtful.  The bread turned out to be delicious, with a particularly open crumb.  As delighted as I was with this,  I also felt cheated and a little bit upset.  Surely bread is meant to be harder than this to make?  And all  those generations of bakers that kneaded extensively, sweat streaming from their brows - surely they knew that that was the 'magic' that made their bread the best?

 

Should I give up kneading?  I know it does no harm to continue to do it, but what is the point if it doesn't add anything extra?  Does anyone on this site still knead in the traditional fashion?  Does anyone still feel that it gives their bread the edge over the no-fuss approach?     

 

         

      

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Alie0Bronwynn 2010 January 19

Hi Szkot,

 

I read the EXACT same approach in a book a few months ago and decided to give it a try - and I had the exact same results!!  The bread was DELICIOUS and lighter and fluffier than anything I'd ever made before.  I felt crazy.  The only thing that sucks is now I'm addicted to this approach and the first kneading process takes me about 2-3 hours.  Here's what I do.

 

Mixing everything together and then:

1. Put dough on surface to knead, let rest 10 min.

2. Knead for about 15 seconds, let rest 10 min.

3. Knead for about 15 seconds, let rest 30 min.

4. Knead for about 15 seconds, let rest 1 hour.

5. Knead for about 15 seconds, let rest 2 hours.

 

Then you are ready for the shaping and 2nd rise. 

 

So, it makes great bread, but no more kneading for 15 minutes and then running out for 4 hours.  *sigh*

Szkot 2010 January 19

It does seem counter-intuitive, doesn't it.  I suppose I have just got used to the idea of bread-making involving a fair bit of graft.  It's a romantic notion, no doubt, all that sweat and exertion and pushing and pulling: you are putting your love into the bread.  And now this. 

 

Dimitry1, I think you need to try it. 

rossnroller 2010 January 19

I understand your mourning, guys. I used to enjoy kneading (pizza dough and a few SD breads from Ed Woods), then I discovered stretch-and-fold. My sense of loss lasted for about two breads - actually, one!  If you're doing SD, most of the time there really is no need for kneading...in fact, generally, I've found it's better not to.

And Dan Lepard is actually overkill compared with, say, Hamelman, who often does only two stretch-and-folds during the entire bulk proof period. I've found 2 or 3 to be quite adequate most of the time, although different doughs may require more.

When you read acknowleged experts like Hamelman and Reinhart using only a few stretch-and-folds, and then note that your favourite artisan home bakers also use this method rather than kneading...well, I go with the strength! And as always, the real proof is in the eating!

Cheers
Ross

Szkot 2010 January 19
It definitely is a sense of mourning though. I suppose I have always associated bread-making with a certain amount of physical toil, that the kneading was intrinsic to producing good bread. Plus kneading meant putting something of yourself into the bread - your energy, your commitment, your strength. For if any food symbolises love at it deepest and most silent and most fortifying, surely it is bread. And love isn’t meant to be easy. . .  Dan Lepard writes (or wrote) a column in the Guardian here in Britain, but I have to say I have only read it a few times. Andrew Whitley – champion of ‘air kneading’ -founded the Village Bakery in England, and his book ‘Bread Matters’ has always meant a lot to me. So I suppose there is a sense of being disloyal now. This may all seem very sentimental, I know, but making bread is a profound experience: it engenders sentiment! Ach, I’m going to greet* now. . . * to greet: Scottish for ‘cry’        
jas's picture
jas 2010 January 21

I'm an amateur baker who came in with the same skeptisim, and enjoyment of kneading.  However now, it's pretty clear that as a home baker, I am producing bread that tastes better than the stuff we can get from our local suburban bakeries, and the bubbles are just as big, etc.

My greatest concern was that kneading gave me a good feel for what was happening with the dough - particularly if I changed flours, etc., and if I stopped kneading, I would lose the ability to assess any "tweaks" to my recipies.  This concern was unfounded, because I still get a good chance to feel the dough during the regular folds - in fact, I get *more* opportunities to monitor things now due to the periodic folding interval.

So go for it!  Whatever the outome, it's good to experiment...

I also like the technique because the folding intervals really aren't all that strict, and you have the ability to tune the times by altering the dough temperature.  It all means that you're never really at the bench for more than a couple of minutes at a time, and can adjust the timings to suit your obligations so it's easy to fit the baking into the course of a day.

Szkot 2010 January 22

Jas

 

I am sure you are right.  Kneading is such a touch-feely thing that the thought of giving it up (practically) seems like a huge loss.  And yet if it makes better bread. . .I suppose that I always expected bread-making to involve a fair bit of physical exertion, sweat and - let's be honest - showing off.  Making the odd languid fold every hour or so in the dough seems too easy.

I have now made two loaves using Dan Lepard's technique (I'm out at work all day, so his method suits me: I do the initial 'kneading' early in the morning and then let the dough have a long prove - 10 hours or so - in the freezing cold loft, then do more folding when I get home), both of turned out to be golden, crusty pillows of delight.  I rarely make an all-white-flour bread (it's usually 60/40 with a darker flour - Swiss dark, rough-ground wholemeal etc) and both loaves had a good, open, tender crumb.  Even with approx 40% wholemeal flour etc, I was still surprised at the size of some of the holes I was getting, but that's perhaps due to the lack of violence I'm inflicting on my dough now!       

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