The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Kneading - by hand or machine?

hedera helix's picture
hedera helix

Kneading - by hand or machine?

I have got a sense from random trawling through this site that many people knead their dough with a machine. I'm not exactly in the midst of an active baking community where I live (in fact I'm the only baker I know) but I hadn't realised that there was such a lot of people using a machine for domestic baking.

I'd be interested to hear which way people prefer to do their kneading, machine or hand, and why you choose that way. Have you tried the other way and found it not up to scratch somehow? Is it time issues that make you use a machine? Are you a luddite and refuse to use technology? What's your preference and why?

For my part, the only time I have used a machine was when a bloke I was sharing a house with got given a bread machine for Christmas, and in fact that was what got me started baking. I now do it all by hand. The reason is primarily that I like the feel of the dough under my hands. It makes it feel like it is a personal relationship I am developing with my food (I do have more normal relationships in my life as well though!). It is part of the creative process for me. There are practical reasons too - the first being I don't have a machine! The second being I wouldn't be confident buying one as I don't know what to look for, and anyway, third, I have a tiny kitchen and have nowhere to put it. The downside of hand kneading is that (maybe my technique needs some work) I do get a bit sore after a while.

Somewhere else on the site, someone was talking about kneading 25lb of dough by hand. I'd like to be able to do that one day - those quantities I thought were firmly in the realms of the machine.

colinwhipple's picture

I just recently got a stand mixer, but except for very hydrated doughs, I prefer to knead by hand.  I don't do extremely big batches, and doing it by hand just feels more creative.


AnnieT's picture

Hi Hedera, I don't have a machine and like you I wouldn't have anywhere to put one. What I do have is lots of arthritis (old age) and so I don't do much kneading. I try to do the French fold if the dough is right, otherwise I do the stretch and fold method, or sometimes both. Works like magic and it's amazing how many errands I can fit in between folds. If you look at Sourdough Home you can see Mike Avery demonstrating. Give it a try, A

Rosalie's picture

Usually, I start my bread in the mixer but end up doing it by hand.  The mixer does a lot of the work, but I always feel that it needs hand finishing.


crumb bum's picture
crumb bum

Hello Hedra

I used to knead by hand.  Then I went to the KA.  I now mix and "develope" my dough by hand.  I believe it was BWraith that posted this method.  My apoligies if this is not the case.  Cool thing about this method is you do not need to knead in order to achieve the consistancy you want.  It goes like this. Mix flour, water, yeast or leaven and I add salt at this time.  Some people wait before adding salt to allow gluten to hydrate without competing with the salt.  Let this rough dough set 15 min.  Then perform a "frissage" upon this rough dough.  Frissage is nothing more than using the heel of your hand to smash/smear the dough to break up any dry or unmixed ingredients.  I do this once sometimes twice.  I then let this set 30 minutes and give it a letter fold.  Push dough out into a rough square and fold the edges to the middle and turn over and let set 30 or 40 minutes and repeat.  You should be feeling the dough develope and gain strength.  Continue folding until desired texture is achieved.  This folding is simply amazing.  No kneading by machine or hand and yet you still get the satisfaction of handling and working your dough.  One of my pet peeves is none of the popular bread books give this folding method the attention it deserves.  If you had a big ole table I think you could do 25 lbs without too much trouble?  Give it a whirl.

Da Crumb Bum

browndog's picture

Here to flash my Luddite creds, but it's not just principle that keeps me hand-kneading. Fully half my pleasure in baking comes from using my muscles and handling the dough, to the point that I plug my ears and go "la la la" when someone tells me folding is better...but I do use folds during fermentation as directed by the recipe or if the dough seems lazy.

JMonkey's picture

I develop my dough by hand, but I no longer knead, at least not in the traditional sense, unless I'm doing one of Peter Reinhart's "epoxy doughs" where part of the dough has set overnight as a pre-ferment and the rest as a soaker. And even then, I'm really kneading primarily to mix the ingredients.

Most of the time, I use the stretch-and-fold method, illustrated here in a video and text explanation. It's super easy and makes very little mess, since it can often all be done right in the bowl. Dough development has been uniformly excellent, whether I'm making bagels, 100% whole wheat bread or even a 40% rye with the rest whole wheat.

ehanner's picture

Depending on the dough I am trying to develop, I might knead some. The need to knead for me is based on the hydration of the dough and the type of flour used in the mix. If I am using a straight AP flour mix and say 65% hydration then a little hand kneading or french folding will work just fine. If I'm making a more slack dough then the stretch and fold method jmonkey likes works for me.  Lately however I have seen that a slack AP mix or a high percentage of whole grains mix will benefit from a few minutes of medium speed mixing or kneading in the stand mixer. I always end up finishing the dough by hand to fine tune the amount of extra flour I need to get the proper feel and pre-shape.

Personally I wouldn't mix a 25 pound batch by hand and it wouldn't fit in my KA. A 6 pound batch is manageable and using smaller quantities allows you to stage the production line timing to suit the oven capacity. I couldn't bake more than 6 pounds at a time and probably really 4 pounds would be better on one level in a free form shape. Mike Avery pointed out to me that pans allow you to greatly improve the efficiency of the baking operation because you can get so many more loaves in at one time. At any rate if you mix more than you can get in the oven, the chance of over proofing is likely if you don't have a big cooler.


bwraith's picture

Like JMonkey, I tend to use the stretch and fold for the most part to develop gluten and find it works well for many of the recipes I like.

However, ZB pointed out a hand technique mentioned by Glezer in "Artisan Baking" that involves squeezing the dough with your hands, extruding it between your fingers, as you work your way up and down the dough. Lately, in order to mix those "epoxy" doughs, like for the miche recipes I like to do, I've used this technique for a few minutes, alternated with a couple of repetitions of that movement in the Bertinet DVD or the similar folding/kneading motion described by Glezer in Artisan Baking. I have found this is very effective at mixing the components of the dough while at the same time getting some early gluten development.

My mixer doesn't handle the miche recipes I like to do, as they are about 5.5 lbs of dough after mixing. I could of course do them in a series, but then I would have to mix those by hand, too. Between that and finding it annoying to get out and carry the heavy mixer, then clean the attachments, bowl, and other small pieces, and then put it away, I prefer to just do my dough by hand. As browndog mentioned, there is a certain amount of pleasure and satisfaction you get from the physical process of kneading the bread by hand, and that tips the scale in favor of doing it by hand for me.

verminiusrex's picture

I do all my mixing in the mixer.  It's faster, easier and makes less of a mess.  I also get more consistant results with my bread because I know just how long to mix the dough with the hook. 

 When people ask me what kind of bread machine I have, I say "KitchenAid Mixer and my oven."

wholegrainOH's picture

Like so many others, I knead the old fashioned way, although I tend to start the dough in the KA.  I've tried no-knead, and it works just fine (and is handly when a lot of other things are going on which make it a useful alternative), but I've kneaded and punched and pounded dough to work out frustrations/annoyances/problems over a several decade period.  Great therapy, and unlike other kinds of therapy, you get a delicious and useful product as a result!



sphealey's picture

OK, I will take the dark side and offer some reasons to use a bread machine for mixing/kneading:

  • Lack of time - you would like to bake something but do not have enough time to mix, knead, and/or fold
  • Increase production - for my Labor Day bread extravaganza I made half the hamburger bun dough by hand and half by machine to get more done in a fixed time
  • Sticky dough - bread machines do an excellent job kneading sticky doughs such as ryes
  • Desire for small even crumb - your family likes sandwich bread with a small even crumb
  • You have some recipes that were developed for that method and don't have the time or expertise to redesign them
  • Lack of physical ability to knead due to RSI, athritis, etc.
browndog's picture

At KA a baker demonstrated a technique shown to her by a student from South America. It involved taking, in this case, a couple pounds of sourdough (a pound and a half of flour, 14 oz of water, a pound of 100% hydration starter,) and rather than kneading or folding, she cut the dough into several chunks with her dough scraper. She swept them back together then repeated the process. That's all it was, cut, combine, cut again, til the dough was ready. She did not look happy doing it. She said that although she was morally opposed to any such technique, this kid's dough came together faster than anyone else's turned dough.

Kitchen Barbarian's picture
Kitchen Barbarian

Why in the world would anyone be "morally opposed" to a technique that makes things easier and less likely to go wrong????

Rhetorical questions aside, have you tried this and if so how well did it seem to work to you?  I'd like more infomation on this technique.  I can't knead, don't like to knead even when I could knead, but I could see something like this working out for me.

ejm's picture

Perhaps the opposition is to the cutting the dough. Wouldn't that be cutting the gluten strands?

I too am curious to know if anyone has tried this method and if it has indeed worked.


weavershouse's picture

I had a mixer about 15 years ago but it broke. I thought about getting a new one but decided to see if I liked kneading by hand. I never bought another mixer and I've never missed it. It's easier to wash my hands than cleaning up the mixer, not to mention dragging it in and out and the noise of it. I like the old fashioned way of doing a lot of things. Who knows why, it's just me.

Besides, I like the feel of the dough even though I mostly do stretch and folds rather than kneading. I said that fast before browndog had a chance to cover her ears!                          weavershouse

KipperCat's picture

I'm still working my way through this.  I have little strength and less energy, so assumed that I would use a machine.  Then I realized how much I like playing with dough.  I'm not a consistent baker with any method.  And the fact that I'm switching from one to another all the time doesn't help develop that.  But while the bread isn't great, it's always good, and I'm learning more all the time.

noelvn's picture

I was a professional baker for a number of years, and for a while I used to hand-shape hundreds of loaves a night. Since then I no longer feel the romance of getting that special hands-in-dough quaility time.

I mix almost all of my dough in my very old Zoji. It's got a crippled sort of programming which I use only to shift it from one action to the next whenever I think the time is right. So really, it's mostly a means of container-izing my baking mess, and keeping dough off my hands (well, except that I'm always opening the lid to reach in and poke at the dough-in-progress...). I also have a Kitchen Aid but I rarely use it for bread -- too much hassle getting it out & cleaning it up, etc. Rinsing out the bread machine pan is much easier than cleaning up the entire kitchen -- which is necessary if I make bread by hand. I am a high-entropy cook.

OTOH, I do almost always do the final shaping by hand. That part is fun. Plus the machine makes weird-shaped loaves if you let it have its way with your dough.

ejm's picture

Except for one occasion, I always mix and knead bread by hand. The only machine we have that could possibly be used for mixing dough is a food processor. Carol Field has food processor instructions in her book "The Italian Baker" and the one time I decided to do myself a favour with slack dough and use the processor instead of my hands, I ended up making $40 bread (It cost $40 to replace the part that I broke).

So by hand, all the way. Even the very very slack dough that Field says to use a machine with. The kind of dough that looks and feels like loose porridge right after mixing. I pour it on the board and squoosh it with my left hand and have to move fast with the dough scraper in my right hand to stop the dough from pouring off the board. Exiliarating and fun.

Generally, I mix with a wooden spoon til the flour is mostly encorporated, let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes, then knead about 10 minutes til smooth. I use Glezer's stretch and fold method for finishing slack dough. For stiff dough (some rye breads) I use the "lift dough up, drop it down on the board, fold over as much as possible, turn and repeat" method. This works very very well and develops stiffer doughs relatively painlessly.

The biggest advantage to hand kneading is that there is little chance of over-kneading.  


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

What comes through in the notes above is that there are many roads that take you to the same place. In a Julia Childs video a baker develops dough by slamming it against the counter repeatedly. Hundreds of times. When I tried it things started bouncing off the counters. I haven't tried that again, though it did seem to work.

Conventional kneading, stretch and fold, cut and smear, whatever. It all works.

And so does using a mixer. I have two mixers. One is an ancient 1978 vintage KitchenAid K45SS, the other is a brand new Electrolux DLX Assistent (it used to be sold as the Magic Mill, a name that confuses people since it's not a mill, it's a mixer). I like them both. The KA has been with me all around the country. However, all too often I find it doesn't handle enough dough to meet my needs. The Electrolux handles larger batches.

In preparation for a recent baking class, I made two batches of 18 4oz bagels back to back. The Electrolux mixer showed no distress. And the dough was beautifully developed. Why did I use the mixer? Well, bagel dough is a pain in the neck, and the arms. Also, I was staying with friends and talking and having a glass of wine or three was far more attractive than kneading dough. So, the machine did the work.

When I was running a commercial bakery, I had a 30 quart Hobart and a 55 quart spiral Italian mixer. (I won't mention the brand of the mixer, it was broken 1/2 the time and was a constant frustration - when it worked, it was GREAT! I recommend GOOD spiral mixers heartilly.)

All the ways got me there. Well developed dough. Dough that makes good bread, bursting with flavor. Not much reason for a fanatical devotion to one technique or another. Whatever floats your boat. If you want to feel the dough, cool. If you want to avoid handling the dough, that works too.

There are only two big considerations for me that may or may not influence your decisions .... if you are making a lot of bread, and your mixer will handle it, you can be measuring the second batch of bread while the mixer is mixing the first. When you are mixing by hand, you can't do that.

And there is timing - I do think that kneading - whether with a machine or by hand - will be faster than stretch and fold. I find that when I knead, I let the most doughs rise about 2 1/2 hours, loaf, let the doughs rise about 2 hours and then bake. With stretch and fold, the stretch and fold takes the place of the first rise and the stretch and folds tie up around 3 to 4 hours, followed by loafing and a 2 hour rise.

Thereis one more timing consideration when you are making bunches of bread. Where are you going to bake it? If you make more bread than you can bake, loaves will be stacked all over your kitchen. And at some point, they will lose quality and begin to sink. In long baking sessions I like to pace myself and make as much bread each hour as I can bake in an hour.



mkelly27's picture

Mike, it is good to hear from you again.  I agree wholeheartedly about the use of time while one batch is mixing.  (I'm a stickler for efficient use of labor)  Although I have never bake in a professional bakery (pizza shops aside) I have found myself making 20-30 loaves for personal parties and the planning of baking resources is more important than the recipe ingredients.  Most bread recipes contain the same ingredients, but the timing of the usage means everything. 


Two wrongs don't make a right. Three lefts make a right

JERSK's picture


      If you're making a relatively small batch of bread dough, say 5 lbs. or less, the time difference between hand kneading and machine kneading won't be much. Say 5 minutes or so. If you're making more than 5 lbs. of dough, most kitchen type stand mixers won't handle it so you'd have to do it in batches. Again there won't be much time saving. If you wanted to do 25 lbs of dough by hand the simplest method is to break it up into 3 batches. Knead 1 batch for 5 minutes or so and let it rest. Go to the second batch knead 5 minutes or so and let it rest. Go to the third batch and do the same. Go back to your first batch of dough and the 15 minute or so rest will have relaxed your dough wonderfully so that it will be much easier to knead. It should only take 5 more minutes to get it to the right consistency. So for 25 lbs. of dough you should be be able to do it in about 30-40 minutes, probably longer. You'd probably have to do 5 batches, or more. in a kitchen type stand mixer. This could easily take an houror more. The machine would be on the verge of burn out by then, if not completely fried. You also risk the danger of overheating your dough and over kneading which can break down the gluten. A heavy duty professional mixer could do that amount of dough easily in ten minutes. However, they cost thousands and take a lot of room. Squeezing the dough through your fingers does save time but is only feasible with small amounts of dough, say 1 or 2 loaves. Your fingers get really tired doing this. Laying the dough out and cutting off pieces say larger than a golf ball with a pastry cutter/bench scraper simulates this process and is easier and faster. I like to do that 2 or 3 times during a knead. It does seem to make the dough come together quicker for some reason. A stretch and fold or two before the rest also helps a little. That said a 30-40 minute kneading session is a workout, and you'll be sweating heavy. Not a bad thing if you can handle it.

  On the issue of baking 25 lbs. of dough in a home oven: Let's say you can bake 8 - 10 lbs of bread at a time and you have 3 batches of dough. When the first batch is kneaded refrigerate it. Do the same with the second batch. Follow through with the third batch normally. When it is finished rising take first batch of dough from fridge.Repeat with second batch. You get the idea. This slight retardation should slow the dough down enough so you have a fairly even time flow with rising and baking. The retarded ferment should help develop flavor some also.

crumbs's picture

Some interesting tips for kneading larger batches of dough without a mixer. I have aspirations to leave the office and run a bakery one day, and I'm going to have to get some experience with large batches at some point, so these tips should be really helpful. Thanks :)

I always mix by hand because I like kneading, it's a good bit of arm exercise and because I don't have space for and do not want a mixer or bread machine. Also, I generally do fairly small batches (1 or 2 loaves) so it seems unnecessary to rely on machinery to do something I can quite easily do myself.

Having said that, I do want to learn other techniques to mix the dough and figure out what's best and in what situation. I think part of the reason for kneading is that I am mostly using quite stiff dough, whereas I would use something like stretch and fold for softer dough.

CoveredInFlour's picture

I liek toi knead my dough by hand, I enjoy the excersize.


I have been coming up recently wit a lot of recipes that tell you to mix the dough in the machine for 4 minutes on low, then 2 minutes on medium. Would this translate to the same timing for hand kneading?

prairiepatch's picture

Well I guess I will be a black sheep in this discussion.  I really enjoy my Bosch Universal mixer.  I just throw all my ingredients for the bread in the bowl and turn it on.  5 minutes later 12 pounds of bread dough perfectly kneaded.  Talk about easy and beautiful results.

pjaj's picture

I'm with you prairipatch. My Kenwood Chef Major saves me a lot of hard work, and, let's face it, I'm lazy! It won't make 12lb, but I regularly make 2.5kg (about 6lb) in it. Why do hard work when there's a machine that will do it for you? After all, you don't brush carpets any more, you just get out the vacuum cleaner.

Amori's picture

What I'm making and how much time do I really have to spare. Our KA is a great helper though.

prairiepatch's picture

I wish there was a "like" button here like on Facebook.  So I could just click like on your comment pjaj.  That is so true we don't feel bad about using vaccum cleaners and washing machines these days.  So if you have a machine that can knead bread use it.  Besides any home made bread no matter how it is made is better and healthier than what we can buy at the grocery store.  

davidg618's picture

I mix enriched doughs (Challah, Soft Baps, KA Cinnimon Rolls) in my KA stand mixer or by hand; rich doughs (Brioche) and very high hydration doughs (Ciabatta) in the mixer only; lean doughs, and high rye-content doughs, mostly by hand only, and sandwich loaf doughs and foccacia in our older-generation Zo bread machine.

David G

sarafina's picture

Started as a girl mixing by hand. Got very irregular results as I was teaching myself at about age 9 or 10 to make sourdough... but I had a lot of fun and all my results were eaten, no matter how bad.

Got a Cuisinart in college as a gift and made some dougn with the bread blade and got pretty good results but was limited to small batches... but I had a lot of fun and all my results were eaten, no matter how bad.

Got a Kitchen Aid for Christmas as a grown up and made a serious amount of bread in it with reliably good results... and I had a lot of fun and all my results were eaten, no matter how bad.

Was gifted with an older Zoroushi last summer and have been using the heck outta it with some really amazing resulst and hardly any failures. I do virtually all my finishing and shaping and baking out of the Zo... but I am having a lot of fun and all my results are eaten, no matter how bad.

I enjoy getting my hands on the dough while I am shaping it and I am sure I could go back to any of the earlier methods, but since the Zo gets me the best overall results, and makes it quick, mess free and easy to produce the (min) 3 loaves a week my clan eats, well... I am having alot of fun, and that's the point isn't it, that it's ALL good?

Rosalie's picture

Yes, it all boils down to liking what you're doing.  If you feel better kneading by hand, do so.  I like to bake, but don't want to spend a lot of time hand-kneading, so I take advantage of my KitchenAid.  There are no absolutes.  Do what works for you.