The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Kneading questions

supperstone's picture

Kneading questions

I have been making my own bread for a couple of months now with varied success. I am only making standard white loaves at the moment as i want to get nice and comfy with the whole process before moving on to other breads.

I have been using the River Cottage Bread book and I have been using a baking stone etc but my loaves always come out just a little dense. not unedible but not light and fluffy. I did have one nice fluffy loaf but I could not replicate it again. I have tried various little changes like using a bread peel to transport loaves rather than manhandling them thus losing some of the gas but they are still coming out the same.

Then I read that one of the causes is not kneading enough. Most recipes tell you anywhere between 8-15 mins of hand kneading should do it. I normally do about 10 mins, do the windowpane test and carry on. However, after watching various videos online I noticed 2 things: my dough has NEVER looked as light and smooth and satiny as the dough does in various videos and I wasn't doing the windowpane test right. it seems that people can stretch their dough until it resembles a latex glove - really thin. I stretch mine until i can see some light through it but that is about it.

So i decided to knead for a lot longer until I achieved these results.I kept kneading my dough until it started to change. I did the windowpane test every 5 minutes or so. It was getting better and definitely more elastic, I kept going as it still wasn't silky smooth. After an HOUR of kneading (I was so bored by this stage) it was definitely a better dough than I had had before but still not 100% smooth and elastic, I didn't have the time (or the patience) to carry on. It is now on it's final rise before going in the oven so I'll let you know how it turns out.

Surely this can't be normal but I cannot see how 8-10 mins of kneading gets those results. My kneading technique is much the same as most other peoples - gentle stretching and folding in on itself. The recipe uses Allinson Premium White Extra Strong Bread Flour (i'm in the UK) 500 grams, 5g of fast action yeast, 10g salt, 300ml lukewarm water and a glug of olive oil.

Can anyone explain where I might be going wrong? Maybe the dough was fine after 20 mins but I just couldn't see it? I saw two videos that suggested another way to check your dough to see if you have kneaded it enough - One said press your finger in and if your finger print bounces right back then it's ready. The other said press your finger in and if your print stays then it is ready!

Any advice appreciated.

Thanks you.

I know people might think "just get a mixer" but I really enjoy the kneading and what to get it right. I also read about autolyse and that sounds as if it might help.

ananda's picture

Hi Supperstone,

Welcome along to TFL.   I'm UK-based and am familiar with the flour you are using.

You are under-hydrating the dough.   This is why it is taking so long to develop.

Try the following:

Experiment with autolyse.   So mix your 500g flour with 315g of water...please weigh this, as a "line on a jug" is not so accurate.   I ask you to weigh, as it may be possible to get more water still into your dough...but start with the 63% I am opposed to the 60% figure you are currently aiming at.   Maximum amount of water you could add for this type of bread would be 66-68%.

Don't work up your dough at all.   Once the flour and water are combined, leave this to "autolyse" for 30 minutes to an hour.   Then add your other ingredients and mix until fully developed.

You'll have to excuse my different terminology; I refer to the whole process as "mixing", and when the dough is fully developed deem the dough to be "mixed".   You should find this final stage of mixing will now take no more than 15 minutes, up to 20 if your technique is especially gentle.

Yes, I enjoy hand-mixing too.   Good luck


Baker Bevis's picture
Baker Bevis

Hi Supperstone,

If you're wanting light and airy dough (as in pillow soft) I heartily recommend you try Richard Bertinet's kneading method. There is a very good video link here (stolen from The Fresh Load handbook):

Ignore that it's using a sweet dough - the principle is exactly the same when using a normal bread dough. It takes a little practice to get into the rhythm of the thing, but soon you'll be thwapping that dough like a pro :) I promise you that you'll immediately notice the difference with the finished, kneaded dough that you get with this method compared to to the River Cottage way.

Also, Bertinet's excellent book 'Dough' comes with a 30 minute DVD in which he also takes you through this method, which helped me get to grips with it enormously.

Good luck and let us know how you get on!

Ford's picture

I have to add my 2 cents worth ( or 2 P, if you will.)

I agree with all of the above, especially the weighing, extra water (or milk), and the autolyse.  Another technique you might add is the stretch and fold during the bulk fermentation (proofing).  You might check out this site for the technique:


rhodriharris's picture

i use to have the same problem until recently, i obeyed all the rules, kneaded for ages, right rising temperature etc! then i used the poolish method for my starter, left it for 6 hours then added the rest of my flour to make a dough, kneaded for ages then left to rise.  I noticed that if on my first rise i let it almost over rise so as that when i even moved it it instantly deflated i got silky smooth soft airy dough. Makes sense as the gluten had been fully developed by the poolish, long knead and then stretched to its full extent in the first rise! Improved my dough and made it silky smooth just like a bakery! Of course not all things are simple but give it a try. P.s. dont over proove before baking.

Chuck's picture

Well here's my two cents too:

Then I read that one of the causes is not kneading enough.

Where did you read this advice? I ask because kneading used to be "in fashion" to such an extent that sometimes the recommendation "knead longer" was tossed off rather carelessly. The style and techniques of bread baking have changed a whole lot recently, so that mixing techniques from one source with recipes from another source that's decades newer can be misleading or even sometimes harmful.

The idea of "no knead" seems to be all the rage right now (although many think the pendulum has swung too far the other way:-). What with clever use of both "autolyse" and "stretch-and-fold", it's possible to make good bread with hardly any kneading at all.

my dough has NEVER looked as light and smooth and satiny as the dough does in various videos

My guess is the issue is not technique at all, but rather using too much flour on the kneading surface. It's all too easy when faced with a "sticky" dough to work in way too much flour, so much so that the dough's hydration level is changed dramatically. It doesn't work very well to start out being super careful about measuring ingredients, but then wind up adding some huge unknown amount of flour anyway.

One kneading technique that works for super sticky doughs comes from the old Julia Child book: use a dough knife (also called bench scraper) in one hand to pick up half the dough and flop it over on top of the other half. After a short while you'll be able to squish the pile with your free hand after each flop. That's kneading.

Perhaps Julia Child's most important advice -still good after all these years- is if there's a question, walk away and let the dough rest for a few minutes before trying again. To avoid having just plain empty time, she suggests filling these intervals with washing out the bowl and tools with cool water, preparing the oven, cleaning something else in the kitchen, and so forth. I even remember watching one of her old shows where she had two identical batches of dough, except one had been mixed before the show started and sat a while and the other had just been mixed; she tried to knead the one that had just been mixed, made an incredible face that had me howling with laughter, and switched over to the previously mixed dough.

Sometimes it's even suggested with the super-high-hydration doughs that seem to be in fashion these days to not use flour on the traditional wooden surface at all, but rather a thin layer of salad oil on some high-tech smooth surface (formica? silicone? masonite?). This advice often goes along with the advice to coat everything (hands, dough knife) with lots of cool water rather than with flour.

... light and fluffy ...

I don't want to mess with the recipe you're using until the problem is resolved  ...on the other hand I'd feel guilty to omit mention of the "miracle ingredient". Try adding a little olive oil to recipes. (Use around 5% of the weight of the flour. And deduct about 3/4 of the added olive oil weight from the water weight, as the olive oil contributes significantly to the total "liquid" in the recipe.)

One said press your finger in and if your finger print bounces right back then it's ready. The other said press your finger in and if your print stays then it is ready!

The "finger poke test" is useful in so many different circumstances it's easy to get confused.

If it doesn't bounce at all, then you just started. If it bounces right back all the way, then kneading is probably done. if the hole stays (because the bounce has been thoroughly overtaken by the yeast), then rising is probably done. If the hole bounces back half way (because there's been some rise but it isn't quite done yet), then proofing is probably done.

rhodriharris's picture

Hey Chuck nice advice although the bread recipie called for just 300ml water for 500g flour so correct me if im wrong but thats 60% hydration and with a glug of olive oil should rise to no more than 70% hydration at the most so perfectably kneadable although autolase would be a good idea for the gluten development.  Your last comments were what i was trying to hit on, you rise for longer than you proof because you want to develop or stretch the gluten.  As i said i had the same problem with getting my dough nice and silky up until the point that i gave a longer first rise until it had almost trippled in size (people say doubled but i use that size guide for proofing and go with tripple the size for rising).  See for yourself, i never get that silky bakery smooth looking dough after ive kneaded (not to say dont knead, kned a lot and then some-p.s. an hour is too long) but after its first rise has finished and it has balloned like crazy i knock the dough back together, knead for 2 or 3 mins and voila lovely silky smooth dough just like a bakery.  So dont look for that dough to look amazing after kneading but after rising where the gluten has the ability to stretch and become elastic.

I hope this helps and God did i struggle to get my dough to be like a bakeries for a long time until i learnt how to develop the gluten into long elastic strands through not just kneading but kneading and proper rising.  Most peolple say that the dough becomes more workable and stretch more with high hydration doughs with every subsequent rise it is given (to a point) thus developing the gluten.  The same principle is sort of relevant here.

Good luck and dont give up!

supperstone's picture

Thank you all for your wonderful answers. Lots for me to try which is great.

I remembered that I did add a little more water to the mix than the 300ml stated because I thought it wasn't wet enough. The bread turned out fine but no real oven spring and still a little dense.

I started to wonder if it was nothing to do with the kneading and perhaps I was under-proofing as I get paranoid of over-proofing. However I gently poke and if my finger print comes back a little way but not all the way - then i put it in the oven so I think that is right.

Anyway I will definitely try autolyse and perhaps a different kneading method as well. I am slowly ruling out the reasons why my bread is always slightly dense so eventually I must end up with a light and fluffy loaf!

What I really want is a brillant home baker who lives on my street so I can go and watch how they do it! Or I could do a baking course I suppose.

Thanks again

DavidR's picture

Failing a home baker neighbour, you could always try a baking class. I did the one that PAUL ( run from their Covent Garden shop, and it completely changed my kneading technique.

supperstone's picture

..and I will try a longer first rise. Thanks for that suggestion. Can you "over proof" on the first rise or does it not matter so much?


rhodriharris's picture

Generally if on the first rise your dough rises and then deflates you have probably risen too much.  I see bread recipies with very long rises and lots of short rises so dont worry about over rising too much as long as it doubles and still holds its shape.  Basically the gluten has stretched too much if it deflates when rising and lost its shape unable to hold the carbon dioxide gas given of by the yeast.  If this happens all is not lost just reform the dough into a ball again, knead for few mins and repeat the rise.  I just made a fresh batch of dough for some loaves this afternoon and your right no matter how long i kneaded the dough i couldnt get that quality silk look and feel.  So after kneading i brought the dough back in to a ball for about 2 to 3 mins gently pushing it back and forth on the table smoothing it out.  Then i covered and autolased/rested for 10 mins.  After the autolase the dough was visably more silky when handled.  I never really autolased much when making bread as i never had that much time but try it after kneading and you'll definatly notice the change. 

 It still amazes me how on some recipies for basic white bread you see the dough made and kneaded with no rest or autolase period and after just ten mins of kneading the dough is silky bakery soft??  Is this really possible because i really have to let my dough autolase or rise once before it develops that look?? I'd love to be able to do that and would cut out a lot of time getting my dough just right.

rhodriharris's picture

I just read the part about not getting much oven spring either, another battle i faced also.  I found out the hard way that my oven temperature were way off what it was telling me it was, bought an oven thermometer and got my oven to a proper 205 degrees centigrade rather than its version which actually read 170 degrees c on my oven thermometer.  My bread baking temperature of 205 degrees c is so because i cant get my oven any hotter, between 200 and 220 seems to be the norm for home baked basic white.  Also when i opened the door i lost temperature too so had to be quick loading the oven with my bread.  If you dont over proof your dough, which is easy to do as you see it expand and think i want it bigger and more impressive, you should get a good oven spring!  main reasons for no or little oven spring is oven not hot enough or overproofing.  Both seem to give the bread a gummy doughy crumb so taste and check your bread after it has cooled to confirm this.  The better i got at getting the right temperature and the right proofing the lighter and fluffier my bread was.  I found it so hard not to overproof at first, the dough doubles but im thinking that i want the finished loaf to be taller so i let it rise some more, big mistake as i got a taller loaf with less rise but took me 50 loaves to get it right.  Now if it looks double the original amount and in a loaf tin if you fill it half way fully proofed it would double the size or just be over the top of the tin.  with a simple prod of the finger you can confirm this and hence your loaf is ready to bake. 

There are so many parts to baking bread that have to be right for the perfect loaf, i too wished for a baker to just show me and cut out the years of heartach as yet another loaf failed.  Only through trial and a lot of error did i finally get it right, stick to one basic recipie, flour, water, salt and yeast till you do get it right as this is the easiest to make and train on.  Every time i failed i found it harder to make the next loaf until total despair set in but luckilly after all this i got it right and the fun began.  Now my dough talks to me and tells me what it wants rather than me expecting it to do what i say, its so much fun and amazes people with the look and taste. 

Please let me know how your next attempt works out and what you did differently.

Ruralidle's picture

Hi rhodriharris

I know what you mean about getting the silky dough but I do find Richard Bertinet's slap and fold technique works well.  Look at

if you haven't seen it.  I went to his bakery school about 4 years ago and he really does produce a smooth silky dough in 10 minutes flat, without using a machine. He just uses his hands and a scraper.  I guess it comes down to practice!


rhodriharris's picture

Dose he use a higher hydration doughs?? Most recipies i use call for lower hydrations round about the 60 to 65% mark, and are very stiff until i have worked them a couple of times.  Recently i have been trying higher hydration doughs up to 70% and sometimes a bit more if im feeling adventurous and find that i can slap and fold a it few times, although not too many times.  I do try and do less kneading and more folding as folding seems to be quicker than kneading.  I got into higher hydration doughs and there great stretch ability through watching people make chinese hand pulled noodles (please find this on youtube and watch the speciality kneading, folding and stretching they use).  The recipie for hand pulled noodles is just flour water and salt if you like very similar to a higher hydration dough and these guys basically perform kung fu like moves on the poor defensless dough.  The upside of this is they make about ten meters of shoelace thin noodles by majorly over kneading the dough and then stretching it between their hands.  I can only guess that they over knead the dough till it stretches ten times more than any bread dough, these guys are masters of dough and how they seem to make noodles takes three years training im told. 

Anyway i will get more into higher hydration doughs and have a young starter for a high hydration sourdough as i never made this before but have certainly got a very good idea of the process.  I am lazy or old fashioned in the fact that most doughs i only weigh the flour, eyeball the yeast and salt and loosly convert mililiters in grams when it comes to water i.e. i get a 60% hydration with 500g of flour and 300ml of water, a 65% hydration with 500g of flour and 325ml water and 70% hydration with 500g of flour and 350ml of water.  Sounds stupid compared to the guys that weigh everything but i find that i only mix small batches at a time so comes out pretty accurate.  Round about these weights i get roughly 2lb and 4 ounces which i divide into two 1lb tins, when they finish baking they come out just below a pound leaving me 3oz of water loss due to baking which seems to be about right.  As i say i have to make small batches of dough due to a small oven

At this point in my baking career my oven seems to be the main problem, i have acess to two, a fan oven which is rubbish for bread but am planning to buy a lecrueset dutch oven as it gets good high temperatures but dries the bread and prevents a good oven spring, dutch ovens have plenty of moisture when cooking so more dough stretch.  My second oven has problems getting over 200degrees c, get great loaves, oven sppring but a moister crumb as quite often drops below 190 when loading and steaming!  I still bake tasty great bread but through lack of even a decent home oven if has one or two areas that can be slightly improved, although not by much.

Sorry ive ranted a bit but i have a lot of time inbetween rises.  Please check out the chinese hand pulled noodles to see a completly different way of working your dough though.

Ruralidle's picture

Richard Bertinet generally uses a 70% hydration.  500g flour, 350g water, 10g salt and 10g fresh yeast (or 1 sachet dried).  I sometimes drop the hydration to 60% or thereabouts and it still slap and folds ok but larger dough quantities eg 1kg flour are easier to use the technique if you use the lower hydration.  Certainly I wouldn't try the technique at less than 60% hydration.

I appreciate your issues with the oven size but I should say that I get far better oven spring from a 2lb tin loaf than a 1lb one.

I will look at the chinese noodle video when I get a chance, thanks.


rhodriharris's picture

Great idea using a larger amount of dough would make it easier to slap and fold, why i never thought of that before i don't know.

I now slap and fold, well the folding part mainly as my dough is a little stiff, and the results are amazing.  I knead a little in between folds when the dough goes stiff from all that folding but i really have to say that its only a little and find 5 mins folding followed by 10 mins autolysing and a 2mins folding again is as good as half hour of constant kneading.  Where has this folding method been all my baking life, made kneading a simple process with time to get a quick snack in between.

Thanks again  Rod

supperstone's picture

David R - thank you for the PAUL course suggestion. That would be great. I thought all baking courses were over a few days and very expensive but that looks just perfect. I am only in Kent so can go to London for the day easily. I will call them tomorrow to check availability!


Rhodri Harris - thank you for the very helpful comments. You took all the words out of my mouth. I really do have to force myself to keep going because I change things and I am sure it will make a difference and then the same old loaf comes out at the end. You seem to have had all the same annoyances as me! But it is very heartening to hear. Many thanks and I will keep you posted on the results.

This is an amazing forum. So much wonderful advice and kind responses. I am always amazed how many people bother to reply. Thank you everyone!!!!

jyslouey's picture

I've been trying to use the S&F method since my push and roll method didn't seem to be getting me anywhere close to a soft silky wobbly mass but with all the reading I've done on S&F, I'm getting some mixed info, The s&f intervals range from 20 mins to 45 mins  (up to 3 s&fs) and I wonder  if I should adjust the intervals depending on the temperature at the time or does it not matter.  Can s&f be done with a low hydration dough (say around 50+%)?  I find that my dough tears when I try to do the stretch but perhaps autolysing the flour may help considerably in softening the dough?  Thanks.  Judy

rhodriharris's picture

I would say 50% hydration is not really enough to slap and fold but having said that i use low hydration doughs sometimes and find i can fold a couple of times when kneading so alternate between the two if you can.  My dough tears too as i never really do 70% and upwards hydration doughs much but the more folding the less tearing.

Can anyone say weather the tearings is good or bad???

I seen people tear their doughs up into little peices and then knead them back together as another way of kneading, especially older or not so able bread makers who find 20mins of kneading to be a challenge. I always thought that a little tearing stretches out the gluten more and is part of the kneading process so would have to say its not that bad for the dough if it tears through strestching but would need expert confirmation about this.

As for time and temperature, which is really very controlled in a professional bakery, i believe as a home baker your eyes and your hands and knowledge will let you know whats best and over time you should get a better almost sixth sense as to how warm the environment, dough etc is and knead as such.

What is the difference between a colder dough and warmer dough apart from quicker rising i don't know.  Any one else who can expand this pleased leave your views so us young bakers can try and work it out.

Btw ive seen a thousond ways/ time intervals/ and styles of folding/keanding/autolysing so i don't think there is any one particular right way but their all right.  Suppose its just personal preference and what the end result is.  If you don't like your kneading methods experiment even if you think you are wrong as its the best way to learn hands on.


supperstone's picture

Hi folks,

Just wanted to keep you updated on my latest bread making effort after taking lots of advice from you lot.

I tried a loaf today. 500g strong white flour, 315ml water (I weighed the water as was the advice!), 5g fast action yeast, 10g salt. The main thing I did differently was to autolyse (which I had never tried before). This worked very well and with 5 mins of kneading I had a better quality dough than I had ever had before. The windowpane test was excellent. I also decided to try a longer first rise than I had done previously. However, for some reason it took about 3 hours just to double in size and my kitchen was pretty warm ( I had the tumbledryer going). So I couldn't wait any longer. The dough at this stage was not actually as smooth and silky as it had been before the rise but I persevered. I think maybe it was slightly sticking to the surface which snagged it and then it develops little craters and bumps etc. (Also the first rise had produced some very large surface bubbles which was interesting.)

I shaped the dough into a boule/cob shape and set it to rise on some parchment sitting on a baking tray. In the past I have used a peel and a stone in the oven but I had always worried about that final transfer into the oven. Even with parchment paper I can never slide it onto the stone without reaching my hand in the oven and holding the back of the parchment while I slide the peel away. Of course, all this takes time and then with putting the boiling water in the tray at the bottom of the oven the temperature has surely dropped. So I thought I won't bother with any of that. It can sit on a tray and I won't bother with the water.

Dough took about 1.5 hrs to double and I did the poke test a few times towards the end and it seemed right. There were some big bubbles forming again. Luckily they were more on the side, because sometimes in the past they have been right on top and when it comes to slashing you can't really avoid them and it almost ends up deflating the top. I am sure someone can tell me how to avoid these huge bubbles forming in the first place.

Anyway, no stone or peel to worry about so a good spray of water on the dough and straight in the oven super quick. Some definite oven spring occurred! Not loads but enough to make me happy. Once the bread was done and cooled, I tucked in. A couple of bubbles had come up to the surface but didn't really cause a problem. The bread was definitely better that I have made before. Good flavour, soft and springy - could be softer (room for improvement) but it was a great result. Amazing how happy a simple loaf of bread can make you.

So I shall ditch the stone and peel for the time being but I'm sure I'll come back to them in the future. All this has taught me that my kneading has never been quite right or I have never got the dough to quite the right consistancy in the past. The autolysing helped massively with this. There are so many breads to try (not to mention sourdough) but I just want to get good at the basic white so I can produce good results time and time again. Then I will feel confident about the more advanced breads. Have also purchased "Dough" by Richard Bertinet and am really looking forward to trying his kneading/slapping method.

Thanks everyone.

Janknitz's picture

could be softer (room for improvement) 

Sounds like  you are on the right track.  

Strong flour is "bread flour" in the US which has a higher protein content (12% or more) than what we refer to in the US as "all purpose" flour (I'm not sure what your equivalent is called). I think  that all purpose flour is between 9 and 12% protein.  More protein makes for a firmer textured crumb.  

I'm wondering if that's the next change you need to make.  You will get a fluffier, softer bread with flour that has a lower protein content.  Sometimes these breads are so soft that they need to be baked in a loaf pan for support.  

Chuck's picture

... Even with parchment paper I can never slide it onto the stone without reaching my hand in the oven and holding the back of the parchment while I slide the peel away. ...

I never have the parchment "stick" to the peel, and so never have to put my hand in the oven. (If something ever stuck to the peel, I'd be freaked out or angry or probably both:-) Here's what I do:

My bread proofs right on the parchment, which is on my counter at that point (it doesn't proof on the peel). And I scatter a bit of cornmeal on my peel.

When I'm ready to bake, I scoop the peel under the parchment, pick everything up, and shovel it into the oven. With the peel slanted just slightly so the forward edge is a little lower (close to my baking stone), the bread on parchment pretty much just slides into place.

(I understand from reading, and can sense even in what I do, that the proper "flick of the wrist" like you see folks in a pizza parlor do would thoroughly handle even much more problematic things  ...but I've found that "fancy technique" isn't really necessary just to get a loaf or two into the oven without ever sticking. I suspect the bit of cornmeal sprinkled onto the peel is making a big difference.)

rhodriharris's picture

Congratulations you got better dough through stretch and fold and autolasing.  Yer you still got problems but youv'e moved forward.  Keep practising the routine and technique you got going at the moment, try to make little changes not big ones!

Remember bread basics at this point-

-Make sure your mix of flour/salt/water/yeast is right

-Knead, stretch fold autolase till dough soft and smooth, no longer than 20/30 mins

-rise to double or more then deflate punch down even knead stretch fold for min or two

-prove bread till double in size no more at room temp. Do not over prove!

-Bake at at  least 200 degrees centigrade for basic breads min.

Practice is what you need at this stage, improvement will come with time.  Big bubbles in your dough after proving could be because u didnt knead them out after rising or you badly overproved.  I use bottled mineral water in my dough if i want more oven spring but its just my way. 

Please stick with it even if your next couple of loaves are bricks, sometimes its one step forward and one two steps backwards in baking but your getting there and the results have shown that.  I agree with chuck here cornmeal or coarse semolina will prevent parchment sticking to the peel, maybe your using too much oil or somthing but a peel is really just to transfer bread from the rising place to the hot oven and not for rising on although you can.

Glad to see your getting somewhere.