Kneading by hand
Disclaimer: I've been making bread for all of three weeks. I do not speak from authority, but I seldom let that stop me from speaking.
Last night, Oct. 31, I think I wrecked my Bosch compact mixer. Per usual, I was pushing the dough off the hook with a spatula while operating at medium speed. Per unusual, the spatula fell in the bowl and got wedged against the arm of the mixer and the top half of the hook. The beast kept trying to turn a jammed mechanism before I could shut it off. Black matter was shed. Foul smells rose. When I turned it back on, my newly acquired used little gem sounded like it was mixing gravel and broken glass.
Trick or treat indeed.
I was making pate fermentee using the BBA formula. This morning, for stage two, I kneaded by hand dough that I can only hope was free of decades-old German gear grease. (As I write, two loaves of French bread are browning in the oven.)
I did it by hand and loved it.
I am pathologically lazy, a died-in-the-wool short-cutter for whom convenience is more a religion than a lifestyle choice. I have for weeks been obsessively browsing eBay and craigslist for stand mixers I have no place for and cannot afford. In my spare time, I pursue said mixers unsolicited on behalf of strangers. On Friday I entered a lowball bid on a vintage Kitchenaid K4-B. On Saturday I was chagrined to learn that I had won the auction.
In other words, I never saw myself as a candidate for hand kneading. I figured that particular chore was what people like my father have in mind when they say "bread making is a lot of work." In general I don't like a lot of work. Or even a little.
But hand kneading turned out to be far more rewarding than I might have guessed. What may be common knowledge here at TFL was a small revelation to me: It was fun to press, turn, roll and repeat, again, then again, then again, for 10 swift and sweet meditative minutes.
It was a process of getting to know the dough: gauging its spring, surface feel, its responsiveness. It was a comfortable outlet for a certain minimal surplus of energy that I didn't know I was burdened with. And in an unsubtle way, it was sexy. The more I kneaded, the firmer it got, and the more it felt like flesh for how it gave way, then reassumed shape and form against my touch. At times I went at it gently; at others I poked, prodded and pushed with more force, more vigor, but just as much care. I could feel the stuff coming to life beneath my fingers, the pads of each hand, my palms. The dough was responding to me and I to it. The more I went at it, the happier it seemed to be.
My finished dough had a better shape and bounce than anything I've gotten in three weeks of comparable efforts with my stand mixer. It was the only batch I've made that rose precisely on Reinhart's time estimates. As I wrap it up here, two gorgeous oaky-colored loaves of French bread are cooling on the counter, each one rounded in a way that promises a crumb superior to anything I have yet produced mechanically. The proof is of course in the eating; I'll post an addendum after I tear one of these beauties open and take a few greedy mouthfuls with butter and strawberry rhubarb jam.
I offer the above to those who like me are disinclined to take on any manual labor that a machine can do almost as well. Based on a single effort, I sense that there may be in bread-making something substantial to be gained in doing it the old-fashioned way -- by getting your hands on and into the bread you're going to eat and share well before it's time to eat and share it.