The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is "smooth and satiny" a myth?

T4tigger's picture

Is "smooth and satiny" a myth?

I'm in the process of making Rose Levy Beranbaum's 2-day sourdough bread (its getting its first proofing as I type).    Her instructions say to knead 5-10 minutes until "smooth and satiny."   I know that almost every other bread recipe says the same thing.

I turned the dough out onto my lightly floured board, and after a few kneads, the ball looked nice and smooth.   After a few kneads more, though, it started getting sticky again.  I dusted the board again and seemed to repeat this process for several minutes.  After the recommended 5 minutes, I stopped kneading and put the dough in a greased bowl to rest.

At what point do I believe that the dough is actually smooth and satiny?   I'm afraid of kneading too much flour into things as I have made several very impressive door stops in the past!   I have tried to get my dough to pass the windowpane test with limited success.

Any help or advice will be greatly appreciated!


TRK's picture

I made bread for years by hand, then finally switched to a food processor, then a mixer (KA). I never really achieved "smooth and satiny" when I kneaded by hand (partially because I made almost exclusively whole wheat sandwich bread). Now that I use a mixer, I find it easier to do. Recently, I got Jeffrey Hamelman's book (available as a link on this site). As has been mentioned by others, it is geared primarily toward professional bakers, but I think there is a huge amount of good information in there for the home baker too. He recommends short kneadings, and 2-4 folds during the bulk fermentation. It is amazing how this brings the bread together, without requiring you to knead it (and risk adding too much flour if kneading by hand, or oxidizing the flour if using a machine). If I had read his book, I might not have bought a mixer, and just kneaded lightly, then done turns. Another thing that might help is to leave the dough in the bowl to knead it, and moisten your hands to prevent sticking. That way you won't have to add flour to keep it from sticking.

Another technique that might help is an "autolyse" step. Mix the water and flour, just enough to moisten the flour, then let it sit 15-30 minutes before you add the yeast or starter, and salt. This allows the flour to absorb water and helps speed up the gluten development.

I bet if you do the autolyse, a five minute kneading in a bowl with wet hands, and 2-3 folds (spaced evenly over the bulk fermentation), you will get the smooth and satiny result you want.

To do a fold, flour the counter well, pour the dough onto the flour, and stretch the dough to the right, then fold back onto itself. Dust off any residual flour and repeat for each of the other 3 directions. There are good illustrated instructions in Maggie Glezer's "Artisan Baking Across America," and Jeffrey Hamelman's "Bread," which you can find at a library or bookstore and just read that part if you don't want to spend the money to buy them.

edit: Here is a link to a great lesson on folding right here on the site, courtesy of Floyd.

tony's picture

Just a small addendum: Rather than flouring the countertop, it is possible to wet your hands and with them moisten the countertop. Pour the dough onto the wet spot, and with your wet fingers execute the fold.


sphealey's picture

I have had the exact same question myself, as I have only achieved "smooth and satiny" once or twice. However, the instructor at the King Arthur baking tour made about 10 batches in 2 hours on stage and all appeared from where I was sitting to be smooth and satiny"! Of course, she did a lot of other things effortlessly too - and then mentioned she had owned/operated a bread bakery for a number of years. So I concluded it was another of those practice things.


I seem to get pretty good results with minimal kneading and folding.



scott lynch's picture
scott lynch

Hate to sound like a painting contractor, but I have had some doughs that have an absolutely gorgeous feel to them--I'm not talking about kneading here, I mean that you want to rub it against your cheek.  A ciabatta dough that is mixed just a little and turned a couple of times can get there (it will be sloppy and rough out of the bowl, but you'll be amazed how it changes), as can BBA Pain a l'Ancienne if you don't over-hydrate it.  I say velvet because mine always have the thinnest veneer of flour on them which gives them a bit of a peach fuzz look and feel.  Once you get the gluten developed well in these soft doughs, it actually takes very little dusting flour to keep them from sticking even though they are very soft.
What is the geekiest thing overheard in the bread-head's house?  "Honey, come here.  You have got to feel this dough!" ;)

JIP's picture

"What is the geekiest thing overheard in the bread-head's house?  "Honey, come here.  You have got to feel this dough!"

Now that is funny I say that or something similar to my wife all the time and she always says "you know you are really obsessing over this bread" but then she always eats more of it than me.


T4tigger's picture

Thanks for all the insights.   I think I came pretty close to Scott's "peach fuzz" feeling this morning.  BTW------today's bread was looking great all the way to the final rise, and then ended up being over proofed because of a middle school band concert (the things we parents give up for our kids!)  It came out looking rather like a discus, but has a nice chewy crust and a fantastic flavor.

One of these days I'm actually going to get flavor, crumb and rise all to work together.....I guess that's what keeps us all from tossing our starters in the trash!