The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My dough never passes window-pane tests; what is wrong

BKSinAZ's picture
BKSinAZ

My dough never passes window-pane tests; what is wrong

No matter what recipe, I can never get my dough to window-pane. Does this mean I am not kneading it long enough or is there another issue?

My flour is always King Arthur and my last recipe was http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/classic-baguettes-recipe

I always weigh ingrediants.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

The windowpane test is just a way to test whether or not you've achieved "sufficent" gluten development (although some would argue that it's an indicator of too much gluten development).

Gluten begins to develop as soon as water and flour are mixed. Kneading and/or mixing speed up the process, but it's not necessary. An autolyse, where you lightly mix flour and water and just let it sit there, will form gluten just fine–and enough to pass the windowpane test in about 15 minutes.

1. King Arthur Bread Flour has a lot of gluten; so, in your case, you're probably not kneading or mixing enough.

2. If you're testing with a piece of dough larger than a golf ball, that's too much. Try a small piece and gently stretch it, moving your fingers from the edges to the center as you slowly extend the dough.

3. If it fails, continue mixing and re-test.

4. If it fails again, repeat.

5. If it continues to fail, you could have a problem with your flour. Try an autolyse instead and see what results. If that too fails, then your flour becomes the immediate suspect.

 

 

hanseata's picture
hanseata

with the windowpane test anymore. And I sell my breads.

Karin

BKSinAZ's picture
BKSinAZ

Karin... For me, a beginner baker, I need some way to gauge how I am doing.

hanseata's picture
hanseata

I didn't intend to sound arrogant - I just gave up on it. I knead most of my doughs either with Peter Reinhart's method for breads made with pre-dough (from "Whole Grain Breads", or stretch & fold à la "Artisan Breads Every Day". Since that works every time, I don't try to achieve the elusive window pane test anymore.

Karin

bobku's picture
bobku

Take a small piece of dough maybe 1-2 inch square keep working it with your fingers slowly flattening out and stretching and pulling trying to create a window pane if you gluten is develped enough you will start to see thru it in some areas hold it up to the light keep trying. in the begining I could never get a window pane but now I can do it even with stiff bagel dough. I think most people give up trying before they should when creating the window pane. Even if you don't do it sucessfully you dough is probably good if you knead it 15 min or so, but try to create the window pane each time eventualy you'll see it all the time. Think of it as a piece of silly puddy {they still have that right, or am I showing my age)

cranbo's picture
cranbo

to echo earlier posts:

  • how are you kneading? by hand or by mixer?
  • how long are you kneading (and if by mixer, at what speed?)
  • are you using an autolyse for your recipes? 

I agree, it's likely you're just not kneading enough. Search for txfarmer's posts on intensive kneading. I've never been able to make the kinds of windowpanes she is able to achieve, but I don't mix as long. I believe in many cases she is kneading in a mixer at medium speed for at least 10 minutes, but as much as 15 minutes, possibly more.  

ehanner's picture
ehanner

When you mix your dough, try withholding the salt for the first 10-15 minutes. Add everything else and mix well for the time it takes to get a shaggy dough mass, then knead for a few seconds. Cover your dough and let it rest for 15 minutes. When you come back to it, stretch and spread it out and sprinkle the salt evenly and roll the dough up and begin to knead or put it in the mixer for a few minutes with the hook. Again let it rest for 10 or so minutes and knead again or stretch and fold. Repeat the S&F every 30 minutes for the length of the bulk ferment time (2-4 hours). At the end of the bulk ferment the dough should be smooth and silky. You should be able to pull a membrane of smooth dough as you tickle out slowly from a ball or on the edge of the mass. Don't pull hard or fast. If the dough isn't smooth it will tear. If the dough is under hydrated it will tear. If you pull to quickly, it will tear instead of stretching. If still not smooth, cover and wait another 30 minutes and check again.

Remember, I can get bagel dough to window pane at 58% hydration and never use a mixer, never kneading more than a minute at the very beginning. Time is your friend here. Take a look at my post on making hand mixed bagel dough. There are step by step images that show how to do this window pane.

Eric

lazybaker's picture
lazybaker

I suspect you already have gluten development but just don't know it. Gluten development doesn't have to pass the windowpane test. If your dough is elastic and forms like a membrane on the surface of the dough, then you probably have gluten development.

I'm lazy when it comes to kneading. It really doesn't take that much kneading to form a gluten network. I've found that even the all-purpose King Arthur flour produced a good gluten network.

longhorn's picture
longhorn

At SFBI they shoot for a ragged window that I would describe as about half clear (thin almost transparent) and about half ropy, shaggy but not really blobby. They mix their lean doughs to about that point (sometimes more/sometimes less depending on the desired mix level) and then divide the dough into tubs for bulk proofing and S&Fs  to finish. They never shot for a perfect window from lean breads that I recall. This is generally less development than the books tend to promote or encourage. 

It should be noted that tearing is a part of the factor...If the dough is a bit short of the magic point or if the mixing was mediocre and the thicker parts of the window are blobby the window will tend to tear fairly easily. We generally mixed to a point where the window was relatively "tough" - it would thin out fairly well before tearing. So if it tears easily I would say you are undermixed. If it is 70 percent or more thin and almost transparent, then too far.

With respect to using/not using the window to guage development, the instructors at SFBI seem to always pull windows - sometimes several from different parts of the dough in order to judge the state of the dough. And...when they say, give it another 20 (or 90) seconds, they will come back and pull again to verify the dough is at the state they want it. While one can easily skip this step, it does seem to encourage consistency and that can clearly be beneficial.

That's my thought! Hope it helps.

Jay

lumos's picture
lumos

You know what? I know it wasn't meant for me, but it was a really valuable information you gave me about the window pane test for lean bread SFBI teaches people.  A real treat for someone like me who live too far from the institute. Thanks! :)

longhorn's picture
longhorn

When you reach the magic point in mixing and then let the dough rest it will transform from somewhat shaggy to silky and smooth in just a few S&Fs. The mixing effort and time are drastically reduced and the resulting dough is a delight to work with (especially when you have the hydration right too) (seeing very consistent dough mixed five or six different ways over a week was really helpful on that - and since one of the mixes was an intensive mix similar to what commercial bakeries typically do the impacts of overmixing were exposed as well).

:o) 

lumos's picture
lumos

Hi Jay, thanks again. :)

.....then let the dough rest it will transform from somewhat shaggy to silky and smooth in just a few S&Fs. The mixing effort and time are drastically reduced and the resulting dough is a delight to work with....

Yep, I know this part and that's what I usually try to do,  but judging the exactly correct degree of 'window pane' has always been something I wasn't 100% sure if I was doing right.  But your discription definitely gave me the signs I should look for.

......and since one of the mixes was an intensive mix similar to what commercial bakeries typically do the impacts of overmixing were exposed as well

It must've been a real eye-opener being able to compare the different results produced by different methods of kneading.  It's not industrial, intensive kneading by machine, but I had similar experience very recently; exactly the same recipe and ingredients with only differences were that one was developed with series of S & F and the other French Fold (or 'slap & fold') + a couple of S & F during bulk fermentation.  The latter one lost so much flavour and aroma compared to the former.   I know it's important to develop strong enough gluten, but the effect of oxidation by intense kneading was quite apparent, I thought.  I'm almost too scared to do French folds now! :p

 

latanante's picture
latanante

I have never reached windowpane stage... ive done it in the kitchenaid multiple times and recently have been doing them by hand and i get the same thing... doesnt matter how long i kneed it.. i get the best, fluffiest sourdoughs but cant pass the windowpane... ah well ...

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

just curious, but how long are you kneading in your KA, and at what speed? 

latanante's picture
latanante

i kneed btw 7-9 mins at speed 5

jcking's picture
jcking

I'm curious as to how the ingredients are measured. If not weighed the hydration may be too high. Even if weighted baguette dough is usually wet and requires more mixing to get the windowpane. Yet as those above have posted, reaching a full pane isn't the best way to go. At the point of a full pane the dough will ferment quicker resulting in less than full flavor potential.

Jim

longhorn's picture
longhorn

Hi Jim!

I agree slower fermentation improves flavor (at least to a point). However, methinks you are confusing factors influencing fermentation. Overmixed dough will always have less flavor and be whiter than less mixed dough due to increased oxidation inherent in extended mixing. However, the speed of fermentation is controlled by temperature, not mixing. Overmixing heats the dough to higher temperatures which if not corrected by using cooler water will accelerate the bulk fermentation. Overmixing also yields loaves with finer crumb and dough that can be handled more aggressively (like by mechanical shapers and rollers which is part of the reason commercial bakers tend to overmix - and make less flavorful bread). In my world I use a combination of target dough temperature and proofing temperature to control fermentation rates when I want to.  I am not aware of any particular link between mixing/development and fermentation rate. 

As an aside, I think lack of temperature control of dough is a significant factor in inconsistent results experienced by many bakers. Mixing to a target dough temperature can do much to improve the consistency of bulk fermentation times and results. Having a proofing box that matches your dough temperature makes everything that much more reliable. (Note: I don't usually use a proofing box for temp control except in the winter because my kitchen is typically 76 to 78 which is a pretty good temp but...I DO mix for dough temp at 75 or so rather than letting it vary with the seasons and whether I use cold flour or not.)

Hope this is useful!

Jay

jcking's picture
jcking

Hey Jay,

The point of the question was the pane. And as such that's where my reply was aimed. As far as DDT (desired dough temperature) it certainly is an important factor.

Yet there are more factors that effects fermentation. If you have access, read Hamelmans' "Bread" pg 8, or DiMuzio "bread baking" pg 58,59 for a detailed explanation of mix times and length of fermentation.

My question, to clarify your process, do you mix to window pane? Or are you using a few stretch and folds?

And let's not forget autolyze, percent yeast and salt as they have an effect on bulk ferment times and dough rheology. Why not throw in DR (desired results). What is the desired results of the baker, or question posters. What will they use the bread for? As a vehicle for a ton of toppings or a smear of butter. Do they desire or realize the full potential of the flour?

Good discussion ~ Jim

longhorn's picture
longhorn

Hi Jim!

My approach to mixing and window panes changed dramatically when I spent a week at SFBI. Before when using a mixer I tended to overmix by their standards while pursuing a relatively clear window. (To be candid I had backed down on mixing several years ago by shifting to hand mixing but when I did use the mixer I now feel I definitely tended to overuse it.)  Now I hand mix to a shaggy windowpane which is then followed by S&Fs in the bulk ferment as I will describe below. Describing the SFBI approach will, I think, be helpful. I should note that I will refer to yeast (IDY) in the SFBI comments but I actually use sourdough levain in most of my breads.

SFBI uses a variety of mixing points depending on the bread being made and the mixing method. They categorize their lean dough mixes as intense  (as in commercial overmix to a near clear pane), an improved mix (more in a minute), and a short mix (which is similar to the goal for hand mixing). All of these mixes are described in David Snyders review of the Artisan I class. Dough hydration is relatively wet at 70 to 72 percent for AP flour!

The improved mix is their gold standard for mixers by making much better bread than the intense mix but with less time and handling which makes it good for commercial operations. The improved mix results in a window that is relatively tear resistant and about half thin and clear and about half opaque with "ropey" (thicker white) strands (but not big blobs or dry spots - important!). A dough with that kind of window will typically need one set of four S&Fs at a half hour and then finish the bulk ferment however you want to. The dough should be perfectly developed at the end of the bulk fermentation and the mixing/heating has been substantially reduced by the reduced mixing time of the intense mix.

The short mix yields a window that is a bit more fragile/tearable and say 1/3 clear with the rest ropey thicker opaque white. In a mixer it is probably a minute or two less mixing. (In Reinhart's world I would do the first mix at low speed, give it a five minute rest, and then only a minute or two. Again no thick blobs or dry balls should be present. This is about what I shoot for when I am hand mixing and I can typically get that rather quickly by  mixing it until it is fully wet, giving it a few minues and coming back and briefly kneading it to a slightly shaggy dough which gives me a window similar to what I describe. This dough has received less development and needs more S&Fs (typically two to three sets of S&Fs) to finish developing the gluten and to develop strength in the dough to support the loaf.

Communicating the complex subtleties of bread making is not easy and I think Hamelman doesn't explain enough in his description on page 8. I believe the reason for skipping or highly abbreviating the bulk ferment is not because fermentation is faster but that the dough is already strong and firm and essentially ready to shape and proof. SFBI uses a higher dose of yeast in their intense mix in order to further speed the process.

SFBI varies the yeast dose and the length of the bulk ferment with each mix - and as Hamelman suggests, the intensive mix gets a very short bulk ferment and is then formed into loaves and those loaves receive a relatively long proof. The longer proof is needed for the dough to relax (so it can expand in the oven!) and to let the yeast inflate the stiff dough. They add extra yeast to the intense mix to speed the process. The short mix gets much less yeast and a long bulk fermentation (which favors more flavor development) and a shorter proof after forming (for it will already be airy and delicate). The improved mix is more or less half way between in yeast and gets a moderate bulk ferment and a moderate proof.

Hope that helps!

Jay 

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Jay,

Thanks for all of this info. from SFBI.  I really appreciate it!

A couple of questions surface - do these different mixing techniques have the same effect when working with an enriched dough or are they simply for the lean doughs?  

How about when used with doughs using 100% whole wheat?

Thanks,

Janet

longhorn's picture
longhorn

Hi Janet!

We did one enriched bread during the week and when you add the milk and butter the whole personality of the dough is changed and it mixed - as I recall - to a perfect, glassy window. (We basically did the most glorious "white pan bread" I have ever tasted!)

I routinely use whole wheat (spelt, rye, whatever) at 3 to 7 percent of my flour in my lean boules and I really don't notice a lot of effect on the window at that concentration. I am sure it has an impact, but it is more that I am going by touch as much as window. In 100 % WW the window will be problematic for the dough won't have the strength and elasticity of AP or BF. I made some really nice, seeded 100% WW batards last week and I didn't pull a window because I knew it would be problematic with the rye, barley, oat, and wheat flakes in it. Your question makes me wish I had. I don't do 100% WW much so I was keying on touch and texture to try to make it feel like my regular dough. I won't be doing WW this week but maybe next week and when I do I will pull a window.

In my limited experience with pure WW I would expect a weak tearable window that will NOT make a thin windowpane. Hopefully others who do WW a lot can educate both of us!  

Thanks!

Jay

jcking's picture
jcking

Hey Jay,

My initial point.

At the point of a full pane the dough will ferment quicker resulting in less than full flavor potential.

Your initial point.

However, the speed of fermentation is controlled by temperature, not mixing.

My second point.

And let's not forget autolyze, percent yeast and salt as they have an effect on bulk ferment times and dough rheology.

And your last point.

SFBI varies the yeast dose and the length of the bulk ferment with each mix - and as Hamelman suggests, the intensive mix gets a very short bulk ferment....

Please correct me if I'm missing your point, yet the above point seems to confirm my points that while bulk fermentation temperature is important other factors such as type of mix, percent yeast, percent salt, preferments and hydration will also effect fermentation times. The question of how percent of hydration effects fermentation fills many pages in many books.

I'm familiar with the processes you've mentioned above and agree with them. I look at dough rheology as being relative to the desired end results. The output relies on the input.

I'd be more than happy to continue this discussion, yet I think we're hi-jacking this thread.

Good discussion ~ Jim

 

 

longhorn's picture
longhorn

HI Jim!

I agree it is time to end this dialog for it is off the thread topic.

With respect to the discussion we both recognize that fermentation speed is a function of many variables. And we both seem to agree that full development to a transparent window pane will result in loaves that are inferior in flavor. Our interpretations of why the flavor is inferior are however somewhat different. You seem to focus on accelerated fermentation rates which you seem to derive from Hamelman's suggestion that highly developed dough needs only a short bulk fermentation. I tend to focus more on oxidation as evidenced by the whitening of the crumb of breads made from intensively mixed doughs as compared side-by-side to less intensively mixed loaves. At SFBI I did not see any significant acceleration of fermentation of intensively mixed dough. The total time from mixing to baking for intensive loaves was 2 hours 20 minutes to 2 hours and 55 minutes  whereas the improved mix time was 2 hours 45 minutes to 3 hours. Of note, the intensively mixed dough receives 33% more yeast than the improved mix so it is not surprising the time might be slightly shorter. It my personal experience making both doughs in the same session that leads me to discount your premise that highly mixed doughs ferment faster as a result of the dough development. It would be easy to do an experiment to explore the topic by making intensive and less mixed doughs using identical formulas (and equal yeast) but I have no interest in making cardboardy, intensively mixed bread and I suspect you don't either. 

Bake On!
Jay 

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Jay,

Thanks for the quick reply.

I guess I will have to experiment some too.  Since reading txfarmer's blog pieces where she uses 100% ww flour I began going for the full windowpane but after reading what you wrote I wasn't sure if flavor was being lost due to oxidation as to get a windowpane with ww does take a lot of kneading.....I am thinking that the enrichments in the dough would make up for flavor loss though - at least that seems reasonable...

I was also thinking that ww flours have a lot of flavor too and the loss due to oxidation would not be noticed as much either but I have never baked with anything other that whole grains so I don't know.  I didn't realize it made a difference in the texture either...I just figured gluten development was gluten development despite how it is achieved....

I will be curious to hear what you find out next week when using the ww flour - also how the texture changes.  

How fun that you got to attend classes and were able to see for yourself how these minor changes in mixing transfer to the final product.  I forget from one batch of dough to the next - despite my notes :-/

Again, thanks for the reply.

Janet

longhorn's picture
longhorn

Hi Janet!

As I rarely enrich my doughs I don't think much about some of the issues you raise but I am pretty certain you are right about the issues of overoxidation not being as significant and enrichments helping compensate for what flavor is lost. I can't imagine WW with a good, thin, and not grainy, window - no matter how much it is mixed.

When PR brought out his Whole Grain book I baked from it for a few months and returned to my country boules. Over 10 years of sourdough I have "strayed" and had short flings with other breads but I always came back to my country boules. However, after all these years and the expeirence at SFBI I am FINALLY experimenting more. And as Peter says, as I get older I seem to appreciate whole grains more and more!

I had a trip canceled tomorrow so maybe I can use that day to make some WW and experiment!

Thanks!

Jay

PS: Any recipes from PR that you would especially like me to explore? I will probably do a batch following the recipe and another using a reduced mix/S&F approach. 

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi Jay,

I think the first loaf in the book - his Master Loaf - would be the best place to start as it is simple - i.e. no fruit, nut or spice add ins.  Easier to discern what is making a difference and what isn't as anything you add will skew results...

Thanks for offering up your experience here to do a comparison....I just can't bring myself to buy store bought flour.  I did try sifting my home milled but that lasted about 5 minutes.....just seemed crazy and the opposite of why I use home milled grains in the first place.  With the loaves I baked where I did use sifted flour I really didn't notice a whole lot of difference BUT they were enriched - heavily enriched holiday breads....

Take Care,

Janet

longhorn's picture
longhorn

I agree! Unfortunately a problem has arisen and I won't get to bake till later but...that is the loaf to do.

I have a mill also but I never mill wheat for the entire amount of flour for down here wheat is more expensive than flour and good flour at that... so I just buy my main flour.

More soon!

Jay

Robin D's picture
Robin D

I hope by now you have resolved the issue with the test, but if it helps any, my test always failed whenever I didn't lightly flour my fingers before administering the test to a sample of dough. A pretty novice mistake.