Browndog: Underdeveloped Dough?
My dough is never hard to shape, that is, it never has so much strength that it seems to require a rest first. I do it anyway just because, but every time I wonder if my dough just isn't getting where it should in terms of gluten development. Is it under-developed if it isn't fighting back?
Browndog asked this question on another thread, and I wanted to add a little to the excellent answer she was given by Mariana, but I though I'd start a new thread because that one seems to be getting a little unwieldly. I apologize if this was inappropriate.
Browndog, if your dough does not have some spring to it, I think it is likely that your gluten is somewhat underdeveloped. You mentioned somewhere that you almost never get it to the windowpane stage. For most bread I make, I want it at a medium level of gluten development, which translates into being able to stretch a smooth windowpane that still has some opaque areas – a sort of "marbled" effect. For most doughs, a perfectly uniform translucent, paper-thin window indicates complete development, which is not what you want if you're looking for that open, irregular crumb. On the other hand, if you can stretch a membrane that is still mostly opaque, you've got barely developed gluten, which you may be able to develop further with a series of folds during bulk fermentation. Unless the dough is very soft (highly hydrated), I have good luck with mixing to a medium gluten development and often do not fold. Even without folding, gluten does continue to develop some during the bulk fermentation.
When following a recipe, try using the given mixing time as a guideline only, and look at what the gluten is doing. Speaking for myself, once I started doing this, my bread started turning out much better. There are a lot of things that can affect the mixing time, and mixing "until done" is what works best for me.It is also possible that your dough is too wet. I know there is an opinion that wetter is better but in my experience this is not true. Too much water makes it difficult to develop gluten and makes the dough too weak. Again, recipes give only a guideline for how much water might be needed, and this can vary greatly depending on the flour you're using (as well as, of course, on the type of bread you're making).