The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Kneading fresh ground flour

marcsababa's picture

Kneading fresh ground flour

I have been making bread for a few years. I was happy with the product from store bought whole wheat flour, but since I have been using fresh ground flour from hard red winter wheat I have been having troubles. My dough never seems to knead up into something that is easy to knead. There is always a certain level of stickyness that verges on the unmanageable. Okay I can scrape it up and shape it and it is not that bad, but the problem gets worse when I try using sourdough starter.


I have recently tried three types of bread:

One loaf using Laurel's a loaf for learning. IN this one I think I didn't punch it down enough so when I deflated the huge bubbles in the dough prior to baking the bread became lower than it would have other wise, that I can deal with, but the dough was still much stickier than I expected at each stage. I never had what I thought would be a perfect window pane test result.


Another loaf using sourdough starter with almost 100% rye flour and just making it as recommended  in a recipe that did not require overnight soaking. This one took for ever to knead and in the end I popped in in a food processor with the kneading blades and worked it till it seemed to get no better. I think I got a window pane test that seemed okay, but not as smooth as I expected it should be. This loaf turned out tasty and nice , but the loaf pan shape was wrong for the dense sourdough rye bread quality it had.


My third loaf was prepared using the techinque I want to adopt as my regular bread. I started it with sourdough starter (but this time I had replaced a part of the rye with wheat) and let it soak over night. I did get a feeling of a little smoothness in kneading, but it always ended up falling apart and sticking to my hands and counter. It never got to the point of a good window pane test (right term?)


I have a few questions:


1. How is freshly ground grain dough going to be different when it is kneaded enough? Is a little rye going to affect the texture of "well kneaded dough"? How is it going to be different?


2. If I have to live with an increased amount of stickiness does anybody have pointers on how to deal with this? I was working my dough that I mixed using sourdough starter (it still has a good portion of rye) and had left to sit over night. I was getting gluten strings and smoothness, but the kneading pressure seemed to rip the strands and shaping a ball for resting caused rips each time. How lightly does dough have to be kneaded? I thought I could just throw in my body weight and go at it. But these doughs have been very delicate.


3. Can anybody describe to me or even show me pictures of dough that is well kneaded from fresh gournd flour? I would like to see a few pictures of the kneading as well so I can see how sticky everything is and how you deal with it. I don't want to keep adding flour or oil as has been suggested, because neither really help the bread become better.


4. Am I being too exacting about the window pane test? Can somebody put the test in different words or pictures?




JMonkey's picture

First, if you can find it, I'd recommend hard spring wheat. It's higher in gluten than winter, and I find that it performs better.

It could be that you've gotten poor quality wheat or soft wheat instead of hard. If you've gotten soft wheat, it won't have nearly enough gluten to ever form a windowpane.

As for kneading, I prefer to fold my dough these days using the stretch and fold method as demonstrated by Mike Avery. It develops the dough at least as well as the 20 minutes or 600 strokes of kneading recommended by Laurel, and it's much less time consuming.

I don't have any windowpanes to show you, but I can point you to a video of my shaping a 100% whole wheat sandwich loaf, and I use fresh ground flour these days.

Hope that helps!

marcsababa's picture

I bought organic grains from close to my home.  How can I tell if it is bad quality or soft?  The colour is red and the kernels do seem much harder than the kernels of the soft white summer wheat I have from the same farm.

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Ask the person you bought it from what it is.  If the don't know, or are reluctant to tell you, it's time to look for a new supplier.



subfuscpersona's picture

re hard vs soft red wheat - you can tell them apart by chewing a few kernels of each of them. Hard wheat is noticeably harder to chew. Hard wheat will also take longer to grind.

QUESTION: what brand of grain mill are you using?
If you're using an electric micronizer type of mill (such as the Nutrimill or Wondermill/Whispermill) mill the wheat on the finest setting that still allows the grain to flow. You're aiming for a flour that has only a hint of grittiness when you rub some through your fingers. The coarser the flour, the harder it is to get a good rise. If you're using a mill with grinding plates or cones, you can try milling it first on a coarser setting, sifting out the coarser bran with a fine seive and then milling the flour again on the finest setting you can get. Don't use the "double-milling" approach with a micronizer type electric mill; the user manual explicitly says that these mills are not designed for this.

You can try aging your flour for 2-4 weeks by letting it sit out at room temperature in a paper bag prior to use. Exposure to oxygen brings about chemical changes in wheat flour that strengthens gluten. See discussion about aging flour, especially the posts by cliff-johnston in that thread and Experiment I: 2-week aged whole wheat by fleur-de-liz, who was also working with a problematic batch of hard red winter wheat.

Whole wheat flour not only absorbs more water than white, but it takes longer to do so. The harder the grain, the longer water absorption takes but the greater the water absorption the more gluten develops. Does your recipe include (or can it be modified to include) any of these techniques?

  1. an autolyse for the whole wheat flour, which simply means adding water to the flour, combining roughly, and letting it sit at room temperature, covered, for 1-2 hours (I find 2 hours to be best)
  2. rest periods when kneading; instead of continuous kneading, split it up and allow the dough to rest for about 15 minutes before proceeding. I notice a change in the dough when I knead, then rest the dough, then knead again.
  3. stretch and fold technique; JMonkey has already mentioned this. I find it very effective. There is a similar technique called the french fold which I also find quite effective. Video links for the french fold are French Fold I and French Fold II
  4. overnight refrigerator rise for bulk fermentation; for bulk fermentation I like to let the dough rise about 1-2 hours at room temperature, give it a few stretch-and-folds, and then into the refrigerator, tightly covered with plastic wrap, for 12-14 hours. I find that even a sticky dough is noticeably firmer after this. A cold dough is easier to shape, too.

Also check out links to TFL posts on 100% whole grain breads and Ramona's Maple Oatmeal Bread A more extended search on TFL will, I'm sure, yeild additional info but these posts are a good start if you haven't already seen them.

PS - I would skip the rye until you can reliably get a well-risen 100% whole wheat bread.  

parousia's picture

This is a sample of a 80% Hydration sourdough- 360g flour with 1tbsp salt.

Fresh ground(finest setting) with Nutrimil, Wheat montana whiet hard spring wheat

This involved 2 folds and an overnight retard in the fridge

hope it helps some

marcsababa's picture

Thank you for the helpful suggestions, I have watched videos and read instructions. It all seems much easier now, and I am looking forward to hardly needing to knead!!! Hahaha


 By the way, inresponse to a question: I was using a mill called "The Kitchen mill" at the finest setting.

subfuscpersona's picture

Check out this thread on problems with home-milled flour - lots of good suggestions from experienced home millers.