Kneading Question: am I tearing the gluten?
Hi all, I just joined this site and I am excited to learn from such a helpful community of bakers! I recently bought Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book and made her Loaf for Learning. My first few loaves have been encouraging, but I still have a lot to learn. My biggest frustration is with kneading.
First, some background info: I use King Arthur Whole Wheat flour, which I have read is a good quality brand with high protein content. I keep it in the freezer and warm it up on the counter before I bake with it. I changed Laurel’s recipe just a little: instead of yogurt I use kefir, a fermented milk product, similar to yogurt but thinner. Laurel’s recipe calls for 1 cup and 6 Tablespoons of liquid (water + yogurt combined) but I found the dough too stiff and added 3 more tablespoons of water. I didn’t measure my liquids by weight, so I can’t be sure, but in theory that’s about 80 - 83% hydration.
I have found kneading very difficult to master, which is frustrating because I know it’s supposed to be intuitive. With Laurel’s recipe I started with a very soft and pliable dough. I wet my hands instead of flouring or oiling them, because I really didn’t want to dry the dough out (I read that “wetter is better” when it comes to whole grains.) Mostly I just knead traditionally, pushing the dough out with my palms or fingers, folding it over, and turning to repeat. I sometimes alternate this with the “slap and fold” technique, but I find that doesn’t work as well with whole grain doughs.
At first, the dough is soft, easy to fold and stretch out. After a few folds, however, it piles up and I have a dense lump of dough very resistant to being stretched. In years past, I used to just push really hard with the palm of my hand. I realized pretty soon that this did not yield good results because I was completely tearing the gluten strands with my rough handling. I could see it happening, I just hadn’t realized before how damaging it was. Now I try to be much gentle while stretching it. However, I’m pretty sure I still wind up tearing the gluten. This happens because the dough sticks so much to my hands that they eventually wind up coated in stickiness. Then as I knead, the lump of dough clings to the dough on my hands, and its surface tears each time I pull my hands away! This is so frustrating, and I am convinced this is why I have such a hard time developing the dough. I can work for 30 minutes (Laurel’s book recommends 10 minutes) and get a dough that just barely stretches into a “windowpane” and still tears easily.
Am I on to something? Or is there another reason my dough isn’t developing during kneading? Can anyone recommend some alternate techniques or ways to stop dough from sticking to my hands so much?