The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Kneading surface

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dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Kneading surface

I currently knead dough, form loaves, etc. on a silicon mat placed on my tile kitchen counter. I've been looking at a jazzy pastry board made of hardwood. But, I already have a marble slab I use for pastry.

 Is there any down side to using the marble surface for working with bread dough? Any particular advantage of a wood surface over marble (besides the weight)?

Thanks.

David

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

Hi David: The downside I can think of is marble stays cold...which makes it ideal for pastries and piecrusts with a high level of fats, but not so good for bread dough which likes warmer temps.  The wood would maintain a warmer temperature.  I have a kneading board made by my grandfather and it has a lip on either long side (think      |__________
                |   shape), which makes it handy...the lip pointing down rests against the edge of the table and keeps the board flush with the table (i can lean into it and hold it in place) and the lip pointing up on the far side keeps the flour and dough from spilling over the edge. And it's reversible!

You might be able to get along with a really large cutting board.  Same idea, probably costs less.  Or if you're handy, make one. 

I was at a home show recently and stopped by one kitchen display and when I leaned on the counter it was warm!  I asked the salesman why I should buy a heated counter and he shrugged, "If you have money you don't know what to do with."  I'm not in that category--yet--but it might be nice for rising doughs!

BTW, the salesman was handing out chocolates...which had been nicely melted by his heated counter.  Hmmm. 

Windi

Philadelphia PA

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Windi. 

Thanks for your response. 

The boards I've looked at have been just like the one you have. I actually bought one, but, when I got it home, it had a strong smell. This may have washed off, but I didn't want to take a chance, so I returned it. These boards cost $44-80. The marble slab is "free," because I've already paid for it. 

Marble is subjectively cooler and doesn't heat up with friction. I'm not sure how much difference this makes in dough temperature. I do like kneading on wood. I have a large wood cutting board I've used in the past, but it is 2 inches thick plus the height of rubber feet, so the ergonometrics are poor for kneading.

David

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

Along these lines, does the counter material really make much of a difference at all?  I work my dough right on the formica countertop (I'm fortunate to have a large, bare island as my workspace), and seem to get good results, but I'm not in the business of making artisnal loaves (yet).

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

I've been kneading bread dough on Formica counter tops for years.  That's going to change this week.  The contractor will show up on the 15th to rip out the old Formica counter tops and make the templates for the new counters.  I'll get back to you in 2-3 weeks to let you know how bread dough gets along with a soapstone counter.

While I don't anticipate any problems in handling the dough (soapstone isn't polished to a high gloss like granite, so slipping and sliding shouldn't be an issue), I am curious about the thermal characteristics.  One of soapstone's qualities is the ability to maintain temperature, due to it's density.  If it is heated, it cools down very slowly; if it is chilled, it warms up slowly.  While I don't tend to leave dough parked directly on the counter top after kneading, it will be interesting to see whether I need to make any adjustments for temperature. 

PMcCool

2brownbraids's picture
2brownbraids

 

Yes, please let us know how you like this soapstone counter.  I have never heard of people using it.  I have a chopping block center island and also granite on the rest of the kitchen.  I prefer working on wood surface as the granite, (though not slippery - I have the honed granite not the high polished one) is too cold for winter.  Granite is good for pastry, but a devil to clean.

-2brownbraids

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

With only two batches of bread made since the new counters were installed, I'd be premature in making any sweeping statements.  However, I am liking the soapstone better than the Formica that preceded it.  The dough seems to stick less than it did on the Formica.  Here's a shot of how one batch looked just at the end of kneading:

Levy's Jewish Rye on soapstone counter

I didn't use any additional flour during kneading, nor have I done any cleaning up prior to taking this picture.

I'll post more pics under a separate blog entry.

PMcCool

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, PMcCool.

The NW Indians carve soapstone. Do you find metal implements scratch it easily?


David

2brownbraids's picture
2brownbraids

Looks good and sounds like it works the same as granite counter. I never heard of anyone used it before, perhaps it is hard to find ?

-2brownbraids

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

David - The soapstone used for carving has a substantially higher talc content, so it is quite a bit softer than the "architectural" soapstone that is used for countertops, etc.  Having said that, soapstone is quite a bit softer than granite and can be easily scratched.  If/when that happens, you have three choices: buff out the scratch or ding with some sandpaper, wipe a bit of mineral oil on it (which will make it *almost* disappear), or just let it be another addition to the patina that will accumulate with use.  Heck, you can do all three, if you want.

2brownbraids - Yes, it is a stone, like granite.  It is more dense and heavier than granite, but softer.  It is non-porous, so spills don't soak in and cause stains.  Nor does it harbor bacteria, as a result.  It is inert, so it isn't etched by acids or caustics, a la marble/granite/concrete or other surfaces (a lot of this stuff is used for counter tops in labs).  It is not affected by heat or cold, so you can take a pan straight from the stove or oven and set it on the countertop.  Don't try that with Silestone or other quartz surfaces, or with Formica.  Soapstone is available in a range of colors, so long as you like green, grey or black.  Availability varies by region.  I live in the Kansas City area and we bought our slabs through a local stone wholesaler.  The designer we were working with hadn't been able to locate any through her usual sources, so we may have gotten lucky to find some on the day we stopped in to inquire about it.

One company, Vermont Soapstone http://www.vermontsoapstone.com/, quarries and markets their stone in the Northeast U.S.  M. Teixiera http://www.soapstones.com/, is a Brazilian firm that quarries the stone in Brazil and distributes in the U.S.  I think they have facilities in Texas and in New Jersey.  There are other distributors in different regions.  Soapstone quarried in Finland and India is also available in the U.S.

People who like granite probably aren't going to like soapstone quite as well.  Soapstone isn't polished to a high gloss or available in as wide a range of colors.  Still, more and more people are choosing it for its durability, its low maintenance, and its quieter look.  It seems at home in our kitchen, which is very much a workplace instead of a showplace.  

The only real deviation from our expectations has been the color.  After all, we hand-picked the slabs in the warehouse and even had them wet down the slabs so that we would have an idea of how they would look when oiled.  The slabs looked as though they would be in the grey-black range, with occasional green accents.  In our kitchen, they look predominantly green with grey to black accents.  That tends to vary, depending on the light source.  Overall, we are very pleased but still slightly befuddled by how different the color of the finished product seems to be from what we saw in the raw slabs.  Luckily, it blends very nicely with the slate tiles we chose for the backsplash.  It also has more white veining than we expected, which is even prettier.

Paul

swtgran's picture
swtgran

For Mother's Day, I received a nice size board from my kids.  It has a ruler engraved on all four sides and circles of various sizes.  I'm thinking those circles will come in real handy for pita and flat breads.  Now I don't have to keep buying rulers to replace the ones that come up missing, like tape.   

I like a wood board because it seems to grab the dough some and add to the kneading process.  Is that my imagination?  Terry

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Hi David,

I use sheets of high density polyethylene that can be put in the dishwasher. I buy the sheets from a plastics dealer and cut them into usable pieces. We use them for all sorts of food preparation. They're really great from a clean-up point of view or more aptly they help contain the mess. I've become so used to them that I used them as a backing to parchment paper to empty the bannetons on and as a surrogate peel to place the loaves in the oven (have to be fast otherwise they'll start melting).

Wood has a natural affinity for dough. It has the right amount of frictional resistance to hold the dough in place while holding enough flour to prevent sticking. Most bread boards seem to be made out of a lighter wood for some reason. Cutting boards are usually made of hardwood and are usually much heavier. One really interesting fact that has emerged, concerning wood, is that it doesn't harbor bacteria on its surface. The scientific world had written wood off as a sanitary surface by assumption. It wasn't till someone had the temerity to acutally test the assumed hypothesis and voila! It proved to be not so! There seems to be a natural system that reduces harmful bacteria from the surface after being cleaned with warm water whereas plastic remained contaminated. As an interesting aside it seemed than none of the scientific people had noticed the successful use of wood in gastronomy since the dawn of civilization.

The short and the long of it is that poly is nice if you have a dishwasher than can deliver NSF recommended cleanliness otherwise, wood is, and has been used for making bread, even when it was made from acorn paste...,

Wild-Yeast

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Wild-Yeast. 

My silicon mat works well, except that it slides all over the place with vigorous kneading. I'd be concerned any thin sheet would do the same. How to you keep your polyethelene sheet in place? 

It seems like lots of folks use their kitchen counter, regardless of whether it is wood, formica, metal, granite or whatever, as long it is not tile with grout. Your point about wood gripping the dough is one I've considered. 

Speaking of data, I think I need to actually give the marble slap a try for a couple of weeks and see for myself how it works.

David

Susan's picture
Susan

Spread a wet paper towel on the counter and put your silicone mat on top of it. That has stopped the sliding for me. Marble or granite works for kneading or folding in the summertime and Corian in the winter.

Susan from San Diego

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I thought it was 70F every day of the year! 

Don't mind me. I'm just envious of San Diego's beautiful weather.

David

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

Another excellent option (thanks America's Test Kitchen!) are rubber drawer liner sheets, like these:

 

Cupboard liners. 

Update:

And then I see someone already beat me to it... meh, oh well. :)

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Hi David,

Yeah, it slides around a bit. I've changed my kneading technique alleviating most of it but it still slides around some. It's a small penalty compared to the overall benefits. They can be rolled up for storage for instance. Refrigerated marble is of course the penultimate flour surface especially for pastries if you can afford it...,

Wild-Yeast

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I'm going to try Susan's wet paper towel trick.  

As far as the cost goes, I've already invested in a marble board, and I don't make enough pastry to have gotten my money's worth out of it. The marble is really pretty, but it weighs a ton, and it doesn't roll up very easily. When I'm going to be baking bread, I usually start Wednesday or Thursday and go through Sunday. I leave my kneading surface on the counter for the duration, so, if I do like the marble board, it's not like I'm taking it in and out of its home in the pantry many times per week.

David

ejm's picture
ejm

I use a modification of Susan's technique to stop my wooden cutting board from sliding around. Rather than using a paper towel, I put a slightly damp tea towel under the board. (Learned about this when reading A Meal Observed by Andrew Todhunter.)

 excerpt:

I learn a number of practical tips in the kitchens of Taillevent, and the simplest are usually the most helpful: a damp cloth or paper towel laid out under a cutting board keeps it from slipping across a counter

And to clean the board? White vinegar. Works fabulously....

-Elizabeth 

ehanner's picture
ehanner

David,
A friend offered me a slab of Marble to use in the kitchen and I'd like to know what you or anyone else thinks of it for bread making. I know pastry folks love it for the cooling quality. I'm thinking of making it a permanent installation. At the moment I use a wood or plastic cutting board for smaller projects or simply the laminate surface which I like for the skin friction for forming and shaping.

Eric 

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

Doing hand kneading recently brought to mind another of the perks of wood: the grain enables one to spread a light dusting of flour on the work surface...the slight irregularities in the surface "hold" the flour.  Marble and other smooth surfaces, like a countertop, will cause the flour to shift around and form little piles, increasing the risk of having floury areas in the kneaded dough.

Now some bakers--Bertinet, Silverton--prefer unfloured surfaces while kneading.  I'm too chicken to try that...yet. 

Windi

Philadelphia PA

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is my favorite for kneading. My Husband wanted to install granite all over the Kitchen and I said "NO" so my table and stove area is granite -- great for parking hot stuff coming out of the oven, and the not so smooth formica under the window and around the sink is where I work and mix. I've never worked with marble in the kitchen.   My granite has been originally treated with silicone and I rub mineral oil on it maybe twice a year so cleaning is a charm. It's a cold hard table though and to keep the tablecloth from sliding off, I stretch a frotee cribsheet over it.  The stone tends to be cooler with higher humidity. 

Mini O

swtgran's picture
swtgran

They make this gripper stuff for use in RVs to keep things from sliding around while they are in motion.  I use that under my boards when ever I use them.  It is pretty hard to budge them when it is place.  Terry

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Terry. 

Not being an RVer, I'm not familiar with that product. Do you happen to know the real name of the product, or is it, in fact, "Gripper Stuff?"

David

leemid's picture
leemid

This place: http://www.rvwholesalers.com/catalog/product.php?productid=1002 calls it Scoot-gard but it is available at Home Depot in the US by another name. Look in shelf supplies, shelf paper, etc.

Good stuff. Won't move.

Lee

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Thanks, Lee.
 David

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

I have a roll of that somewhere!  I use it to isolate bench mounted wood working tools and to keep them from moving around.  Thanks for connecting the dots to the breadmaking application...,

Wild-Yeast 

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I have a huge wood table and wood counters. I was going it on a large silicone mat. I wet the counter and then it sticks. But with very vigourous kneeding, it moves, so I end up just doing it on the wood. But the clean up is a bit of a pain. I let the bits of dough dry and then chip them off with the square end of my measuring spoons. And this is an every day ordeal. So, I was wondering, if I had a big wood board, would I need to clean it as well as I have to for my counterspace or table? Or is that the beauty of kneeding boards, that they can be left "dirty"?

Jane 

swtgran's picture
swtgran

David, someone else answered your question for me.  It is great stuff for under your boards.

Janedo, I use my bench knife and give it a really good scraping then wipe it with a dry paper towel.  Occasionally, I sprinkle salt on the board and rub it with half a lemon, then I wipe it off good and when totally dry, I wipe mineral oil all over it and let it set until it is all absorbed. This cleans it and keeps it from drying out too much.  Terry 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Jane. 

I have often wished I had a "real" wood surfaced table for making bread, but I can see that clean up may be harder. It is nice to be able to take your kneading surface over to the sink to clean it thoroughly. That's a nice thing about the Silpat mat. It cleans so easily. 

I wouldn't leave my kneading surface uncleaned for long. I'm a neat freak, sort of, and my wife started out life as a microbiologist. She can see bacteria without aid of a microscope, even. It's uncanny! Nothing is left out with food on it for long.

David

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Jane, I use a plastic mesh scouring pad (wet) to clean the flour from my old wooden board, followed by a thorough wipe down with a wet cloth. That gets the flour off pretty easily.

I'd hesitate to allow dried flour to stay on any surface you'll use for kneading because bits of it are bound to break off and turn into flour shrapnel in your next loaf.

Janedo's picture
Janedo

I go through quite a few green scouring pads as well. I just can't help but think about all those bakers that have yards of wood surface to clean.

As for bacteria, when I arrived in France I couldn't believe the whole country wasn't dead yet from bacteria, because compared to North Americans the French are very unhygenic. Then with time I realized that it pretty much doesn't make a difference and the only terrible bacterial illnesses I'd hear about were in the States. And I don't know why that is! I eat raw eggs and uncooked meat here while every one of my american cook books makes me think that those two things could kill you. Any answers to that question?

I am now in between the two. I figure our bodies need to be in a non-clean environment to build up resistance, but maintaining a minimum of cleanliness without getting freaky about it. I have wood counter tops and I don't even clean them that well (just a good sponge off, no detergent). But I don't cut meat on them!

Jane 

Elagins's picture
Elagins

hi Jane,

part of the reason we have so many infections here in USA is precisely because we've become phobic about microorganisms. everywhere you look, people are disinfecting this and disinfecting that -- not to mention our respected medical profession, who have become so promiscuous about dispensing antibiotics that we now play host to any number of hyper-resistant strains that have upped the stakes of infection from mild discomfort to life and death.

as a result, we in the USA are a population whose immune systems have become severely compromised, not unlike our indigenous populations who in centuries past succumbed to diseases borne by European conquerors, settlers and missionaries.

sadly, we've become victims of our own folly (yet again)

Stan Ginsberg

Galley Wench's picture
Galley Wench


When we're on our sailboat, where space is very limited, I use a large cookie sheet (with a turned-up lip) for kneading.  May not be ideal, but it keeps the mess to a minimum and it works.    

Sometimes I think we're (U.S.) just TOO much of clean freaks.  We spend about 6 months a year in Mexico and I've yet to get ill.    The eggs are not refrigerated; don't even want to think where the meat has been, but yet we don't have any ill effects.  (I do wash the veggies very carefully . . . not sure what they use for fertilizer!)  We started out being very careful, no ice cubes, etc.   Now I drink the tap water with ice with no ill effects.   Guess it's all what you get use to!


Galley Wench

leemid's picture
leemid

but I haven't travelled abroad for many years. Think of this, though: wood heals itself. There have been studies done comparing natural wooden kitchen surfaces and plastic/man-made surfaces and the wood won out. The man-made surfaces REQUIRE bleaching to be sanitary but in a fairly short time the wood surfaces disinfect themselves. What was God thinking?

Then the foreign markets and food... I love America first, then perhaps England, then the others fall somewhere after, sorry if that offends you. But we don't do everything like smart people might if given the chance. For instance, were it not for the law I would have chickens in the backyard. I'm not sure when eggs need refrigeration but it seems the shell should do alright for awhile. The health problem isn't refrigeration, it's contamination of the insides and this happens while yet in the chicken, because of unsanitary circumstances in their habitat. These little beasties aren't allowed to roam free in most commercial egg production farms, but live cooped up (pardon). It's harder to keep sanitary under those conditions. Same with beef. Let them roam and their pastures can do something to decompose their waste, whereas having six billion of them in a hundred square feet is more difficult. Again, if I had a bigger backyard I would have cows too. 

I don't really want to go back to small family farms where we eat or starve based on how well we farm, but perhaps if we all cared to influence the market to be more sensible, as compared to the current trends, we could all trust our daily fare more.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it,

Lee 

BaguetteQuest's picture
BaguetteQuest

Since everyone is talking about kneading surfaces on this thread, I just thought I'd thow something in.

I don't know, some of you who work right on the counter, may find this useful. When I get a dried out film of bread dough stuck to the counter, (you know how hard it can be to clean off,)
I get a towel steamy hot at the faucet, and wring it gently, just till it doesn't drip, but leave it pretty soppy. Then place it on the counter over the offending area. The water in the towel soaks the spot, and in 5-10 minutes, it should be damp enough to wipe easier. If you're in a hurry to get your counter clean, or it's an extra stubborn spot, it should work, if you wet the towel again, and leave it for a few more minutes.

Hope this is helpful to someone.

-Sarah

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

if flour is involved.  Cold water is the best way.  After the flour is gone, hot and soapy works fine.  

Mini O

BaguetteQuest's picture
BaguetteQuest

Yes, I see what you mean.
I should have said, that when I do this, I usually have swept the leftover loose flour clear of the counter. But yes, I can see how the hot water would kind of "cook" the dough. Maybe it's just the water, and not necessarily the heat that works for me. Next time I'll try just a wet towel. :)

BaguetteQuest

LindyD's picture
LindyD

I tried something different tonight, being too lazy to lug out my heavy kneading board. After the autolyse, I just lightly sprayed my countertop with canola oil and turned out the dough on the counter. No issues kneading, stretching, or folding and the cleanup was quick.

 

possum-liz's picture
possum-liz

I usually knead on my formica kitchen table or in the big plastic basin I use as a mixing bowl.  Just a smear of oil unless I need to work in some more flour. To clean up I just scrape with my dough tool--it's just a piece of stainless steel with a wooden handle--my most used piece of baking equipment.

I baked bread  for a cafe for a while and did all my work on the stainless steel workbenches.  Not my favourite surface but easy to clean.  It was great in the hot Aussie summer but chilled the dough in the winter.

Liz

kanin's picture
kanin

Hi dmsnyder,

Been using a marble slab for kneading dough and I've been really happy with it. I mainly use Bertinet's slap and fold and use a plastic bench scraper in the beginning to pick up loose bits.

The coldness of the marble shoudln't really be an issue. I compensate with warmer or colder liquid temps depending on the target dough temperature. It's not an exact science but you do get a feel for liquid temperature adjustments after a few tries.

I would just save the money and buy more flour :)

 

http://www.applepiepatispate.com

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, kanin.

I found the marble slab satisfactory. I have switched to a large, heavy wooden cutting board, at least temporarily. It works too. I think I have a slight preference for kneading and shaping on wood.

When it's 109F outside, as it was here yesterday, cool marble is not a bad thing.


David

Gardenwife's picture
Gardenwife

Hello, everyone! I'm new here, new to yeast baking. I found this thread while searching for information on kneading boards and mats since I have a tiny counter in my kitchen and the only other surface is an antique dropleaf table.


I have what is probably a silly question for you. Would a large craft cutting mat work for this? I was looking at my Fiskars 24x36" Coastal Collection craft mat and the wheels started turning in my head. If something like this would be good for a kneading mat, I might just buy a second one. I don't know what it is made out of; it's a self-healing cutting mat.

ejm's picture
ejm

Any smooth clean surface will do. I like to use our large wooden cutting board. But my husband prefers to knead directly on the counter. You don't need a huge space for kneading.


But whatever you end up using, make sure you clean it first: just spray it with a little vinegar first and wipe it dry with a clean cloth.


-Elizabeth

KenK's picture
KenK

We have been talking about building a new house.  She more seriously than I; I think I would prefer retirement over house payments.  Anyway, the kitchen is mine and I want solid maple countertops throughout.  She was opposed until I pointed out that the pine floors in our 70 year old house still look pretty good.

petes334's picture
petes334

My wife and I recently built a new home for ourselves up in MI and since she is an avid baker we wanted to create the best kitchen for it. We got a great oven and went with a soapstone countertop from Dorado Soapstone. It matches great with the rest of the kitchen and we always get compliments on it. My wife really loves kneading breads and making other goodies on it as well.

sourdoughboy's picture
sourdoughboy

 


Does anyone else out there knead without a surface?


I use Bertinet's slap-and-pull a lot (throw sticky dough down on counter, pull, fold, repeat).


But recently I've found myself doing the same thing without the counter--pulling and pushing the dough without it ever leaving my hands, "in the air," so to speak.


Sort of what like this girl is doing with"marshmallow taffy," but with a big hunk of dough: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqbx6ghzNqU


So far, it's worked pretty well--the gluten develops faster for me when than I use a counter, and there's no counter clean-up!