The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

kneading: how much is too much

tgw1962_slo's picture

kneading: how much is too much

I am relatively new to bread making, so I am often uncertain about kneading dough.

I've been told that if I knead the dough too much, the final product will come out dense.

But I've also been told that in order to get air into the dough, I should knead the dough

pretty thoroughly.

For example, making baguettes. I guess I'm supposed to knead the dough quite a bit to get

those holes that baguettes are known for. 


So I guess my question is... How much is too much? 


gaaarp's picture

Kneading dough serves three purposes:  ensuring that the ingredients are evenly distributed; developing the gluten; and beginning the fermentation process (that is, getting the yeast to start doing its work).  Generally, when people talk about kneading, they are concerned with the second purpose, gluten development.  And overdeveloping the gluten is what you worry about when kneading.

But take heart.  Unless you are using professional mixing equipment, or possibly a food processor, it is nearly impossible to over-knead.  As Peter Reinhart is fond of saying, if you are using a stand mixer, it will overheat before your bread does; and if you are kneading by hand, you will tire out long before your gluten gets overdeveloped.

After you have been baking for a while, you kind of get a sense for when you've kneaded enough.  The standard method to test your dough is the windowpane test.  I believe there are pictures and detailed descriptions of this test elsewhere on the forum, but in brief, it goes like this:  cut off a small piece of dough and stretch it in each direction.  If you are able to pull it to a thin, translucent membrane (like a windowpane), your dough has been kneaded enough.  If it breaks or cracks, you need to knead some more.

So take heart.  Unless you are Superman or Wonder Woman, you probably won't overknead your dough.  But you will get a good workout!

verminiusrex's picture

My usual knead time with my KitchenAid 600 is about four minutes, but I've forgotten it for ten minutes before without any noticeable change. I also think that there is a point where the dough will often just wrap around the kneading hook and take a ride when it can't be kneaded anymore.

 Hand kneading, I don't know.  I'm lazy and willing to let the machine do all the work.

holds99's picture

I frequently pass this link to to Richard Bertinet's video, showing his method of mixing dough, along to new bakers.  Having been there myself I understand your question re: mixing dough.  I think this video pretty much sums up dough mixing and demonstrates the main reason for mixing, which is combining the ingredients and fully developing the gluten in your dough so you get a good rise with nice open crumb. 

This method doesn't require anything but your hands and dough.  Try'll be amazed at the results.  Mr. Bertinet is mixing sweet dough in this video but the same principle applies to any dough...stretch that dough and develop that gluten.

Best of luck in your baking sure to try Mr. Bertinet's "slap and fold" method.  Based on personal experience I can tell you absolutely that it really works.


mean_jeannie's picture

What an enlightening video - I am grateful you've shared it and I found it.

LazySumo's picture

Mixing the dough is one way of developing gluten. Simply leaving flour in contact with water will, over time, generate gluten on it's own. Given that, if you take your flour, water, yeast and salt then mix it well and give it plenty of time it will form up nicely. MUCH less work this way, regardless of how you were originally kneading.

Additionally, if the extra time is spent in the fridge (retardation) then the dough's flavor gets a SERIOUS kick in the backside.

Atropine's picture

holds99--thank you so much for that video!!

GoatGuy's picture

Is that it all depends on what FLOUR you're using. 

If you're using a 7-9% "protein" (== gluten) cake flour, you can machine knead it until your KA catches on fire, and you simply cannot develop enough gluten-strength to over knead it.  Ever.  

If you're using 10%-11% gluten/protein "all purpose flour", then you CAN over knead the dough, but it takes in excess of 15 minutes on a powerful stand-mixer with a dough hook and a fairly wet dough (70% to 80%).  I've personally done it.  The resulting dough rose like a dream, didn't lose a single bubble of CO2 from fermentation thru all the foldings.   The resulting loaf was really tall, but had an almost rubbery texture.   Interesting.  Not to be repeated.

If you are using 12%-14% gluten "hard wheat bread flour", then you need to beware of over-kneading!  While your machine will happily knead a fairly loose dough (70%-75% hydration) to a silky smooth boule, (like amazingly silky), in fairly short order (5-7 minutes), if you continue to machine knead it will NOT look outwardly different, but it becomes a ball of rubber.  Baked fluffy rubber. 

These results I have found first hand, me, myself, I.  And I cannot stress how disappointing it is to do a day-and-a-half or two-day sourdough and have the resulting bread be mouth-feel-rubbery.  Not of course that it tastes poor (with long fermentation, enzyme and odd-bacteria flavor development will be awesome no matter how long you knead the dough), but its just an odd stretchy-pull-y texture.  I have found tho' that such loaves are perfect for making morning toast with jam.  They slice beautifully, they toast uniformly (so long as the holes aren't overly big), they're durable (don't crumb apart when spreading jam and butter).  

So, this old baker (moi) makes a loaf of rubber bread (72% hydration, all-purpose flour, 15% spelt or rye, 15% hand-ground whole wheat, active sour starter, 1/16 tsp of active-dry-yeast to help it fluff up) once a week for the family.  Its eaten exclusively for breakfast, and everyone gets irritated when I slough off my 'duties' and forget to bake another.  

FOR BAGUETTES, however ... ether use bread flour and hand-kneading (rather minimally), or use all-purpose flour and your stand mixer.  But limit the knead to 3-5 minutes on a low-setting.  Alternatively, for less rubbery bread - yet with good workability and gluten development, knead for 10+ minutes, then add 2 TBSP (30 g) of extra virgin olive oil to the mass.  Knead another 5 minutes on low, to incorporate.  Works surprisingly well.  Don't add oil at the outset, or gluten development is suppressed.  

FOR LOAF BOULES, I recommend using all purpose flour, and extended hand kneading, or 5-7 minutes on the stand mixer with dough hook. Be careful with added oils... while they can taste good, they also substantially alter the gluten-strength of the dough.  Not saying "no", but just be cautious.  Surprisingly little oil addition will flavor-up the loaf, if the quality of the oil is high enough.You may like this recipe for a great flavoring oil blend:

1 part Japanese dark 100% sesame oil.
5 part hi flavor almond oil
3 part walnut oil (nose-test for freshness)

I premix that, and keep some in a standard "ketchup squirt bottle", as you might find in a 1950s diner. When making doughs, near the end of the knead, I just squirt in an unmeasured but goodly amount.  Let it knead for another 2 minutes, then that's that.  


DanAyo's picture

Goat Guy wrote about different times for different breads. For example, a sandwich loaf similar to what is in the store would take a lot of kneading time compared to a Tartine bread that is not kneaded at all.

Since you are relatively new to bread baking, maybe you could choose a single bread and work on that bread only. If you don’t have a preference, you could tell us which type of bread you want to try and we could help.  Also, it would be helpful to know if you have a mixer, if so which one. Or we could advise a bread that requires no kneading at all. In that case a mixer would not be used.