The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The Need to Knead

  • Pin It
gaaarp's picture

The Need to Knead

A few weeks ago, inspired by Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice (BBA), I decided to make a seed culture-barm-sourdough starter.  My first attempt failed, due, I think, to my impatience rather than a true failure of the process.  My second attempt, seasoned with more patience, worked, and I am baking my first sourdough loaves today.

The BBA recipe for Basic Sourdough Bread states that you can knead the dough by hand for 12-15 minutes, or use the dough hook in your stand mixer and knead for 4 minutes, rest for 5-10, and knead an additional 4 minutes.  I have made bread off and on for about 30 years (since I was 10 years old), and I have always kneaded by hand.  Until recently, that is.  I took a French bread class, and the instructor kneaded the bread in the Kitchen Aid (KA) for the first 5-6 minutes, then finished with the "slap and roll" technique, where you take the dough by the edge in one hand, slam it on the counter for all you're worth, then use the other hand to do a jellyroll.  She said if you don't use the KA to start with, you would slap and roll about 100 times; starting with the KA, you only have to do it about 15-20 times.

I have been using this method for my French bread for a while now, with excellent results.  So I planned to use the KA for my kneading on the sourdough, as instructed in BBA.  But partway through the first 4-minute knead, something happened.  I suddenly realized that I missed kneading by hand, the old fashioned way!  So after the first knead, I put the dough to rest on the counter for a few minutes, then finished kneading by hand.  It was an almost-religious experience.  When the wild yeast started to come alive, the smell was absoulutely intoxicating.  And the time flew by.  The dough was ready to be set aside to ferment before I knew it.

It's good to get back to what I've always known and loved about bread baking.  That's not to say that I will never again opt for the convenience of the KA or the slap and roll, but when I have the time, I will always choose to knead by hand.


rmullins's picture

I have been working my way through the BBA as well, probably have spent about two months working through the formulaes.  I know exactly what you mean about 'kneading' being a religious experience.  I somehow feel like the bread isn't as good without getting your hands into it.

 I know this might be crazy, but kneading the dough by hand is invigorating, and I might add, excellent excercise, especially if kneading bagel dough for 15 minutes per batch.  

I use my KA for quick breads and other battery kinds of stuff, but when it comes to 'real' bread, move the machines out of my way!  ;)

 Thanks for such a great post, great to know there are others out there as strange as I am.  ;) 

nonnaluna's picture

It is almost a religious experience to knead dough by hand.  For me, it brings an inner peace when I knead by hand.  It gives me some time to be alone with my thoughts. 

Bread is a staple of life for almost all people living on earth, from the most primitive folks to the most sophisticated and privileged.-WILTON D. GREGORY, Archbishop of Atlanta

Mary Jane D. Toribio's picture
Mary Jane D. Toribio

i greatly agree with you sir that hand kneading is an almost religious rather get dirty by kneading using my bare hands most of the time.when i knead by hand i feel that im one with the flour.sadly i dont have your BBA book because i cannot find a copy of that book here in the philippines.thats why im relying more on the people like you here in the fresh loaf with regards to techniques and great bread recipes.thanks and more power.