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.