Bread

How to Knead Dough

Before you start on that bread project, here's what you knead to know.

by:
March 17, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.


We're all taking things a bit slower at the moment. It's hard to carve out space and time for work and play when it's all to happen within one small space.

Kneading dough, by hand, is a way to take time for yourself—to listen to a book, connect with family, or simply observe as flour and water transform into a supple dough with elbow grease and care.

Why knead at all, when there are no-knead options out there? When flour gets hydrated, its proteins (glutenin and gliadin) fuse to form gluten, and eventually, a tough and elastic network of it. Glutenin gives gluten its strength and elasticity, while gliadin brings extensibility—or, gluten’s ability to streeeeetch.

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Top Comment:
“I have a recipe for my mothers Swedish Ryebread. My mothers family came from Sweden in 1905 when she was 2. Needless to say she has passed along time ago and I am in my 70's. This Rye is like no other and makes fantastic toast, especially with peanut butter. The dough takes alot of kneading and it has to raise twice. If you do not knead it enough the top crust will crack when baking. This xmas I bought a new KitchenAid Mixer with a dough hook for kneading. The instuctions in their book say to knead bread on low for 7 to 10 minutes. I have made about 6 loaves since then and instead of baking to about a 4 to 5 inch height they are shorter and the bread is very dense, still good but to chewy and hard to cut. Could this now be the result of over kneading since I still follow the same recipe but am using a machine to do the kneading and it is to much or to long a time? ”
— Don G.
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Gluten can and will form networks in dough without the aid of kneading—it will just take much, much longer. Kneading forces glutenin and gliadin to make contact more readily, to more quickly form gluten and a strong web of networks.

As yeast feeds on the sugars and starches in the dough, it releases carbon dioxide. A strong, extensible gluten network is key for holding in (not bursting from) all that air. In other words: gluten allows for a valiantly tall loaf.

Okay, now back to the task at hand: Here's how to knead dough in three easy steps.

Oooh. Look at that strong network of gluten. Photo by Rocky Luten

How to Knead Dough

1. Plop Your dough on the counter.

First, flour your surface well. You can measure a cook’s worth by the way they throw their flour: Throw it evenly, with force, and (real or feigned) confidence. Gently transfer your dough—using a flexible bench scraper or spatula if especially sticky—from your mixing bowl onto the surface.

Come on out, little guy! Photo by James Ransom

2. Push & Fold.

With the heel of your dominant hand, press the dough down and away from you. With your other hand, fold the edge of the dough farthest from you in towards the center. Repeat this pushing and folding motion until the dough is smooth and elastic, no longer shaggy looking or sticky, about 10 minutes. Re-flour your surface as necessary, but not overly so—you don’t want to incorporate too much extra flour into the dough, and sometimes a little sticking is okay and helpful in developing the strength of the dough.

Here, our food stylist, Anna Billingskog, pushes with her knuckles—this also works. Photo by Rocky Luten

3. Perform the Windowpane Test.

When your dough starts to smooth out and bounce back, perform the "windowpane test." Tear off a small piece of dough and stretch it from all four corners. It should be able to stretch into a thin, see-through “windowpane” without tearing. If your dough does tear, keep kneading for another five or so minutes, then test for strength again.

Looks good to me! Photo by Julia Gartland

Knead some more bread in your life?

What baking projects are you turning to right now? Tell us in the comments below!

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Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.

2 Comments

Don G. March 22, 2020
I have a recipe for my mothers Swedish Ryebread. My mothers family came from Sweden in 1905 when she was 2. Needless to say she has passed along time ago and I am in my 70's. This Rye is like no other and makes fantastic toast, especially with peanut butter.
The dough takes alot of kneading and it has to raise twice. If you do not knead it enough
the top crust will crack when baking. This xmas I bought a new KitchenAid Mixer with a dough hook for kneading. The instuctions in their book say to knead bread on low for 7 to 10 minutes. I have made about 6 loaves since then and instead of baking to about a 4 to 5 inch height they are shorter and the bread is very dense, still good but to chewy and hard
to cut. Could this now be the result of over kneading since I still follow the same recipe but am using a machine to do the kneading and it is to much or to long a time?
 
HalfPint March 19, 2020
I'm making Chinese Scallion Bread, a lovely yeasted bread from the Muslim Chinese, cooked on the stovetop. I'm totally loving it. There are a lot of variations already popping into head. Come summer, I won't have to turn on the oven to have fresh homemade bread.