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Old 01-05-2012, 12:50 PM   #1
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Kneading bread

I've made bread twice now, and it seems to keep coming out really dense and heavy. I think the problem is with the kneading, because every time I've been kneading for at least 20-25 minutes (when most recipes only say 5-10), and the dough still doesn't have the right consistency. The 'windowpane' test, where it's meant to be elastic enough to stretch out and be translucent, just never works. It always breaks and comes apart, and doesn't go stretchy enough, no matter how long I knead it for.

What am I doing wrong?! :S


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Old 01-05-2012, 12:54 PM   #2
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I would guess your are kneading far too long. I never go past 10 minutes. Once the dough is no longer lumpy, I knead for a couple more minutes until smooth.. I wouldn't stress about these tests you speak of. Then, you need a good warm place for it to proof/rise. I keep mine covered with a tea towel. This step will make is airy and lighter. I generally handle it fairly gently so it stays soft. Sounds like you are just working the life out of it...

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Old 01-05-2012, 01:13 PM   #3
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You might also be using poor technique while kneading. There are tons of videos out there to help with that.

But it sounds like you are overkneading it. Once you go to far you will likely fail the window pane test. Also, be sure to not force the dough to stretch when trying that, be gentle and let it relax itself into stretching.
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Old 01-05-2012, 01:16 PM   #4
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In Jeffrey Hamelman's book, "Bread, A bakers book of techniques and recipes", he says, "If the window is completely clear and the gluten totally developed, the dough has almost certainly been overmixed. Appropriate gluten development does not necessarily mean full gluten development."

For most recipes, working the dough until it is smooth and extensible and letting the gluten develop further during two rises will give you bread that has the appropriate texture. In any case, kneading for 20 minutes should not be necessary and may be leading to dough that has too much flour kneaded into it. Most dough should have a little bit of stickiness left in them at the end of either machine or hand kneading.

What kind of bread are you making? Some whole grain bread tends to bake up with a dense crumb.
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Old 01-05-2012, 02:31 PM   #5
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Right. As you go, the dough will change from its rough appearance and will become smooth in appearance. What's happening during kneading is that the gluten is being aligned, taking on a coherent structure. That's all the "windowpane" thing is testing. But you don't have to be obsessive about it. Simply the fact that you can pull the dough without it breaking demonstrates that the kneading it working. You can judge that condition as you hand knead. It's that distinct change in character that you're watching for. Also, it's being warmed, so the yeast is encouraged.

You might also try to give the dough a 20-minute rest period after you mix it and before you knead. It's a period for it to autolyze, which it is fancy way of saying the flour is fully integrating the water you added. Try it, and you will see another definite change in character from the just mixed dough. I consider that that period really prepares the dough for kneading.

So give it that rest time, and knead until you see the dough take on the appearance of a smooth, stretched appearance, and let it rise from there. You should be able to take the dough ball in two hands and roll each side under in opposite directions and have the top surface stretch smoothly without tearing. If you can do that, you have a dough structure that will hold gas and rise.

One thing that would be very helpful, though, is if you will report how much flour and how much water you are using.
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Old 01-05-2012, 04:00 PM   #6
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One other thing is to look at the type of flour you're using. Flours made specifically for bread usually have 2%+ more gluten proteins which are what gives bread a light and airy texture.

If you're using regular AP flour, try adding 1 extra T of flour per cup than the recipe calls for. AP flour tends to produce a denser, flatter loaf ~ but it most definitely will work!

I'm not sure where I found this little paragraph so I can't give the proper credit, but I copied it into my bread making notes. This might be something worthwhile for you to try to find the consistency you're looking for:

Besides the quantity, the quality of the gluten will vary. Some glutens are better at forming the elastic network than others. You can judge this for yourself by making a "gluten ball" from different flours: make a stiff dough using just water and 1/4 c of flour. Knead it until it becomes quite elastic, then continue kneading it between your fingers under a stream of water. This will wash out the starch from the flour and after a few minutes of this you will have a ball of pure gluten. By playing with this ball, stretching and folding it, you will see that some are far more resistant to tearing than others. A good bread flour will enable you to pull the gluten into a thin membrane.

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Old 01-05-2012, 04:59 PM   #7
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Thanks everyone!
I made a loaf today, and although the dough didn't really get to the texture I was expecting, it came out OK, just slightly dense. I think I will try the method of leaving the mixture to rest before kneading it.

I've been using a 5:3 ratio of flour to water (give or take), and using bread flour rather than just plain. I'm making super-bogstandard white lean bread.

The thing is, I just don't seem to notice any change at all in the consistency of the dough. Once the flour and water is fully combined, then it becomes a sort of doughy texture, but isn't stretchy and will break easily when you pull a bit off. When I knead it, it just seems to stay like that, and doesn't change at all. That's why I'm so confused, if it was changing too much, or something like that, it would make more sense.. but the fact it just doesn't seem to change in the slightest. :S

I've looked at some videos of kneading technique, and I wouldn't say I'm doing anything majorly different to that. Just a sort of pushing/stretching etc.

I think I might be using too much flour too, because I've been adding more flour when the dough was sticky on my hands while kneading, so I guess that could be making a difference too.

Thanks again :)

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