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Cooking Techniques

Baker’s Choice

Take your pick among these kneading techniques to make tender, chewy homemade breads

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Hand, hook, or blade? Any of these tools will do when it comes to kneading bread dough. Hand kneading is the traditional choice, but the dough hook of a stand mixer and the blade of a food processor yield equally good results, without the elbow grease. Read on to find the right kneading process for your cooking style, plus recipes for dinner rolls, cinnamon buns, focaccia, and naan that let you test out your chosen method.

3 Ways to Knead

By Hand (Best for cooks who want to “feel” when dough is ready and desire more control)

1. Combine all but 1/3 cup of flour (reserve this for kneading) with dry ingredients in bowl. Stir in yeast and liquids until a shaggy dough forms. Turn dough onto work surface dusted with reserved flour. Gather the edges of dough into center to make a tight ball, and press with heel of hand several times to remove air from dough. Let dough rest 4 to 5 minutes so it will be less sticky when you knead.

2. Flatten dough ball by pushing down and away from you with the heel of your hand (dough will be an oval-shaped blob). Pull and fold far edge back over dough. Turn dough a quarter turn. Repeat. Kneading can take 2 to 10 minutes. Fully kneaded dough will be smooth and won’t stick to your hands.

Stand Mixer (with hook attachment) (Best for traditionalists who don’t like to get their hands sticky. This method comes closest to hand-kneading without the effort.)

Place dry ingredients in mixer bowl, and fit mixer with dough hook. Mix on low speed 1 minute to combine. With mixer running at low speed, add yeast and liquids by pouring them down the inside of the bowl. Increase speed to medium-low, and mix 2 minutes. Let dough rest 5 minutes. Mix at medium-low speed 5 minutes, or until dough is smooth. Increase speed to medium, and mix 2 minutes. Kneading is done when dough makes a slapping sound as it hits the side of the bowl. Dough temperature should be close to 90°F.

Food Processor (with regular or dough blade) (Best for bakers in a hurry. The blade kneads dough in under 90 seconds.)

Pulse dry ingredients in food processor fitted with dough blade to combine. With processor running, add yeast and liquids through feed tube. Stop once liquids have been added. Pulse on and off 8 t0 10 times until dough comes together in a ball and no dry ingredients remain. Dough temperature will be about 90°F.

Tips for Better Bread

Bread flour, with its higher protein content, makes bread with the best texture, but most recipes will work with all-purpose flour

Active dry yeast does best when rehydrated in warm (105-115°F) water. Cooler temperatures lead to longer rising times. Temperatures over 140°F will kill yeast.

If some dough clings to the side of the bowl, add more flour 1 tablespoon at a time. If dry ingredients remain, sprinkle with water to scrape into dough.

Dough temperature is important: when dough gets over 90°F it will be sticky and its protein structure will begin to break down—the result is bread with an inferior crumb and volume. The friction of kneading with a machine can make temperatures rise fast, so check often.

When kneading by hand, reserve some of the flour used in the recipe to add when kneading. Try not to add more than this amount. The more flour you add during kneading, the drier your finished bread will be.

A sign of perfectly developed dough is that you can stretch a small piece into a thin film without it tearing. If it breaks and won’t stretch, the dough is under- or overworked.

Risen dough is ready when it barely recovers its shape when pressed with a finger.

Bread is fully baked when it is 195°-200°F in the center. An instant-read thermometer can help prevent overbaked bread, which goes stale and dries out more quickly.