Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to knead bread

Once a month, my usual baking column at Serious Eats turns into Knead the Book where I write about a bread-baking book for five days. This is part of what I wrote about The Art of Baking Bread by Matt Pellegrini.

And here's a special little surprise. Over at Serious Eats, they're giving away five copies of the book, but I've got one extra that I'm giving away here. Scroll down to the bottom for information on how to enter to win my copy.

This is what I said on Serious Eats:

The Art of Baking Bread is the bread book I wish I had when I first started baking bread. Back then, most of the bread books were filled with recipes, which makes sense. But they assumed the reader would know how to knead or fold or shape.

And that makes sense, too. You wouldn’t expect a cookbook to explain how to stir soup or give detailed instructions on how to peel a carrot.

Handling bread dough isn’t difficult, but it takes some practice and you need to know some basics before you begin.

This book teaches those basics. Oh, sure, it has some recipes. But not a lot of them. Most of the book is about technique, and it goes into detail, dividing the process into eight steps.

That makes the few recipes a little difficult to follow because each step refers to instructions in another section of the book. But that’s only the first time you make a loaf. Once you’ve mastered the techniques, you won’t need to refer back to the details.

But it’s not just about basics. It’s also about options. Many techniques offer different methods. You can knead your bread using the standard method or the French method. There are several methods for folding dough. And the list goes on.

Along with the instructions, there are tips in each section, as well as comprehensive information about equipment and ingredients. It’s all written in plain language so it’s appropriate for a beginner. But at the same time, there’s plenty for the more experienced baker to think about as well.

How to Knead Bread
There are two methods of bread kneading described in The Art of Baking Bread. This is the conventional method. From The Art of Baking Bread by Matt Pellegrini. All rights reserved.

1. On an unfloured work surface, place the ball of dough directly in front of you with the heel of your hand on top of the dough.

2. With the heel of your hand, push the dough downward (toward the work surface) and forward with a smooth stroke. Make sure that your are pushing hare enough that the dough moves underneath your hand, but not so hard that the dough beings to tear. When you have pushed the dough so that the heal of your hand is at the front edge of the dough, remove your hand from the dough.

3. With your other hand, fold the dough in half and move the dough back to where it started before the first knead.

4. Repeat steps 1 through 4 until the dough becomes smooth and the gluten has been developed to the desired degree.

Conventional Kneading Tips

  • Work the dough as close to your body as possible to alleviate unnecessary pressure on your back.
  • Focus on pushing the dough, not rolling it or compressing it.
  • Resist the urge to add flour to the dough. The more you knead, the more air will be incorporated into the dough and the more the flour will absorb the water. Both will help to combat what appears to be excessive moisture.
  • If the dough sticks to your work surface, use the stiff bowl scraper (or bench knife if it won’t scratch your surface by doing so) to scrape the bits of dough from the surface and return them to the rest of the dough.
  • If you find that you are getting tired during the process, switch hands. It might take a little getting used to as far as coordination goes, but once you get the hang if it, you’ll be able to work through the kneading process that much easier.
  • As you knead the dough, you will notice that it transforms into something much smoother and more elastic. This means that the dough is developing precisely the way you want it to. So keep doing what you’re doing.
  • If you use the conventional method to knead dough with a greater hydration level, it is helpful to use the bowl scraper instead of your hand to gather the dough and fold it upon itself during the kneading process. If you use your hands, the dough sometimes sticks to them so much that it’s hard to keep the dough together.
  • If you decide to make larger batches of dough, be aware that the heavier weight of the dough takes more effort on your part. Keep that in mind so you don’t wear yourself out before the dough makes it to the oven!

Want to win a copy of this amazing book?

For the first entry, leave a comment here with a bread pun or bread joke. No loafing around, be creative. And yeah, if you can't be creative, just leave a regular comment.

For a second entry, go like my fan page on Facebook. Come back here and tell me that you like me. Er ... or my page. If you already like my page, just leave a comment.

For a third entry, go to this post and pin any one of the photos. Come back here and tell me that you pinned.

And that's all folks - three possible ways to enter, one happy winner. Contest runs from the time this posts to midnight, mountain time, on Wednesday, August 22. Open to US residents only. Usual contest rules apply (see the tab at the top for details.) Comments have to be left on this post right here in order to count.
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