Saturday, May 18, 2013

Technique: Air Kneading

In one of the bread books I have, the author said that there's really no wrong way to knead bread dough. As long was you get the results you want, any technique is fine.

I've found that's pretty much true. Some methods give you quicker results. Some are easier on the wrists. Some are better for wet doughs and some are are better for dry doughs.

I'd suggest trying different methods until you find one you like. And maybe adjust your method based on the dough.

This method, that I call "air kneading." is like the stretch and fold technique that's used for very wet doughs, with some changes. This wouldn't work for a super-wet dough or a really dry dough, but it's fine for average bread doughs. And there's a limit to how large of a batch of dough you would want to knead with this method.

Here's how it works:

Once the dough is mixed and can be formed into a lump, pick up the dough, hold an edge in each hand, and pull to stretch it. At this point, it's not going to be very stretchy - it will tear more than stretch, but that's okay, just pull it a few inches if that's all you can do.

When you first start handling the dough, it will stick to your hands, but as you keep working with it, it will unstick.

You can put from side to side, or if it's more comfortable, position your hands so you're stretching it vertically. This is sort of like pulling taffy, but it's not hot and it's not nearly as stretchy. Or it's like working with elastic exercise bands.

Fold the dough in half, turn it 90 degrees, and stretch it again. You don't need to be precise about the pulling and folding and turning. Just have fun with it.

Keep stretching and folding until the dough begins to get smoother and stretchy. It will seem much less lumpy and it will stretch more and tear less. At some point, it will stretch rather than tear, but you'll also feel it getting rubbery, like it wants to bounce back rather than staying stretched.

If the dough gets too difficult to pull because it's too bouncy, you can let it rest for five minutes or so, then keep going.

Or you can start kneading using this method and finish with a more traditional sort of knead. And, if you need to mix in additional ingredients towards the end of kneading, for sure you'd want to use a traditional on-the-work-surface technique.

How much you need to pull and fold to get the the correct consistency depends on the dough formula as well as how well-kneaded the dough has to be. If the dough is going to be resting overnight, a few stretches and folds might be enough. If the dough needs to pass the windowpane test, you'll need to work with it longer.

And that's it.

I find that this sort of kneading is easier on my hands and wrists, and its sort of fun to pull and fold.

Give it a try and let me know what you think!