Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Technique: The Windowpane Test

One of the keys to getting a loaf of bread that rises well is developing the gluten enough so that it will hold all the lovely gas bubbles that the yeast creates, and then stretch even further so those gas-holding pockets can expand in the heat of the oven.

Most bread recipes, mine included, will tell you to keep kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic. That's simple enough, right? The dough goes from being a clumpy, lumpy mass to something that is cohesive and, well, smooth. And instead of tearing off in ragged chunks, it begins to stretch. And the more you knead, the stretchier it gets.

But when do you stop kneading? How elastic does it need to be?

Oh, if only there was a simple test for checking the elasticity of the dough!

But wait! There is! It's the Windowpane Test!

Ask about the windowpane test in any serious bread-baking forum and it's almost guaranteed that some wise guy will tell you to throw a hunk of dough at the window, and if it sticks, it's done. In kinder, gentler groups, someone else will probably explain the windowpane test.

But pictures are so much better than words, aren't they? To begin the windowpane test, pull off a small bit of dough, about the size of a marble. Flatten it out, then begin gently stretching it.

Keep stretching. Imagine you're making a pizza for Barbie, and she likes the super-thin crust.

If you can keep stretching an pulling the dough until it's a thin membrane that you can see through, the dough is elastic enough.

Here's a closeup of fingers seen through the dough. You can sort of see the webby network of gluten.

You can keep stretching and eventually it will tear because it's simply too thin or you've poked a finger through. But it should be able to stretch very, very thin before it breaks.

Doughs that include seeds or are made with gritty flours will tear sooner, simply because the bits tear through the membrane. This is the same thing that happens in the bread as it bakes, and it's one reason why breads made from whole grain flours tend not to rise as well as those made from more refined flours. But even with those doughs, you should be able to stretch it well enough to see that thin membrane.

And if your dough passes the windowpane test, the gluten is developed well enough for it to hold the bubbles while it rises, and stretch even more as the gasses expand from the heat. Simple, hmmmm?


Anonymous said...

What a great tip. Thanks for sharing it.

Catherine Peart said...

I only bake my own bread very occasionally and I never knew this at all. Very good tip! I might bake some bread tomorrow now.

cedarglen said...

I don't think that I's call it he "Barbie Pizza Test.: just not PC these says. Otherwise, an excellent test for proper mixing and gluten development. Another great idea, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks heaps for that tip. I have been trying to make a perfect loaf of bread for a while and I am never quite 100 per cent sure when I have kneaded my dough enough. Thanks again

Rachel Pattisson from Dough! said...

Great pictures - thanks for sharing :)

Allison said...

I'm working on a paper (as mentioned in this post on SE: for a conference. I was wondering if I could use the close-up of the windowpane test in that paper. Thanks!


Donna Currie said...

Sure, feel free. If you need a higher res version I can email it to you. Otherwise, just copy it. Good luck with the paper!

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