Hand kneading

This could be alternatively named ‘no kneading’, because it basically relies on the dough doing most of the work, and you (or your mixer) doing almost nothing.

Firstly, I must thank Dan Lepard for introducing me to this technique, without which I would doubtless have lost the will to live (baking-wise) some time ago.  It’s all about giving the flour time to hydrate and simultaneously allowing the gluten to develop which will hold it all together.

Whenever one of the recipes on this site talks about hand-kneading, you need to adopt the following practices:

  • make sure that the ‘wet’ ingredients are fully mixed to a smooth consistency – often a recipe will require you to combine some existing leaven (aged and often runny dough) with water, or other liquid; the result should be a smooth and consistent wet ingredient before adding to the dry ingredients.
  • when you first add the wet ingredients to the fresh, dry flour (including any other dry ingredients called for by the recipe) make sure that you don’t worry about over mixing it all together, generally we’re only looking to mix enough so that the dry and the wet are no longer separate. At this stage, the bowl should be covered and left for usually 10 minutes to hydrate.
  • after the first 10 minutes has elapsed, scrape the sticky dough mixture out of the bowl onto a lightly-oiled surface – you just want some plain veg or sunflower oil lightly smeared on your worksurface so that the dough won’t stick much.  Perform 12-15 seconds of kneading, which means pushing one part of the dough away, then lifting that part back into the centre of the dough and pushing it down, then rotating the dough and repeating.
  • once this is done, leave the dough for a moment while you wash out the mixing bowl, before very lightly oiling it and returning the dough to the bowl, then cover once again and leave for 10 to 15 minutes (or as recipe calls for).

This is the general idea with the hand kneading (or ‘no kneading’) technique, that you perform short periods of deliberate kneading, then allow the dough to rest.  As time and kneading elapses, you will see the dough change from a sticky mess into a evenly smooth and elastic dough, that no longer needs oil on the work surface to prevent it sticking.  Note that as time goes on, the yeast will be doing its work, i.e. you should knead more carefully as the dough develops, make sure you don’t pull too hard when kneading so as to tear the dough.  It is also normal for the dough to start to resist being kneaded, after your 15 seconds of kneading – it means you’ve worked it enough for the time-being.

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