Bread Technique: How to Knead the Dough


[Photograph: Donna Currie]

As always with our Knead the Book feature, we have five (5) autographed copies of The Art of Baking Bread to give away this week. Enter the contest here.

Since The Art of Baking Bread by Matt Pellegrini is technique-heavy rather than recipe-heavy, we're giving you some techniques here that can be applied to your own bread-baking routines. The book has instructions for two different kneading techniques: the conventional method and the French method. Today, we're talking about the conventional method.

Step by Step

  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 you are pushing had enough that the dough moves underneath your hand, but not so hard that the dough beings to tear.
  3. When you have pushed the dough so that the heel of your hand is at the front edge of the dough, remove your hand from the dough.

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

What Worked: The directions are good, and it's interesting to see the difference between the two methods.

What Didn't: Since I've been kneading bread my own way for so long, it was hard to follow someone else's instructions. However, the book also explains that bakers all have their own variations, so if it works, it's good.

Suggested Tweaks: Many books suggest holding back some of the flour in a recipe, then using it to dust the work surface. This technique, instead, doesn't use any flour on the work surface, which actually works well. If you're using a recipe that holds back flour for dusting the work surface, you'll have to adjust either the recipe or this technique to get the right amount of flour into the dough.

Adapted from The Art of Baking Bread by Matt Pellegrini. Copyright © 2012. Published by Skyhorse Publishing. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved

About the bread baker: Donna Currie has been cooking for fun and writing for pay since the days when typewritten articles traveled by snail mail. When she combined those talents in a food column for a newspaper in her area, she realized that writing about food is almost as much fun as eating. You can find her on her blog, Cookistry or follow her on Twitter at @dbcurrie.