Tips and Tricks: Kneading Dough

I grew up in a house with no stand mixer. I inherited a bread machine from my grandma as a teenager and began making my loaves of bread in the bread machine…every Sunday. After a few years I graduated to kneading dough by hand and spent many hours kneading balls of dough or pizza, cheese bread or plain old delicious white bread. I loved the feel of the dough, the quiet and therapeutic process of working with a few simple ingredients and forming it into something beautiful and delicious.

Stand Mixer vs. kneading by Hand

I remember the first time I saw a stand mixer and couldn’t believe how amazing it was. I was in awe of all the things it could do. It wasn’t a practical investment at the time, moving from apartment to apartment as a college student, but as soon as I got married, I knew a stand mixer was in my future. As a newlywed we put a lot of our wedding gift cards toward a brand new KitchenAid mixer and I had no regrets about that purchase at all. It lasted me many years.

Now, I have a couple of mixers. My trusty KitchenAid that I love using for smaller batches and my Bosch mixer that I love for the big batches of bread I typically make every other week. I love them both for different reasons…but that is a post in and of itself! You don’t need a mixer to make great bread for most recipes. Your trusty hands will do just fine if you don’t have a mixer. It may take a little extra time and I don’t often use my hands anymore to knead bread because of the time it saves me to use a mixer, but don’t let not having one keep you from making bread. Kneading dough by hand usually takes about twice as long as with a mixer. 

How do you know when to stop kneading bread?

One of the difficult things when you start making bread is figuring out when to stop kneading the bread. Most recipes say to knead for 5-10 minutes. Is that really true? How can I be sure that my bread is ready to rise? Here are three tips that will help you determine when your bread is done kneading and ready to go for its bulk rise (first rise):

After kneading your bread for about 5 minutes, check for these things:

Check the sides of your mixing bowl

Does your dough pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl? If it pulls away from the sides of the bowl, you may not need to add more flour. Continue kneading your dough and watch to see if the dough keeps clearing the sides of the bowl. If it starts sticking to the sides again add a little more flour a few Tablespoons at a time. If the dough is sticking to the bottom of the mixer but not to the sides, that is okay. If you are kneading by hand, instead of flouring your work surface, try using a little bit of oil. This will help with the stickiness of the dough and you won’t be incorporating so much flour into the dough which results in a tougher loaf.

Roll the dough into a ball

After kneading the dough for about five minutes, pinch off a piece of dough. Using your fingers, roll it up into a ball. If it rolls easily into a ball, you have added enough flour. Don’t add more. It is okay if some of the other dough sticks to your fingers at this point. The dough itself may still be a little sticky but if it can roll into a nice ball shape, you don’t need any more flour.

Use the windowpane test

The last test may be one of the most beneficial to gluten development. The windowpane test will tell you if you have activated the gluten thoroughly in the kneading process. To check for readiness, grab a golf-ball sized piece of dough. Stretch the dough with your fingers until the dough becomes translucent and you can see light through it…like a windowpane. If you can stretch the dough without breaking it, the dough is ready to rest and rise for the first rise. If the bread tears a lot, it is not ready and needs to be kneaded some more. Try the test again after a few more minutes of kneading. It is important to note that all dough will tear eventually. If you are using a whole wheat flour or flour other than all-purpose or white bread flour, the dough will tear more easily due to the wheat germ in the flour and this test may not be as accurate.

And there you have it, three ways to check if your dough is ready for a bulk rise. Kneading the dough is a crucial step to how well your loaf of bread is going to come together. It is worth the extra few minutes to make sure that the process is correct so you end up with a beautiful loaf of bread instead of one you take to feed to the ducks (except I’ve heard ducks shouldn’t eat bread…so don’t do that either!). 

I hope these little tips help you on your way to making a delicious loaf of home-made bread. If you are looking for a few great beginner recipes, check here and here.

Note: It is also possible to over-knead dough, though it is unlikely if you are following these signs of readiness for dough.

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Naan Bread

A few years ago we had the opportunity to live in Japan with our little family. One of the highlights for me was sampling all of the unique cuisine. Not only did we eat delicious Japanese food, but we tried many different ethnic foods. One of our absolute favorite restaurants was a local, family-owned Indian restaurant. With maybe 8-10 small tables in the room, the smell of curries wafting through the air and naan bread the size of your head to lap it up…I can almost taste it all today. I still dream about the garlic-cheese naan I ordered every time, hot from the tandoor oven, to this day. 

Most delicious curries!

After our youngest was born (in Japan) one of the first meals I ate, aside from my clinic stay, was this amazing naan bread. All of our kids were always happy going to eat there because they could eat as much delicious naan as possible. When we moved back stateside, we searched for an Indian restaurant that lived up to the hype and memories. Sadly, we haven’t been able to find one and plane tickets for a family of six to Japan for dinner aren’t in the budget.

Instead I got creative and cooked it up myself. The first time we sank our teeth into this naan bread, dripping with garlic butter and oozing with cheese evoked all the memories of our favorite Indian restaurant in Nagoya, Japan. Even though this recipe isn’t quite as traditional (I subbed milk instead of yogurt and used a griddle instead of a tandoor oven), I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Yield: 12 pieces of naan

Time: 15 minute mix, 2 hour rise, 30 minute rise, 4 minute cook

Ingredients:

  • 1 ½ cups milk (warmed)
  • ½ teaspoon instant yeast
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3-3 ½ cups all purpose flour
  • 3-4 Tablespoons melted butter

For garlic cheese naan:

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 12 slices Havarti cheese (or other creamy/melty cheese)

Directions

  1. Warm the milk in the microwave or on the stove (be sure it feels like a baby’s bathwater…not too hot). Add the instant yeast and sugar to the milk.
  2. Pour the milk mixture into a mixer (or bowl to knead by hand) and add the salt and all purpose flour. Knead for 5 minutes in a mixer or about 8-10 minutes by hand. The dough should be smooth and form a ball. Let the dough rise for about an hour or until doubled in size.
  3. Separate the dough into 12 equal pieces and shape into a loose ball. Cover and let rest for about 20-30 minutes.
  4. While the dough is resting, preheat a griddle to 400 degrees or warm up a frying pan. You could also use a pizza stone in a hot oven (450-500 degrees).
  5. Roll out each ball of dough into a circle (about 6-8 inches in diameter). You may have to let the dough rest for 10 seconds and then continue rolling depending on how thin you want your naan bread.
  6. For plain naan: Grill on the griddle about 1-2 minutes per side until golden brown spots appear on the bread. Brush with melted butter and serve warm or at room temperature.
  7. For garlic cheese naan: Roll the naan into a 6-8 inch circle. Put a square slice of cheese in the middle of the circle and fold the naan over the cheese, pinching the edges closed as you go. Continue rolling it out if needed with the cheese inside the naan bread. It will be more in the shape of a rectangle. Grill about 2 minutes per side. Add the minced garlic to the melted butter and brush on the naan bread. Enjoy warm!

This naan is delicious dunked in some vegetable curry, butter chicken or chicken saag. If you go the extra step and add in the cheese and garlic butter it will take your meal over the top! Even better than the flavor of this naan bread are the memories they evoke when we smell it, taste it and reflect on the wonderful time we spent as a family abroad.

Please share this recipe if you enjoyed it! Post a photo and tag me @amybakesbread so I can see your bake 🙂

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Bread Baking: Tips for Success

Does baking with yeast intimidate you a little? Do you have no idea where to begin? I started baking at such a young age that it was more fun for me than scary. The best advice I can give is just try it! Start simple and choose a recipe with a few basic ingredients and go from there. I’ve compiled some of my bread baking tips for beginners to help you get started.

  1. Instant yeast: Do yourself a favor and pick up some instant yeast. Instant yeast has a finer texture and can be mixed directly into dry ingredients, no “activation” required.  It works so well and helps your bread rise quickly. If you only have active dry yeast, you can still use it. Just make sure to “proof” it with a little water and sugar. Put your yeast in a small bowl with some of the liquid from the recipe (often warm water) and a little bit of sugar or honey. The sugar helps activate the yeast. Wait about 5 minutes for the mixture to foam. You will notice bubbles forming and a beautiful yeasty smell…that is your clue that it’s working! You can do this same process with instant yeast…but you don’t have to. Save yourself the 5 minutes and pick up some instant.
  1. Water or liquid temperature: When I first started baking, I would stress a little about the water temperature and “killing” my yeast. Now I know by feel a good temperature for water. Put your hand under the water. If it feels warm enough for a baby or toddler’s bath…that is the temperature you want. More technically, water at 81-100 degrees F is the best temperature for your yeast to start the fermentation process. If your water reaches 120-140 degrees F or higher…that can kill your yeast. That’s a pretty big temperature range, so don’t worry about it too much and just make sure your water is warm…not hot!
  1. Kneading dough: I grew up in a kitchen without a Kitchenaid mixer (I’m pretty sure my parents still have their old hand mixer that’s over 30 years old) or a Bosch machine. Basically all that was available to knead bread was my two hands! Once you combine the ingredients (I like to put my liquid in first, then add the yeast, sugar, salt and flour at the end), go ahead and mix them together. If you are using your hands to knead the dough, don’t be afraid to go to town pushing, folding and turning the dough as you knead. Keep some extra flour on hand to incorporate in as needed. I like to push down with the palm of my hand and then fold the dough back over the top. This is activating the gluten in the dough to help hold it together. You’ll want to knead the dough for about 5-10 minutes. Using a mixer you will knead for around 3-5 minutes. Your dough should form a nice ball, still slightly tacky but not sticky.
  1. Rising: I always put about a Tablespoon of oil in the bottom of a bowl and transfer my dough to that bowl as it rises. This helps it not stick to the sides. Also be aware of the temperature of your kitchen. In the winter I like to leave our fireplace on to help the heat rise in our house. Cover your bowl of dough and put it under a light or near some heat source if possible to help the rise time.
  1. Start simple: If you were learning to crochet something, you wouldn’t start with the most difficult pattern. The same goes for bread baking. Start simple. Choose a recipe with only a few ingredients and learn the process. Yeast is predictable. Learn how it works and enjoy the process. You can do this!!! Message me if you have any questions and I’m happy to help you troubleshoot. Check out my recipe for easy white dinner rolls to get you started.