Kneading dough by machine
At PANARY the large doughs are kneaded by machine. My prized dough mixer is the large twin-arm machine which features the best mechanical kneading action ever invented: as the machine bowl revolves the two arms make a constant motion: they first converge to the centre, bunching up the dough in the middle, then the arms break apart, each tugging and stretching the dough to the perimeter of the round bowl, and then they repeat the motion. A slow and powerful action suitable for doughs made with strong flour as we have in Britain. Such machines are not found on the Continent, where bread flour is weaker. Their machines are more gentle, with the dough manipulated by a single diving arm.
Within the new wave of artisan bakers and micro-bakeries, there are professional bakers who knead dough by hand, eschewing mechanical devices. To avoid physical exhaustion these bakers adopt a steady rhythm of folding the dough on itself followed by a thrust, and they take their time, usually moving between several tubs of dough, giving each long rests between bouts of intense activity. Allowing time to enable the water to fully penetrate the flour, they are exponents of “passive” kneading, which I shall include as a category below.
English hand kneading
The English technique is suited to stiffer doughs (as traditional English bread doughs are) and is based on the premise that a lengthy driving action of the open palm of the hand will develop the gluten strands by sheer force. To be effective the stroke must not only be long, but it must thrust along the bench top the thin fabric of the dough under the palm. See the picture below, which captures English kneading’s long and grinding stroke.
To become competent and quick at English kneading there has to be a flicking action at the end of the long stroke that lifts the dough back off the bench and back into the mass. See the next picture.
The support hand can tug the dough backwards, further exercising the gluten, but more importantly, the support hand revolves the dough so that a new area of dough is delivered forward to the thrusting hand.
French hand kneading
This technique I recommend for soft and moist doughs, often found with Continental breads, and always with ones like ciabatta, baguette, sourdoughs. It involves scooping up the dough by diving right underneath it, raising it up high, then flicking it back down to the bench with whip-like wrist action. The key thing to remember when you are striving to master this technique is that you must lead with the bottom of the blob of dough, not throwing down from its top. By allowing the bottom to droop down a little as you scoop it up and raise it to shoulder height, you are then able to perform the whip-crack that first shoots the bottom upwards before it descends. See the potential for bottom droop here in the picture.
In this next picture, you can see it has been scooped up by one hand. The bottom is drooping as I pause before swinging it upwards to the top of the stroke.
In the French method of kneading dough, the force of hurling the dough downwards is what develops the gluten by giving it a vast stretch, since the baker still has a good grip of the dough up high, at the top of the stroke – in other words, don’t let go of it. The picture here shows the dough starts its rapid descent after the whip-crack action has first seen the bottom of the dough rise upwards.
The throw down is pictured here and the stretched piece of dough has reached the bench
In the picture below my hands are showing students how to perform the whip-crack action to start the stroke.
The stroke is completed by allowing the retained end of the dough piece to be released to join the mass of the dough on the bench, and then it is ready to be scooped up again for another throw-down.
This final picture of the French style kneading shows the lively buck in the dough as it is heading back to the table at speed. Here it is a considerably bigger piece of dough, and I have followed it downwards perhaps a little too far so that it is virtually horizontal to the bench before touching down.
Kneading inside a tub
For small doughs, I find the simplicity of kneading inside a suitably sized container is very attractive. It is my preferred method of kneading any dough up to about 4 kg in weight, and to do it swiftly and effectively I employ the (French) throw-down method, often one-handed.
With both hands in the tub, gather together all the ingredients in a churning motion with both hands. Draw the ingredients upwards and then plunge the hands to the bottom, gathering the dry material, then drawing the hands together and upwards again. There is a rhythm in gathering it up, then thrusting down again. Repeat this forceful process until the dough has formed into a mass. If the tub is shifting around too much, use one hand to anchor it, and continue one-handed.
Having got it into a sticky mass, now you can form it into a dough-like blob. As seen in the next picture, you can repeatedly roll it up.
Having formed it into an actual bulky dough, rather than constantly rolling it up, you could choose to employ the (French) throw-down method, hurling it back down to the tub, as displayed in the following picture:
Keeping the dough inside the tub gives you a perfect opportunity to explore the concept of “Passive Kneading”, an important and modern subject. I had been a baker for over twenty years before I heard about passive kneading from Dan Lepard, a prominent baker and bakery writer, who hails from my own home city of Melbourne.
This approach is the exact opposite of intense machine mixing or frantic hand-kneading for fifteen to twenty minutes. It acknowledges that in the process of developing dough, it is plausible to sit back and let time do the work, leaving the baker relatively inactive. Given time, the dough’s liquid will gradually seek out and merge with the non-soluble protein which is the stuff of gluten. You start by gathering it all together into a messy pile, then cover it, and let it rest. As the quietly busy liquid finds its target and gradually gluten is forming, the baker only kneads infrequently, giving the dough a manipulation for only a minute or two so that the gluten is usefully stretched. Doing a short but intense workout of the dough every 10 minutes will render the gluten in very good shape after about an hour. Alternatively, simply patting it into a long rectangle on the bench, to be folded up in the manner of working puff pastry will suffice for one of these manipulations. Two minutes on, ten minutes off. Don’t forget that it must be well covered between these infrequent kneadings or foldings.
Well, Panarians, roll up the sleeves and get kneading.
Good baking, Paul