How to Hand Knead Bread

There is definitely something therapeutic about kneading bread. Pouring out the dough on the counter, sprinkling flour on the surface of the dough and table. The quiet rhythmic motions of the dough through your hands. When I first started to learn to cook and bake I really had no idea what I was doing. Over time I learned there are certain tips and techniques that help the process of kneading. 


What is Kneading? 

Let’s start with the beginning though, what is kneading? Kneading is a process of rolling & folding the dough in order to strengthen the protein strands in bread called gluten. Gluten is a naturally occurring protein in all wheat grains. Unfortunately, over the years gluten has gotten a bad reputation. Truthfully, gluten is what makes bread so soft, fluffy and chewy. Without it you are left with a really dense loaf, which is why gluten-free baking can be such a challenge. 


How to Hand Knead

In order to keep your dough from sticking to the counter you might need to sprinkle some flour on it. If possible avoid using flour at all.  You don’t need too much or the dough will slip around the counter and will be difficult to work with, too little and it will continue to stick. Try to stay right in the middle. 

Pour the dough from the bowl onto the floured surface. Starting with the side of the dough furthest away from you, pull it up and fold it over toward you. 

Next, place the heels of your hand into the dough and use your body weight to flatten the dough. Not like a thin pancake but more like a squashed ball. 

Next, peel the dough up from the counter (if it is sticking use a scraper) and fold it in half sideways. You may need to flour the surface of the counter again. 

Give the dough a quarter turn and begin pushing your heels into the dough again. Most recipes will require 10-20 minutes of hand kneading. 

You will know when you have completed kneading because the dough will be silky, smooth and elastic. 

After the kneading process most recipes will call for a resting period so the yeast can “rise”. Always refer back to the original recipe for the next steps.


Sticky Dough

You may have stumbled upon a very wet dough recipe. This can be tricky because while mixing it you realize it is sticking to everything! You may be tempted to add more flour to the dough but do not do it! Extra flour may disrupt the delicate balance of flour, yeast and water in the recipe. Too much flour could cause your loaf to end up dry and crumbly. Instead try these techniques:


Folding in the butter or oil later:

Most bread recipes usually call for a fat like oil or butter. If the recipe is known to be a sticky one, add in the fat during the kneading process instead. A tool that will help you keep the dough from sticking to the counter is called a scraper. You can buy metal ones or plastic ones. For very sticky doughs I think a plastic one comes in handy the most as you can bend it to scrape the sides of the bowl. 

Follow the same kneading technique described above but use the scraper to pull the dough off the counter and your hand. It may feel really messy at first and pretty frustrating. Again, avoid adding extra flour. 

As you continue to knead, add in the butter or oil to the center of the dough and continue to knead. After about 5 minutes the dough will begin to get sticky. Continue with the technique for about 10 more minutes and the dough will start to form and be less sticky. 


Slam and Fold: 

Another technique that works well with sticky dough is called “slam and fold” . When you slam the dough on the counter, push the heel of your hand into the dough and stretch it away from you. Repeating the process over and over again to help form the gluten. 


Pull and Fold: 

One last technique is the pull and fold, similar to slam and fold, let the dough stick to the table and pull up vertically in the air, then push it back down into the table. Occasionally scrape all the dough off the table and begin the process again. 



One last trick to get the gluten to form faster and cut down on knead time is after about 15-20 minutes of hand kneading if the dough is still very sticky, scrape dough it into a cohesive ball (as much as you can) then flip a bowl upside down over the ball to cover it. Let the dough “rest” for about 10 minutes to let the starches strengthen. 

You may need to incorporate all three different methods & a rest period as you knead out a sticky dough. Your total time spent could look like this, knead 15-20 minutes, rest 10 minutes and an additional knead time of 15 minutes before you get the right gluten structure for your bread. Remember, kneading by hand is “slow food”, trust the process and enjoy it!


Window Pane Test

One way to know if your dough is done being kneaded is to perform the “window pane test”. To do this, cut off a small piece of dough. In a circular motion, begin to flatten, and pull the dough out from the center. Almost like the rings on Saturn spins around the planet. As you slowly pull the dough it will begin to get thinner and thinner, you will know if the dough is done if you can see through the dough (almost transparent, like a window) without the dough ripping or tearing. 

Now you know how to hand knead! If you’d like additional tutorials, check out these videos:

How to Knead Dough – Bing video

How to hand knead a WET dough? Hand kneading technique for beginners. – YouTube

How to knead bread dough – YouTube

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