If you're an avid bread maker, or a novice trying it for the first time, you may have a few questions about the process. One of the most common questions Bob's Red Mill Experts get asked is, "can you over-knead bread?" In short, the answer is yes. When making the perfect loaf of bread, it's vital to know when you're under-kneading and over-kneading and how to correct each. A dough that is not properly kneaded can be the difference between a delicious loaf, or a flopped one.
The key to understanding how to knead bread properly is first to realize that kneading does not follow an exact science, like many other aspects of baking. Instead, the range of which a dough can be properly kneaded is quite broad. It's possible to under-knead the mixture by a small amount, or over-knead it and still yield a delicious loaf of bread. Doughs usually flop when they are severely under or over-kneaded.
That being said, it is quite easy to over-knead dough. Knowing why kneading dough is essential and how you can avoid over kneading it, is an integral part of the bread-making process. To help you better understand how to knead the dough properly, our experts came up with this list of tips and tricks to assist you on your bread making journey. Keep scrolling to discover how you can create the perfect light and fluffy loaf.
Why Should We Knead Dough?
Kneading dough is often the most challenging part of baking bread for novice bakers. Now, you may be wondering why we even have to knead dough in the first place. Kneading bread dough allows the protein molecules in the flour to form, creating healthy gluten strands. Gluten is what helps the mixture create gas, which helps it rise and build texture. When the dough has been adequately kneaded and the gluten has formed properly, it will take on several different characteristics. The dough will be easy to stretch, have an elastic-like feel and bounce back when touched.
Overworking or over-kneading dough is quite common when using a stand mixer. Because stand mixers produce faster results, it's easy to overdo it. The overworked dough will often feel tight and tough. This means that liquid molecules have been damaged and won't stretch properly, causing the bread to break and tear more easily. Conversely, a dough that is underworked will be harder to form into a ball shape. The underdeveloped gluten molecules will cause your dough to flop around and tear easily. While underworked dough can simply be fixed by a little more kneading, severely overworked dough cannot be fixed. Instead, the overworked dough will result in a hard loaf that will likely not be eaten. It's important not to overwork your dough and continually check for overworking throughout the kneading process.
For an easy-to-knead bread for novice bakers, start with this simple Gluten Free Soy Bread.
Worried about under-kneading your dough? As previously mentioned, because under-kneading dough can be fixed with just a bit more kneading, we wouldn't stress it. There are several ways that you can tell if your dough needs more kneading throughout the baking process.
A few signs of under-kneaded dough is a dough that is:
- Floppy and loose
- Tears easily
- Has a "shaggy" look
The solution to under-kneaded dough? Just keep kneading. One of the most tell-tale signs of under-kneaded dough is having trouble forming it into a loaf. If your dough is a floppy mess as you're trying to mold it and doesn't hold its shape, it probably needs a bit more kneading. To continue kneading your dough, form it until a ball and give it a rest for a few minutes, then knead it a little more and repeat before forming into its final shape.
What happens when you miss all of the warning signs and bake your under-kneaded dough into a loaf? Don't worry; we've all been there before. Because under-kneaded dough doesn't spring up as much in the oven, it often results in a flatter loaf with a dense texture. While it may not be the perfect loaf you hoped for, it's still entirely edible. Before discarding your bread, try to cut a few slices first, if it holds up, then it's fine to enjoy. Just remember to knead your next loaf a bit longer.
Still worried about under-kneading your loaf? Skip the kneading all together and bake this No-Knead Artisan Olive Bread.
While over-kneading dough is a common mistake when making bread, it's much less common if you're kneading by hand. This is because you'll likely tire yourself out long before it happens. Over-kneading happens most often when a hand mixer is involved. Because a hand mixer speeds up the kneading process, everything happens much more quickly—including over-kneading.
If you choose to knead your dough with a hand mixer, you must stop the mixer every few minutes and check in on your dough. This is especially true if you're new to baking bread and are still trying to learn the signs of over-kneaded vs. under-kneaded dough.
If your dough feels dense and tough to handle when you stop the mixer, it is a sign that it is becoming over-kneaded. Over-kneaded dough can become very hard to work with and produce a more flat and chewy bread. It's vital to stop mixing at the first signs of over-kneading, as a fully over-kneaded dough cannot be fixed. Over-kneaded dough will also tear more quickly, as the gluten strands in the dough have become so tight they easily break under pressure. If you believe that your dough is slightly over-kneaded, try allowing it to rise a little longer before shaping it into a loaf. While you can't fully undo the damage of over-kneaded dough, letting the dough rise for longer can help relax the gluten in the dough a bit.
So, you've found that your dough is over-kneaded. Now what? The over-kneaded dough can still be cooked. Just know that the result will be a bit different than you expected. Bread Loaves made with over-kneaded dough commonly end up with a hard crust and dry interior. Often upon cutting, slices will crumble. If your perfect bread loaf turns into a crumbly mess, don't worry. The overworked dough will work great when used as croutons or breadcrumbs.
For a simple way to tell if your dough has been over-kneaded, check for these signs of over-kneaded dough.
- Dense and stiff
- Hard to flatten out
- Hard to knead by hand
- Resist being reshaped
- Tears easily when stretched
How to Properly Knead Bread
We've talked about over-kneading and under-kneading bread and how both are pretty easy to do. So how do you know when to stop kneading the dough to perfection? The point of kneading dough is to help strengthen the gluten in it. Gluten is what gives your bread; it's structure and texture. Gluten that is not strong enough results from under kneaded dough, whereas gluten that is too tight results from over kneaded dough. Whether you knead your dough by hand or use a mixer, you can look for sure signs to identify when your kneading process is done. Below we've outlined a few clues to help you know what to look for.
Look for Smooth Dough
Upon first mixing, your dough will look like a lumpy mess of flours. As you knead it, it will gradually smooth out. By the time your dough is fully kneaded, it should be smooth and tacky to touch.
To create a smooth dough, it may be easier to make your bread with a specialty bread mix like our 10 Grain Bread Mix.
It Should Withstand the "Poke" Test
If you think your dough is fully kneaded, try poking it firmly with your finger. If the spot where you poked fills back up rather quickly, then your dough is ready. If an indent remains where you poked it, then you should continue kneading.
Dough Should Hold Its Shape
Roll your dough into a ball and hold it in the air for a few seconds. If the dough remains a ball, it means that the gluten has been worked enough and is durable. If you're dough flops between your fingers, it needs to be kneaded more.
If You're Tired, Your Dough is Probably Done
While this may sound simple, it's true. If you've been hand kneading so long that your arms are tired, your dough is likely kneaded sufficiently. Run your dough through a few of the tests above. If it passes, then end the kneading process and move on to the next step.
Don't want to worry about kneading at all? Make this No-Knead Artisan Bread. No-knead bread isn't a new concept, and if you haven't tried it, you're missing out. When following this recipe, instead of kneading, the dough must be left to sit overnight (or for at least 10 hours). This downtime allows the gluten strands to strengthen on their own, meaning that no kneading is required. While you may have to plan out the 10 hours it sits, it's easier than you think. Simply make the mix in the morning and let it sit while you're at work. When you get home, pop it in the oven to enjoy a fresh slice of bread with dinner.
Baking the perfect loaf of bread is a learning process. While you may not do everything correctly the first time, it is bound to teach you something. By following these tips listed above, you can easily skip the rookie mistakes and ensure that your bread is kneaded to perfection. The result? A delicious homemade baked good that looks just as great as it tastes!