Minimal Kneading – A Basis for Great Bread

Two small loaves baked with minimal kneading

Most bread recipes in this blog, such as for the the loaves above, use a minimal knead method. In this post we explore how and why this works …
Continue reading“Minimal Kneading – A Basis for Great Bread”

  1. Mix ingredients in a bowl.
  2. Cover and leave for 20 minutes.
  3. Knead for 15 seconds.
  4. Repeat above two steps two more times.
  5. Cover and rise.
  6. Shape.
  7. Cover and rise.
  8. Bake.
  9. Done.
Update: since publishing this article, I have changed the way I bake bread to a method that, in my opinion and more importantly my wife’s, produces a better loaf of bread. It is very similar to the approach below, and the information here is still relevant. Please check out the Crusty Artisan Bread blog post for the new approach.

How Does Minimal Kneading Work?

It’s not the kneading that’s important, the resting periods between the quick kneading sessions make the difference. This is because it turns out the hydration of flour and its gluten happens over time, and is most effective when the dough is left alone. This is the basis of the autolyse method and it’s derivatives. The periodic quick kneads wake the dough up, encouraging hydration, without oxidising or straining the gluten.

The method begins by putting the ingredients into a bowl, mixing them up and leaving it. No initial kneading,  walk away from the bowl. If the dough mix is left to rest at the start, it gives it a chance to absorb the moisture of the water which in turn gives the dough, specifically the protein strands, time to hydrate.

This is why when the ingredients are first mixed together they look like a sticky mess. Yet after 20 minutes and a quick knead it looks more like dough … the water has been partially absorbed. This absorption continues with subsequent rests and quick kneads.

Kneading dough in oil rather than flour

So This Is For Lazy People?

No. Well maybe, but not in my case.

I use this approach because I actively don’t want to spend time kneading dough. I make a lot of bread and spending an hour a week kneading just isn’t fun. It’s not being lazy, it’s just that I can do other fun things whilst making bread.

All you need to do is keep a timer with you when watching TV, playing a game, gardening or doing a workout. When it goes off pop back into the kitchen, clean your hands and knead the dough. Then back to what you were doing again.

Cook Dinner and Bake Bread At The Same Time

This method makes it easy to bake bread whilst cooking a meal. A quick knead for a few seconds won’t interrupt other food preparation. If you’re using an oven to cook a meal,  simply interweave the dough preparation with other cooking tasks, finishing at roughly the same time. Get the oven to bread-baking temperature and bake. As you’re using the heat energy already in the oven, there is a cost saving benefit.

Hang On … Traditional Kneading Is Bad?

Nope. Bakers, both home and professional, have been making bread using 10-15 minute traditional kneading sessions for centuries. It’s not a bad thing. If you want to spend time in the kitchen kneading the dough, do it. Some people find it therapeutic to pound on some dough after a difficult day in the office. A psychiatrist may have something to say about this, but if that’s what you want to do, knock yourself out.

The only point that could be tentatively raised against traditional kneading is that it can cause dough to become over-oxidised. The more dough is kneaded, the more contact is has with oxygen in the air. This can lead to loss of colour and flavour in the finished product, and is a common sign of over-kneading. Why risk that when minimal kneading can be done?

Want To Give It A Try?

The best place to start is the easy home-baked bloomer loaf  recipe is the starting point, with full description and pictures of the approach. Also check out Northwest Sourdough‘s post on the subject.

It’s worth noting that this is not suitable for bread recipes which have high hydration, or wet dough. For these, stretch and fold is appropriate. More about that in a future post.

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