As I became obsessed with bread baking in the last few years, I got fanatical about kneading by hand. It seemed like that was the only way I could really feel what was happening to my dough. Once in a while I was tempted to avoid the mess and just throw it all into my KitchenAid, but the results were never as good. The holes not as big, the crumb less chewy, and the whole thing less flavorful. I wrote it off as a problem with my mixer. Sure the professional mixers do a good job, but my low-end KitchenAid just couldn't develop gluten nearly as well as my hands.
There is nothing like an upcoming class to get me off my lazy butt and to question my assumptions. Next week, I am teaching Pizza and Focaccia. The recipes are ready and thoroughly tested for by-hand kneading. In class, we'll be doing it by hand because not everyone has a stand up mixer and there is nothing like getting close and personal with that wet dough if you want to become a good baker. But... There was a big BUT. I do want the students to make it at home as often as possible (which means as easily as possible) and that's where stand up mixers come in very handy. Is it possible to achieve exactly the same results with a mixer as kneading by hand?
Peter Reinhart and Rose Beranbaum thought it was, so I started reading and testing. Here were the problems I suspected with machine kneading.
- Machine heated the dough too much which resulted in a very speedy first rise. That quick rising dough might look encouraging to beginner bakers, but it results in less flavor and structure development.
- Machine didn't knead the dough evenly. The sides were getting a good workout, but the bottom was just being pulled a bit.
So far, I was using a dough hook to mix the dough from the very beginning. As I dumped my dry ingredients into the bowl of a KitchenAid for another test and started mixing them with a hook, I noticed that not much was happening. The hook was not picking up the stuff from around the walls at all. That's when I remembered reading in either Rose's or Peter's books that it's best to start with a paddle and switch to a hook only after dough forms. I tried that and sure enough, the paddle was doing a better job with the dry ingredients and the initial mixing.
Once the dough was formed, I switched to a hook. At 5 minute mark, I looked inside to see what was happening. The dough was clearing the bowl on the sides as always, but the bottom was still stuck. Most recipes indicated that was normal, but I was wondering... What if I stopped the machine, rearranged the dough and mixed for another 5 minutes? Would the bottom still stick? I tried that and sure enough, but the end of the second 5 minutes, the dough was clearing sides and bottom and looking fabulously elastic (just like the one kneaded by hand).
So how did it taste? Every bit as good as hand-kneaded! Unfortunately, I can't have you taste it unless you decide to make it, but here is a side by side comparison of the crumb structure.
Dough kneaded by hand
My early machine dough tries
Machine dough with the above improvements
You see those lovely holes in the focaccia that is made by hand and the improved machine method? The chew and flavor were better too. I know -- fighting this hard to achieve empty space is psychotic. But if you ever get into artisan bread baking, you'll understand.