Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Hand vs. machine kneaded bread dough

You'd think that going from kneading the bread dough by hand to kneading it by machine would be a piece of cake -- put everything into your KitchenAid and let it do the hard work. Well, not exactly.

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.
Rose confirmed by suspicion about machines heating the dough. She said it goes up in temperature by 2-3 degrees a minute of mixing, so it's best to start with much colder water when using a machine. I dropped it from 80 to 55F and what do you know. My dough ended up at perfect 75F (room temperature) after 10 minutes of machine kneading and rose slowly just like the one kneaded by hand.

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.

Focaccia Recipe


Leanna said...

I use my food processor to mix and knead my dough as Peter Reinhart describes in Bread Baker's Apprentice. How do you think it would stack up to the other options?

Helen said...

Hi Leanna,

Unfortunately, I can't test processor kneading because mine is relatively small. Some issues that Beranbaum points are are:

1) the processors heat the dough, so you can't mix for long, but I hear that 1.5 minutes of kneading might be all you'll need. Reinhart's instructions of pulsing and resting sound promising.

2) the processors can get clogged with wetter doughs. Since most of mine are very wet, I am not sure how it would work for those.

I think the only way you'll be able to answer this question is to learn to knead well by hand, then try to replicate that with whatever machine you want to use.

But if you are already happy with results, just keep doing what you are doing.


Christine said...

I always use my kitchenaid mixer to knead dough. Sometimes i use my hands. I sure use lots of muscles and its very tiring. Hahaha.

Ken said...

Can focaccia dough be frozen? No one else seems to like it, so it just sits around if I make a normal sized batch :-P

Helen said...

Hi Ken,

No one in your house likes focaccia?! Send some to me :)

Yes, in theory you can freeze bread dough, but I haven't tried it with this one. I'd do it in its deflated state. You can also shape tons of other things out of it: pizza, a regular loaf of bread, etc. It doesn't need to be focaccia. So shape yourself a little focaccia and make a round loaf for everyone else (unless they hate all bread ;)


Romantic bed and breakfasts said...

This is a great and well kneaded bread which is looking good and it would certainly be too sumptuous and scrumptious as well.

Ken said...

Thanks, Helen. I've seen frozen pizza dough before so that's why I asked...just wondering if it'd work w/ this bread.
I'll send you the rest if the freezing trick doesn't work :-)

Pondering and Writing said...

Hi--I stumbled across your blog when browsing through blogger's blogs of note, and am so glad I did! Great site, beautiful pictures, and great writing! Thanks!

Unknown said...

It's so nice that you have gone to the trouble to share the your experiments. I'm going through the same thing as I just acquired an old Kenwood Chef. I'll try you tips.

Thanks for being a dough geek!