to Mix Bread Dough
are four major steps to bread making: mixing, rising, forming the loaves,
and baking. In this article, we’ll address the first of these
steps: mixing the dough.
There are three
easy to accomplish objectives to the mixing process:
(1) To evenly
distribute the ingredients.
(2) To develop
(3) To initiate
If you understand
how these three processes are accomplished, you understand mixing.
the ingredients is accomplished through mixing and is a straightforward
process. Mixing the water and the dry ingredients together can be done
by hand or by machine—a stand-type mixer, a bread machine, or
a food processor. Different ingredients, different water to flour ratios,
and different equipment dictate different mixing times. In any of these
instances, once the dough has been worked enough to develop the gluten,
the ingredients will be distributed adequately.
Gluten is what gives
bread its chewy texture and is critical to a satisfactory loaf. Fortunately,
with a good high-protein flour, gluten development is easy.
Wheat flour contains
two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. When these two proteins are hydrated
and the dough is mechanically worked, they come together to form strands
of gluten. Think of them as tiny twisted ropes.
How that mechanical
manipulation takes place is of little consequence. A dough hook in a
stand-type mixer works marvelously well. But then, so do the heels of
Even if you are
committed to your stand-type mixer, we recommend that you knead an occasional
batch by hand. Mixing the dough by hand is an intimate experience that
gives you a feel for the dough as it transforms through the kneading
process. You will feel the dough change as it absorbs water and as the
gluten strands develop.
Most people knead
the dough by pressing the dough with the heels of their hands, folding
the dough back over with a rolling motion, and pressing again. (It’s
easier to do than to describe.) Depending on how fast you work, it will
take about fifteen minutes to develop the gluten.
When the gluten
is developed, the dough will be elastic. Traditionally, the “window-pane
test” is used to gauge gluten development. Pinch a small piece
of the dough and pull it away from the dough ball. It should be elastic,
almost rubbery, and pull away into a thin membrane.
With a few batches, you will be able to gauge gluten development by
the feel of the dough, if you are mixing by hand, or by the appearance
of the dough ball if you are using a stand-type mixer. Again, gluten
development is easy.
process is initiated with the dissolving of the yeast and the distribution
of that yeast through the dough.
Yeast is a living
organism. As such, it requires three conditions to sustain itself. The
first of those conditions is moisture. The yeast spores are encapsulated
in the granules of starch or sugar that you find in your packet. If
you are using instant yeast, the yeast granules will dissolve as they
are worked through the wet dough. If you are using active yeast, you
will need to dissolve the yeast in a cup of water and then mix the resultant
slurry into the dough. yeast must be in a moist environment to be active
but can stay dormant in a dry environment.
The second condition
is temperature. yeast grows (the yeast cells multiply and divide) best
at 70 to 80 degrees. At 40 degrees, the yeast becomes dormant. At 120
degrees, the yeast begins to die. Most recipes call for water at 105
to 110 degrees; the real target is to create a dough with a temperature
around 80 degrees.
Yeast is very sensitive
to temperature. A difference of ten degrees in the dough temperature
makes a big difference in how fast yeast grows. Because temperature
is so critical, most experienced bakers use a thermometer.
The third condition
is food. yeast is capable of converting starches to sugars which are
then converted to energy, the carbon dioxide gas that form the air bubbles
found in the dough, and by-products--mainly an alcohol that gives bread
its yeasty flavor. Sugar or other sweeteners like honey or molasses
accelerate the growth of yeast by providing ready food. Incidentally,
salt slows down the growth. As little as one-half teaspoon of salt more
or less in a two loaf recipe will make a significant difference in the
growth of the yeast. Always measure salt carefully.
There are three
caveats in the mixing process:
(1) Salt kills
yeast. Either mix the salt through the flour before adding the yeast
or place the salt and the yeast on opposite sides of the bowl before
beginning to mix.
over mix. You have to mix the ingredients long enough to develop the
gluten. Once the gluten is well-developed, stop mixing. If you continue
mixing, you will break-down the gluten. It’s not as if there
is a narrow window between when the gluten is developed and the gluten
starts to break-down; over mixing usually occurs when a stand-type
mixer is left running unattended. (By the way, many stand-type mixers
will walk off the counter while mixing dough if left unattended.)
(3) Use the right
water temperature. We always use a thermometer. Investing in a $12
insta-read thermometer will go a long way toward assuring consistent
The bread making
process is remarkably forgiving. If the temperature is off a little,
the bread still works. If it is under or over mixed, it still works.
It may not be perfect bread (and who is to say what is perfect) but
most homemade bread is darned good bread.