How To Hand Knead Bread Dough - Kneading techniques for bread

What is the best hand knead technique for bread baking? Wait and see as , I think I've found it! In doing so I've stolen many of the common kneading techniques best bits and created my own. These other ways are listen also in the post, so you can make your mind up which one you prefer.

Hand kneading techniques all have there charms, some work well in some types of dough and poor in others, or just don't do a lot to develop gluten. Over the year's (apart from my time using a spiral mixer) I've changed between these methods and always struggled to get the elusive window pane structure.

Especially dying of boredom, frustration or energy from kneading for hours!

It’s been a little while since my last update and I thought I would explain why first. It’s not that I’ve given up posting, don’t worry about that! I've been on holiday for the past week and have not got round to posting. The girlfriend and son were on top of my constantly!

What I did get to do was attempt some outdoors baking when I made pizza on the open fire when camping in the New Forest. It was great fun despite it not really going as well as I had hoped!

Other than that, there are now dozens of video recipes posted in the members area. Just click this link and enter your details to join the baking club.

What does it mean to hand knead dough?

Dough kneading is a process of fermentation. It mixes the ingredients together where importantly the water hydrates the flour, then it speeds up the fermentation process by pressing on the protein in the flour which speeds up the formation of gluten. It also creates warmth which benefits the yeast.

Why I wanted a new way to hand knead dough

Let’s start with what sharing what lead me down this road. I like to bake a lot of bread, and I want to make it as easy as I can for me and for you guys to use. 

I had been trying a table mixer but it was just not up to kneading dough. My dough would often collapse and it just wouldn't develop properly in it. You can see the blog post here of the time I realised just how much better hand kneading is compared with using a Kenwood or stand mixer. It's probably not my best so don't get too excited - but if you're bored...

Hand kneading is an important skill that every skilled bakers should know and sadly not that many do. Those of you outside the professional space might be shocked by this but if you have a mixer to do it for you then why bother doing it yourself?

I had this attitude for many years but it did dawn on me once that if my mixer broke I would be completely stuffed!

So I did learn some of these techniques just encase but they are not as good as my hybrid method (I'll share it soon haha).

With the recent popularity of “stretch and fold” and “no knead” breads, there are many home bakers that choose to not learn how to hand knead. So I thought it was important to master the skill of hand kneading asap.

How to get the most out of hand kneading?

The Best Hand Kneading Technique For Bread Baking

My early experiences of hand kneading ended feeling stressed (and embarrassed). 

I used a combination of the "French Technique" and some old school one handed kneading.

Neither really worked.

I desperately had to resist adding more flour to the table to stop the sticky lump created falling apart. It’s not good for the dough to come in contact with extra flour, so try not to do that.

What happens when you flour dust your table when kneading is the flour gets absorbed into the dough. This is bad news for you bread.  The flour ratio in the recipe increases, there is flour that will be underdeveloped, and your table tends to get dirtier.

By the time the bread came out the oven in these early bakes it would often be a flat and uninspiring. My first hand kneaded focaccia could be almost classed as a flat bread.

Despite resisting adding extra flour to my dough it wasn't good enough. These hand kneading techniques didn't seem to develop the dough any further than a light knead.

How temperature control is important when you hand knead dough

When kneading in a mixer, the kinetic energy from the dough hook working the dough also adds heat as a by-product. But at nowhere near the same level as hand kneading does.

When hand kneading dough, the heat from your hands gets absorbed. As my hand's warmed through the hard work they were doing, the heat warmed up the dough.

Each hand knead technique adds heat to the dough in different amounts. I didn’t realise that the amount the temperature increased when kneading dough by hand ended in a Final Dough Temperature so high it was beyond control!

Then... I learnt how to control it.

Why dough temperature is important when you hand knead

When a dough gets too hot, it gets sticky and sweaty, it’s hard to handle.

Often when a hand kneading baker gets the dough to this point, they stop working the dough. 

If this is too early for flour fermentation to reach it's peak, the dough is left underdeveloped.

But not only this, yeast works faster in warmer temperatures. This means the dough will rise quicker.

It's not a problem for Chorleywood style mass baking, but bad for gluten structure and flavour to develop without the use of enzymes, ascorbic acid and suchlike to aid.

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So us home bakers must control our dough temperature. The reading we get once our dough has finished developing and is about to be divided for moulding is called our Final Dough Temperature.

For the best flavour our final dough temperature in artisan baking should be 20-23C. 

This is arguable as many purists prefer to overnight retard in the fridge, but for the sake of baking bread the same day, 20-23C is good for me.

If our dough temperature gets too high then we may not be able to knead it as long as we would like to. Also the bench rest and/or final proof time will be faster, causing the dough not to have as much flavour and structure. It can also struggle to retain it's shape during final proofing.

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The hand knead techniques

As promised here are some of the common hand kneading techniques that I've used. Watch the video at the bottom of the page to see them in action.

The Claw technique

You may have already seen my use this method on some of my videos, it's a great way to incorporate ingredients without using a dough scrapper. It works tremendously well with wetter dough or mixing bigas or poolish preferment's.

It's not strictly hand kneading, what it is used for is to incorporate the ingredients. Once the ingredients are incorporated into a mass of a bread dough, the kneading can begin.

Take your strong hand and shape into a claw shape seen in the picture. Then get your hand stuck into the dough moving it around in a clockwise direction. Using your other hand rotate the bowl in the opposite direction as you mix. 

The One handed kneading technique

Add all of the dough ingredients and mix till it becomes a mass using a dough scrapper or the claw technique. Place the dough in a disc shape. Using one hand take the edge of the dough closest to you and fold it over, somewhere between half way and all the way over. It doesn't really matter. 

Next take the dough and move it 90 degrees so the longer side is pointing away from you and fold over again. Keep repeating this process until the dough is gassy and elastic.

This technique works well with drier dough. It's downside is that a lot of warmth from your hands get absorbed so the dough can end up quick sticky.

The Rubaud method of hand kneading

This technique is used to knead very wet dough by moving the dough fast with either wet hands or a dough scrapper. To use this method place your strong hand in an almost cupping position. Hold the bowl in the other hand and using your cupping hand scoop the dough towards you to the middle of the bowl and drag back, repeating the process until the dough is ready. You can wet you hands so the dough doesn't stick to them if you want.

The French way

This way became popular across the world through Richard Bertinet, it's also called the Bertinet way to hand knead. For this, you take the mass of dough onto the table, picking up the dough with a hand to each end, stretch outwards, throw the dough up and then let it slap onto the table.

Next using both hands pick up the dough from the centre, turn the dough 90 degrees so the long side is pointing away from you. Fold the bottom over and then roll over the top. Lastly stretch the dough out at the sides again and repeat the slapping and the folding over unit the dough is ready. 

Th advantages of this technique are that you can knead large amounts of dough (providing you are fit enough!) and you incorporate a lot of oxygen to the dough.

It is similar to a traditional low powered mixing machine and so creates a dough that is soft and elastic. 

The issue I have had with this technique is that I've carried it out for ages and still got nowhere near the window pane structure. It's great for some types of bread dough, mainly wet ones but I've not had success where a super strong structure is required.

How I came up with a hand knead technique that I think is better

Using the combination of French and one handed techniques to knead the dough I tried to change a few variables.

I tried using fridge cold water at 3.5C, to cool the mix.

This still ended up with a dough of plus 27C, and I hadn’t finished mixing it yet! 

No good.

Next attempt, was to slow mix. After placing back in a bowl to rest before any serious gluten development occurred. I rested for 2 hours with a couple of stretch and folds to help it along. This meant less time when the dough would be in contact with my hands.

This way kinda worked, but the dough was still too hot when it came to moulding.

I was forced to dust the table heavily with flour in order to mould it. I ended up without a springy textured crumb I had hoped for in my bread… 

Still no good.

I buried my head in a few bake books for a couple of days. This gave me the idea to do a stretch and fold, after slow mixing again. But this time resting the dough in the fridge between folds.

This seemed like the best of both worlds of my dough kingdom, I got a cool temperature and a developed structure.

But there is a but…

I was making a tin loaf

It should be fast to make. Typical mixer settings would start with a short, slow mix to incorporate the ingredients. Followed by around 5 minutes of fast kneading.

Only a short rest before shaping and final proofing. This creates a light texture and a small, dense crumb which is perfect for sandwiches.

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Stretch and fold wasn't going to work. It would I'm sure work for other breads, but not for this one.

The bread didn't have an exciting oven spring and took ages to rise anyway.

It was nice, but it wasn't right for what I wanted.

So again, no good.

I thought long and hard this time. There must be a way to bake a decent tin loaf using my hands to knead the dough??!!

But then... Eureka! The best way to hand knead dough was created!

"Let's use the fridge to cool the dough between the slow and the fast mixes" I thought. I could also cool it further by allowing to rest in the fridge after mixing.

I’m going against my supermarket baking days here! We used to place all our divided dough in the proover at 38C just straight after mixing. After trialling a few different kneading techniques, I found what I believe is the best way to hand knead dough.

# This:

The best way to hand knead bread dough

1) Add all your ingredients as normal and set a timer for 7 minutes, mix gently with a dough scraper at first before moving onto the table when the dough holds in one lump. Once on the table, start massaging the dough with the right hand against the table in a half circle technique. The left-hand moves the dough around gently to complete a circle of dough movement.

2) After 7 minutes, long gluten strands should appear and the dough should feel well distributed and hydrated, not too sticky.

3) Rest the dough in the fridge, covered in the mixing bowl for 15 minutes.

4) Fast knead time. Take a side of the dough with each hand, stretch it out to at least double the distance and slap the dough down on to the table. Pick the dough back up with your hands, stretch again and slap it down. Repeat this 8-10 times

5) Then pick up the dough again and turn your hands so the dough is now in a long facing away from you, drop onto the table and fold over into a ball. 

6) Repeat this again for 7 minutes, doing this action as fast as you can.

7) Lightly oil a bowl and place the dough in, cover and whack it in the fridge for a further 15 minutes.

8) After this, remove from the fridge and either repeat with a further fast knead if you want to go for a windowpane structure, or start the bulk ferment. It's best to take a temperature reading now, if it's over 24C then it might be a good idea to bulk ferment in the fridge if it's a warm day.


Let me know how it works for you! Here's a video of several ways to knead bread, including the best way to knead bread (in my opinion!).

Use autolyse to make hand kneading dough easier!

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Autolyse is a handy technique to use when  you hand knead. It’s when a baker places flour, water, preferment, levain/yeast and occasionally salt into the bowl.

The mixture is lightly mixed together for 1-2 minutes. This is just to incorporate the ingredients.

Then it's covered (or can be left without a cover) and left untouched for around 20 minutes.

After the autolyse, the baker continues to knead the dough as usual. Doing an autolyse allows develops the fermentation of the flour so the baker doesn't have to mix as long.

It’s a great thing to do to develop dough without much effort. By removing the salt when autolysing it allows the structure to form without it. This creates a more extensible and less elastic dough.  There is a full article about autolyse here which covers things in much more depth.

Autolyse without salt is great if you want to stretch the dough when moulding for making focaccia or baguettes. It doesn't mean it is not strong. The dough won't try to pull back into a ball as much, it will be more stretchy.

The quality of the dough will still be good.

When making ciabattas I found delaying the yeast AND the salt during the autolyse and adding them in after worked well.

This is because the yeast started to act too early and made the dough rise whilst I was trying to knead it.

Delaying the yeast when increasing the mix time further helps the dough develop for longer. You could also add less yeast to your dough to slow the process down, especially when using stretch and folds.

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Hand Kneading FAQ's

How long should you knead dough?

For basic hand kneaded bread dough a minimum time is 10-15 minutes. This can be shortened by autolysing before hand. You can also stop halfway and allow the dough (and your arms) to rest for 5-10 minutes. 

Can you knead dough too much?

By machine it is possible to over knead dough but by hand, no you can not. It's been tried a few times and the bakers' not been able to over knead the dough. It just gets warm.

What happens if dough is not kneaded enough?

Kneading accelerates fermentation in the dough. When dough is not kneaded for long enough, bulk fermentation length and the amount of stretch and folds will need to be increased. If this is not done- which often happens due to time constraints and poor quality recipes- the bread will be under fermented. 

Bread that is under fermented takes longer to final proof and has a reduction in flavour. It can also create an uneven crumb, uncontrollable oven spring that causes cracks or splits in the bread, a weak crust and a lack of extensible or elasticity.  This can be remedied by using a long fermentation time post mixing.

How do you tell if dough is kneaded enough?

To tell if dough is kneaded enough its easier to  let it sit on the table to relax for 1 minute before breaking of a small piece to test. It should feel like there is gas inside, look white in colour, have a smooth surface and feel elastic enough to support itself.

Providing you are using good quality flour the kneaded dough will be nice and rounded to smell and have a nice sheen where natural oils have been released.

Conducting a window pane test will show the strength of the gluten easily.

Does kneading dough make it softer?

A soft crumb is created by a well hydrated and kneaded dough. Selecting the right flour is an important factor, having a water ratio that best suits you flour and also correctly kneading the dough all play a part.

Soft bread tends to have a more intense kneading period and a shorter bulk fermentation time. Bakers can choose to add sweeteners and fat to soften the dough, but the flour choice, the water ratio and the knead are most important.

What is the windowpane test?

The windowpane test is one of the best ways to see how strong the gluten structure has developed. To do this, tare a piece of dough and stretch it gently with both hands, holding it up in front if your face. 

A well developed dough with a strong gluten structure will stretch thinly without breaking. You can choose to rate it using the following ratings:

Stage

Features

Rating

Stage 1

Dough breaks with no stretch

Stage 2

A small amount of stretch before it tears, around 1-2 cm

Stage 3

Dough stretches 2-3 cm before it tears

Stage 4

Dough stretches 5-8cm but remains opaque when held up against light

Stage 5

Dough stretches a considerable distance thinly allowing light to shine through when held up towards light.

One important thing to note is that the windowpane result can be improved by further kneading, or in the bulk fermentation period. Putting some stretch and folds into this time will aid the strength of the dough.

Can you fix over kneaded dough?

if you knead bread dough too much the dough will be overly sticky, warm and lack strength. If you have used a dough mixer and over kneaded your bread dough I recommend the following steps:

  1. Take a temperature check, if the temperature is over 26 place the dough in the fridge for 15 minutes.
  2. Remove the bulk fermentation time, instead once the dough has cooled down a little bit, go straight to shaping and final proof.
  3. If the dough is sticky it may be hard to cut. Check your knife is sharp and consider using a dusting of flour to make it easier.

This may not always work, but will give you the best opportunity to have some nice bread. This bread may be somewhat different to your intended bread so consider remaking the dough if you have time.