I have tested several different ways to knead dough with the goal of discovering the best hand knead technique for bread dough. And after many hours, days and years, what I’ve found is that depending on the type of bread you’re making there’s a best method – but honestly, all of them work!
Each kneading technique has pros and cons. Some work great for some types of bread, yet struggle in others. This guide shows you the most popular methods and offers insight into selecting the kneading style that will suit your bread dough best.
I’ll also explain how kneading works and how to combine methods to make some bad-ass bread at home!
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Here’s my beginner’s bread recipe if you need a recipe to try your kneading techniques. It’s just a simple loaf made from flour, water, salt and yeast – and you’ll love it!!
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So what is kneading – and what does it do?
The kneading of the dough is the fourth step in the 15 stages of bread making. We knead the dough after the ingredients have been weighed. Kneading is part of the dough development process, its purpose is threefold:
- Combine the ingredients
- For the water to hydrate the flour
- Develop gluten into a string gluten structure
You might be surprised to know that if we combine the dough ingredients in a bowl and leave them to sit, the above 3 points would still occur. It might sound crazy on a page about kneading that we don’t actually need to knead bread dough!
But if we want to make bread quickly or want a well-defined crumb- kneading is essential!
Kneading works by stretching or smacking the dough against a hard surface. This could be by hand – working the dough in a bowl or on a sturdy table. Or we can machine knead with a dough hook that stretches and smashes the dough against the edges of the mixing bowl.
The science behind kneading bread
By kneading bread we are accelerating and enhancing the dough development process. This enhances gluten development to a level that’s not possible without force. It does this by forming strong gluten bonds.
There are actually two types of gluten. Glutenin is the longer form and builds strong elastic bonds between strands. The gliadin protein is more extensible and it allows the dough to flow without tearing. During kneading the chains of proteins increase and unwind to become longer. Protein cutting enzymes called proteases cut the gluten strands into smaller pieces which enables them to make additional bonds.
As the development continues, the enhanced bonds organise themselves into a webbing-like network. This network will continue to develop and be more defined during bulk fermentation and its final rise. What an enhanced gluten network means for the dough is it can hold more gas as it is produced by yeast.
Kneading also incorporates oxygen into the dough which strengthens the network of gluten. This helps the dough to hold its shape and is integral to quickly made bread such as sandwich loaves. Yet too much oxygen caused by kneading for a long time and proofing for ages creates oxygenation issues.
The kinetic energy generated as the dough is kneaded provides warmth. The warmth provided by kneading is a factor worth considering when kneading bread dough. Yeast operates best at warmer temperatures therefore, warmer doughs rise quicker. This can be good in some situations (quicker bread), yet devastating in others. Kneading by hand transfers more warmth to the dough as it will need longer to develop and there is more contact from the body.
As the rate of dough fermentation increases, the warm dough can soon become gassy. This is when yeast creates a lot of gas. Moisture in the dough can get warm which can make it sticky and clammy.
Care must be taken to manage temperature throughout the preparation of bread. If it’s too cold, bread will take ages to rise. If it is too hot, the dough can become too sticky to knead, which halts kneading prematurely so the gluten structure is under-developed.
Should I use a dough mixer to knead dough?
Professional bakeries stopped kneading dough by hand decades ago. They use dough mixers, and some of them are huge! A good quality mixer is much more efficient than hand kneading. This is especially important in the low cost, high output industry that bakeries reside. Commercial mixers work faster, harder, and are more precise.
The majority of domestic mixers are nowhere near as good as professional products. We will come on to using a table mixer later on, but when first starting to bake bread at home it’s best to learn how to knead dough by hand. Learning to work dough by hand gives you first-hand knowledge of how things should behave during each stage of the mixing process.
By using the methods below you’ll be able to achieve professional-quality doughs. Your bread can be just as good as your favourite artisan bakeries!
Hand kneading methods by hand
When kneading by hand there are three stages; incorporation, intermediate and fast. Each stage uses a different method to work the dough
Here are the three stages of kneading dough by hand:
Incorporation – Before commencing with the slow kneading stage, the ingredients should be combined into a mass. I call this the incorporation stage. It should only last a minute or two though large batches or dryer doughs will take a little longer.
Slow mixing – This stage is also called the intermediate stage. It follows on from incorporation to encourage the flour to absorb the liquid in the dough. As the gluten hydrates, the strands become long and its bonds are stronger. The gentle stretching or agitation works the gluten to encourage a well-defined gluten network. This provides excellent gas retention properties.
Since I have started to include this step, my homemade bread quality has rocketed!
Fast knead – This is a much more aggressive motion. The dough must be well mixed up to this point otherwise the gluten can tear later on in the process. Using a fast knead method rapidly builds strength in the gluten network and adds oxygen.
Table of kneading methods
Here’s a table for when each kneading method should be used during the dough making process. Many methods can be used in both the intermediate and fast stages- you just up the speed to “fast mode”.
|The dough scraper way||✔||✘||✘|
|The one-handed kneading technique||✘||✔||✔|
|The Rubaud method of hand kneading||✘||✔||✔|
|The french method||✘||✔||✔|
|Stretch, slap and fold||✘||✘||✔|
How long should I knead bread dough for?
By hand, the dough should be mixed for at least 10-15 minutes. This consists of 1-2 minutes incorporation, 7 minutes slow mixing, followed by 7 minutes fast. The kneading time can be reduced by autolysing by resting the dough between the incorporation and slow kneading stage.
How to tell when to stop kneading dough
To tell when a dough is ready for the bulk fermentation stage we can use the windowpane test. This is where a piece of dough is stretched and if it stretches thin enough that light can be seen, the dough is ready!
Don’t worry if you don’t pass the windowpane test at this point. It’s very hard to pass the windowpane test when kneading by hand! The dough will continue to develop naturally as the dough rests. We can also add “stretch and folds” through the bulk fermentation stage to further stretch and realign the gluten.
Look at the how to improve dough kneading post for more info.
An alternative way to know when to stop kneading dough is to let the dough relax on the table for 1 minute. Then break off a small piece, to play with in your fingertips. If it feels gassy and strong, then it’s ready.
Methods for developing dough by hand
– The dough scraper incorporation technique
- Add the ingredients to a mixing bowl.
- Take a plastic scraper in your strongest hand and place it in the bowl at 12 o’clock, pointing the scraper towards the centre of the bowl.
- Your other hand holds the rim of the bowl at 12 o’clock.
- Use the bowl-holding hand to turn the bowl in a half-circle, bringing it down to 6 o’clock position. At the same time move your scraper hand down to the same point.
- You hands will both meet at the same point.
- Slide both hands back to their start positions and repeat.
- Keep repeating until the dough has combined and you feel you’re having little impact. This should take 1-2 minutes.
Tip: Apply pressure on the scraper to push encouraging the ingredients to combine and form a mass.
Pro’s and con’s
Effective for wet doughs as less dough gets stuck to your fingers. It’s also especially good for mixing poolishes and other preferments.
Gluten development effectiveness – 3
– The Claw incorporation technique
- Take your strong hand and shape into a claw shape.
- Put your claw in the dough.
- Move it in a clockwise direction whilst your other hand rotates the bowl in the opposite direction.
- After 1-2 minutes, the dough forms a mass.
Pro’s and con’s
The claw method is a great way to incorporate ingredients if you don’t have a dough scraper. It excels in lower hydration doughs where a scraper becomes redundant. It’s also a great way to get your hands dirty – if you like that sort of thing!
Gluten development effectiveness – 2
– How to knead dough with the slow method (intermediate)
- Place the dough on a strong table or worktop
- Take your strongest hand and use the bottom of your palm to push down into the dough and then away, dragging the dough on the surface.
- At the end of the movement, curve your push to bring the dough into a mass. You can use your other hand to bring it together.
- Push again and keep repeating, you can use your other hand to stabilise the dough whilst the other is pushing and then again when bringing it back together into a mass.
- Repeat for around 5-8 minutes. This stage ends once the dough has an even consistency, that forms a mass easily. It shouldn’t be sticky or wet and the gluten strands will feel long and strong.
Pro’s and con’s
The dough has a lot of contact with the hands which means it will warm up quickly. That said, it really works the gluten well and supports the development of a strong gluten structure!
Gluten development effectiveness – 5
Tip: If a dough gets too warm and sticky, put it in a bowl and cool in the fridge for 5-10 minutes before carrying on.
– The one-handed kneading technique
- Place the mass on a work surface in a disc shape.
- Take one hand to the edge of the dough closest to you and fold it over itself around halfway.
- Take from the bottom again and fold over to the top this time.
- Repeat until the dough is ready.
Keep repeating this process until the dough is gassy and elastic. It’ll become more fluid after a few attempts and is quite therapeutic once you get the hang of it!
Pro’s and con’s
This traditional kneading process works well and is particularly good for dough with a low water ratio. As it’s one-handed, it takes a while to work the gluten. The dough also absorbs a lot of warmth from the hands. It is best for simple pan loaves and small dough batches. Don’t use when a high level of gluten development is required for quick-breads, sticky doughs or big batches.
Gluten development effectiveness – 5
Tip: You can stop halfway and allow your arms to rest for 5-10 minutes if you wish. Placing it in the fridge during this period will let the dough cool down if it gets too warm.
– The Rubaud method of hand kneading
This style of kneading was created by legendary baker Gérard Rubaud. It’s best for kneading wet dough and also…. very wet dough! Moving the dough quickly with wet hands develops the dough whilst incorporating lots of oxygen for strength.
- First wet your hands with water.
- Place your strongest hand in a cupping shape.
- Hold the bowl with the other hand.
- Then, using your cupping hand, scoop the dough up to stretch it.
- Repeat stretching using a circular motion.
- After 15-20 repetitions, let go of the dough and repeat on a different area.
Pro’s and con’s
Best for short mixed doughs when a prefermented levain is used. Can also be used for any long bulk fermented bread such as sourdough or other super-wet artisan doughs. Don’t use it on a firm dough.
Gluten development effectiveness – 8
– The French method to knead bread
This method of kneading became popular through another French baker, Richard Bertinet. This baker brought his typically French approach to bread baking to England. The French method is known as the “Bertinet Method” by some bakers.
Take the mass of dough onto the table, using a hand on each side, pick up and stretch the dough outwards. Then throw the dough at the table and let it slap!
Next, use both hands again to pick up the dough from the centre, width ways. Lift the dough from the centre and turn it 90 degrees so the long side is pointing away from you. Drop the closest edge on the table and then roll over the top. This takes a little practice, use the video to see the technique firsthand.
The dough should be in a rough ball again and we can start the method again. Repeat the slapping and the folding action for 10-20 minutes.
Pro’s and con’s
This technique works the dough at a mid-range rate that’s in line with how the traditional one-speed mixers operated. Many French traditional loaves of bread excel when using this method. Good all-rounder, French bread, large amounts of dough (if you are fit!), prefermented dough. Not ideal when a high level of gluten development is expected.
Gluten development effectiveness – 7
– The stretch, slap and fold method
- When the dough is on the table, take a side of the dough with each hand
- “Stretch” it out to at least double the width and throw it onto the table so it “slaps”
- Pick the dough back up with your hands and repeat 10 times
- Then turn your hands to pick the dough up at the centre of its width.
- Lift up and rotate and fold the dough into a ball.
- Then repeat the stretches, slaps and folds as fast as possible
Pro’s and con’s
I discovered this method when I was practising the French technique. As I mastered how to follow the French way, I soon backtracked. This method works the dough in the most efficient way for gluten development. It does this without absorbing much heat from the hands. It is best for prefermented doughs, ciabatta, baguettes, generating gluten strength quickly. Don’t use it for sourdough bread and if you’re not used to physical work. It also makes a lot of noise!
Gluten development effectiveness – 9
5 tips to hand knead bread
1) Keep the temperature under control
Handling the dough transfers warmth to it. As the dough gets warm, it activates the yeast (levain) making it gassy and harder to knead. Try to reduce contact with the dough as much as possible when kneading. Take temperature checks with a temperature probe and reach a final dough temperature (temperature of the dough at the end of mixing) of between 24-28C (75-82F)
2) Use a timer
Use a timer to track how long you are kneading. Hand kneading can be strenuous, especially when it’s a new skill, so a timer is helpful to push through and continue for that extra minute that the dough will love. Here’s the timer that I recommend on Amazon:
3) Don’t add flour
Don’t add flour to the work surface when kneading. It ends up disappearing straight into the dough meaning you might as well add it to the recipe. The temptation is to then add more water later on to counteract this, but what about the yeast and salt? The best doughs will have flour that’s evenly hydrated to form a strong gluten structure. Adding fresh flour to the dough is not good for developing good gas retaining properties and should only be added as a last resort. If the dough feels sticky or too dry, continue to knead and it usually strengthens.
4) Don’t worry about over-kneading
It is pretty much impossible to over-knead bread dough by hand, so don’t worry about doing it for too long! Watch this video by Bake with Jack to see his experiment.
5) Change the right technique for your dough
For wet doughs, use a method that is suited for wet dough. The French Method, the Stretch Slap and Fold or the Rubaud method should be used for wet doughs.
How to use a stand mixer to knead dough
You may prefer to use a stand mixer to make dough. If you are serious about baking, I recommend a Hobart mixer as they are excellent at working dough and extremely reliable. In a dough mixer, there isn’t an incorporation speed. Set the mixer at a low speed for 5 minutes, which is usually speed one. Then increase the speed to speed two, or three for 5 more minutes. If the dough tears as it mixes, you are going too fast!
Using a mixer is more powerful than working dough by hand. This means the mixing duration is shortened by 30-50% depending on the speed of the mixer and how well it stretches gluten.
How to knead dough Frequently asked questions
Can you knead bread using stretch and folds?
Yes, actually stretch and folds are great at developing gluten. It’s become popular for home bakers to replace kneading with long bulk fermentation times and “rounds” of stretch and folds. Do 5-minute rounds of stretch and folds 2 – 4 times during the first two hours of bulk fermentation.
When to add extra flour when kneading?
Dusting the table with flour when kneading dough is detrimental to the bread. Try to avoid doing this if you can, and add flour only as a last resort. If you find yourself needing to add flour regularly, add less water next time.
Should I add the flour gradually when making bread?
It is best to add all of the flour at the start of kneading. This hydrates the flour evenly so the gluten network binds effectively. Splitting up the addition of the flour causes some flour grains to be better developed than others. This causes an uneven crumb structure.
What do I do if the dough is too sticky?
Wetter doughs should follow a different kneading method than dry or denser doughs must. Kneading for longer fixes most sticky doughs, though if the dough is extremely wet, add some flour at the earliest possible instance. It should be noted that the recipe has too much water so it can be reduced next time.
View the dough hydration article for help on getting water levels right.
Can you knead bread too much?
Yes, but only with a dough mixer. Tests have been made to see if dough can be over-kneaded and have not been successful by hand. What can happen is that too much oxygen gets incorporated. This causes the bread to collapse by the time it goes into the oven.
How long should I knead dough?
The length of time that dough is mixed must be relative to the duration of the first rise. If the dough is well-kneaded then the first rise is reduced. Likewise, a light amount of mixing should be partnered with a longer bulk ferment. Use a proofing guide table for accurate timings.