Knowing when dough is kneaded enough

Knowing when dough is kneaded enough is pretty desirable to know when making bread. But if you're new to bread baking and want to discover a couple of tricks to test if your dough is ready - or if you're experienced but embarrassed to ask (we won't tell) I'll share all..

Over kneading can cause a broken down structure, under knead and the bread will likely be dense and unpalatable. Dough kneading by hand is especially taxing and we don't want to knead more than we must. Dough quality is the most important step in bread making, without a good knead the bread is unlikely to turn out as good as we want it.

Here I'm going to show you a couple of tests I use when kneading bread to tell if it's ready. You may want to take a look at the hand kneading techniques page, I fact I REALLY RECOMMEND it if you haven't already

Further reading: How to knead dough

The relax and feel test

Let the dough relax on the table for 1 minute before breaking of a small testing piece. Play with it with your fingertips, properly kneaded it should have the following properties:

  • Feel like there is gas inside
  • White in colour
  • Have a smooth surface texture
  • Elastic enough to support itself - it springs back
  • A nice, rounded smell 
  • Sheen of natural oils coating the surface

Note. the last two are unlikely to happen if you are using poor quality flour. The flour you choose is going to make a big difference in the quality of your bread dough.

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The windowpane test

A windowpane test shows the strength of the gluten easily and is another great way to test used by bread experts.

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 that has relaxed for a minute. Stretch it gently with both hands, holding it up in front of your face. 

A well-developed dough which has a strong gluten structure will stretch thinly without tearing. Super well-developed bread dough will allow you to see through it.

Use the following table to rate it:

 The windowpane test table




Stage 1

Dough breaks with no stretch

Stage 2

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

Stage 3

Stretches 2-3 cm before it tears

Stage 4

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

Stage 5

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

If you don’t achieve the windowpane level you wanted you can choose to knead it longer or use stretch and folds and bulk fermentation to develop the dough further. It is almost impossible to get a see-through windowpane quality when hand kneading without bulk fermentation and stretch and folds.

What happens if dough is not kneaded enough?

Kneading accelerates fermentation of the gluten. When it 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 which 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.

Can you fix over kneaded dough?

If your bread dough is overly sticky, warm, has visible irregular gluten strands and lacks strength, you may have over kneaded it. It is impossible to over-knead dough by hand, though it does happen when using a dough mixer. Over kneaded bread may be somewhat different to what you intended to make so consider remaking the dough if you need a consistent product.

To make the best out of an over kneaded dough, after it comes out the mixer, reduce the bulk fermentation time to 20 minutes max. Take a temperature check, if the temperature is over 30C (86F) bulk ferment in the fridge.

After the fridge, pre and final shape and allow to rise.

Consider placing it in the fridge for ten minutes before cutting. This will firm the surface of the dough, making it easier to cut. 

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