Kneading bread can feel like a pointless task that seems to last forever. I can guess when you knead you might ask yourself “Is it ready yet?”, I know I do!
Today I’m going to explain how to know when kneading has finished. We can tell this by feeling the dough and using a test called The Windowpane Test.
Why is kneading so important?
Kneading forms the gluten structure in the dough. It needs this structure to retain gas during the final rise. A well-kneaded bread develops gluten that is strong enough to stretch thin. Stretchy gluten is better at retaining gas.
Where many bakers get kneading wrong
Many bakers have poor results when not kneading enough, or not kneading effectively. I have a post dedicated to kneading methods - how to knead dough. In this post, we are going to cover how to tell when to stop kneading.
What does a well kneaded dough look like?
To determine if dough is kneaded enough, one of the first things we do is a relax and feel test.
Let the dough relax on the table for one minute before breaking away a small piece to test. Play with the dough in your fingers.
If it’s kneaded enough it will have the following properties:
- Feel like there is gas inside
- Be a creamy white colour
- Have a smooth surface texture
- Elastic enough to support itself - it springs back
- A nice, rounded smell
- The sheen of natural oils coating the surface
The windowpane test
A windowpane test reveals the strength of the gluten. It’s the best way to see how well the gluten structure has developed.
How to do the windowpane test?
Let the dough relax for a minute then tare of a small piece. Pinch a side in each hand a stretch it gently, holding it up in front of you.
Use the table below to rate it. A well-developed dough structure will stretch thin without tearing. Developing the dough further will allow you to see light through it - like a window.
Windowpane test results table
Dough breaks with no stretch
A small amount of stretch before it tears, around 1-2 cm
Stretches 2-3 cm before it tears
Stretches 5-8cm but remains opaque when held up against light
Stretches a considerable distance thinly allowing light to shine through when held up towards light.
Interpreting the results
As the dough is kneaded it will pass through each of the stages shown in the table. Working the dough further will develop the dough to pass the next grade and so on.
It can be extremely hard to work the dough to be thin and strong enough to pass the test, especially by hand. It is sometimes unnecessary as well, let me explain.
The impact of enzymes and organic acids
Untouched, gluten develops naturally during bulk fermentation. In fact, no-knead recipes can produce gluten that reaches the windowpane stage.
When leaving the dough to rest, the yeast generates enzymes and organic acids to mature the dough. A mature dough, reinforces the structure of the gluten making the structure better.
A straight dough is unlikely to reach the windowpane stage. It just won’t be strong enough to stretch without tearing. Some support in the form of organic acids is needed to achieve the perfect dough.
Using preferments & sourdough
Preferments or sourdough introduce mature dough to the mix. These speed up the development of the dough and reduce mixing and bulk fermentation times.
See a timeline of how kneading affects the length of bulk fermentation required in the proofing guide table.
Should a windowpane be achieved in a long bulk fermentation?
If a long bulk fermentation (5 hours+) is intended, the dough shouldn’t reach the windowpane stage by the end of mixing. It should be underdeveloped to allow it to continue as it bulk ferments.
Kneading to the windowpane and leaving to bulk ferment for a long time will over ferment the dough.
When to do the windowpane test?
The test should be conducted at the end of kneading and during bulk fermentation. It’s important that once the windowpane stage is reached, the dough is not given much longer to ferment. This will cause over fermentation.
Does every dough need to pass the windowpane test?
There are plenty of quick doughs that do not require passing the test. These include tin bread, Pulman loaves and rolls. Here the bread is made quickly and quality results are made with short slow mixing times and a longer fast mixing period.
Breads that will undergo a long bulk fermentation should not pass the windowpane test either.
How to pass the windowpane test
The simple answer to improving the windowpane test results is to knead it longer. You can also allow it to bulk ferment, using regular stretch and folds.
Here are a few tips in order to make your dough pass the test! It is almost impossible to reach see-through when kneading by hand. It will need some of these tricks below.
- Use prefermented flour
- Add the autolyse technique before mixing to hydrate the flour
- Knead with a slow technique at first to help the flour hydrate
- When fast kneading follow proven technique or use a quality dough mixer
- If using a no-knead recipe use stretch and folds and a long bulk fermentation time at a cool temperature
- Allow the dough to bulk ferment to allow it to mature
- Add fats and sweeteners at the end of mixing
Can you mix too much?
If dough is kneaded too long, and (especially if) bulk fermentation is not decreased, excess oxygenation will occur.
Oxygenation occurs as the flour absorbs oxygen. The process occurs naturally as hydrated flour is allowed to rest. When the dough is kneaded oxygenation increases, especially when intensive or fast mixers are used.
Initially, oxygenation strengthens the dough, but too much destroys extensibility. This leads to the bread flattening out or collapsing when tipped from the banneton.
What does an over kneaded dough look like?
If your bread dough is sticky, warm, visible irregular gluten strands and lacks strength, you have over kneaded it.
It is impossible to over-knead dough by hand, though it can happen using a dough mixer.
Follow these steps for the best thing to do with over kneaded dough.
Do I need to use preferments for a good dough?
Using preferments such as sourdough, biga, poolish or pâte fermentée, not only include hydrated flour but enhance the dough. They do this with the inclusion of lactic and organic acids.
The acids mature the dough to create a better environment for the gluten to develop. The dough needs to mature to be able to create a windowpane structure.
Without prefermented flour, the dough can still reach the windowpane. It will just need a longer bulk fermentation.
Is autolyse essential for good gluten structure?
Autolyse helps to soften the flour and extend the length of the gluten. It starts the building blocks of the gluten to be able to create a windowpane structure.
Instead of autolysing a long slow mix time can be used for a similar result.
View the beginner's bread recipe to get started today.