Adventures in hand-kneading

Though I love to bake bread, hand-kneading is not my thing.  I would rather delegate the gluten development to my stand mixer.  I know, many folks swear that hand-kneading is therapeutic, restorative, and good exercise to boot.  Personally, I don’t find any of those things to be true:  I’m short, and my kitchen countertops are too high for comfortable kneading without possible rotator cuff injury.  Thus, I have to stand on a stepstool (awkward) or move to another room to use a tabletop, spreading the potential floury mess across more surfaces.  See why I just let the mixer do its job?

Despite my aversion to hand-kneading, I’ve been turning out at least one all-manual loaf a week these days.  I’m planning to teach a hands-on breadmaking class this fall, and we won’t have a stand mixer for each student.  So I need to identify at least one tasty, easily kneaded loaf to start off the class.  (Later lessons will feature no-knead breads.)

My first foray into hand-kneading was inauspicious.  I found a white sandwich loaf recipe on King Arthur Flour’s website, enriched with a little dry milk and some instant potato flakes.  The kneading was easy, but the bread failed miserably…I over-proofed it, and it collapsed in the oven.  A sorry-looking, pancake-topped loaf too ugly to photograph, it tasted insipid and starchy.

Fast forward a week, and I decided to try my favorite basic white bread recipe:  White Bread Variation I, from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  This dry-milk and butter-laced loaf has never failed me, whether I turn it into burger buns, add some white whole wheat, substitute olive oil for the butter, or retard it in the refrigerator for a bit.  I kneaded it on the countertop (yes, while standing on a stepstool) for just 5 minutes to the windowpane stage, then turned it into one pan loaf and eight burger buns.

Finally–victory in hand-kneading!  The dough behaved exactly like mixer-kneaded dough.  Best of all, it lends itself nicely to a variety of shapes, including hot dog buns, butterflake rolls, knotted rolls, and square dinner rolls, giving beginning breadmakers a great opportunity to learn shaping techniques.  (Did I mention it also makes great toast?)

See a roundup of yeast baking over at Yeastspotting….

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