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?)