Kneading Slack Dough by Hand Revisited

summary: YouTube video of kneading slack dough; Richard Bertinet’s kneading method combined with my own hand-wringing method; Ken Forkish’s hand mixing and kneading in the bowl; hand-kneading slack dough is easy; and fun too – so fun that we made a video; free up your counter space and throw away that electric mixer!

The other day, BBBabe Ilva (Lucullian Delights) was talking about making Ken Forkish’s Harvest Bread. It reminded me that I asked T to make a video of me kneading the dough for that bread.

kneading Do you get tired of kneading? Sometimes, I do. Especially if I find myself with nothing interesting to think about. Because, let’s face it. Kneading is somewhat repetitive. It’s hand-wringingly repetitive.

Others clearly have the same feeling. Some people resort to using machines to knead.

I’m not wild about using machines. They take up so much room and they’re so loud. And they aren’t easy to clean – I’m always worried about cutting myself….

Other people, like Ken Forkish (Ken’s Artisan) and Chad Robertson (Tartine Bread), forgo kneading entirely and hand-mix and fold their bread doughs in a container.

I prefer to mix [the final dough] by hand in the dough tub, rather than kneading it on the counter or using a mixer. It’s simpler, faster, and entails less cleanup, and it’s fully effective. The dough stays in the same tub from the autolyse step until it is divided and shaped into loaves. […] No fuss, no muss!

– Ken Forkish, Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, Basic Bread Method, p. 67

I do love Ken Forkish’s mixing and kneading method in which he folds the bread at intervals over the course of a couple of hours after mixing the dough.

Set up a container of warm water next to your dough station. Hold the dough tub by the rim with your weaker hand and wet your stronger hand in the warm water. Begin to mix by reaching underneath the dough and grabbing about one quarter of the dough. Stretch this section of dough, then fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. When folding segments of dough, stretch them out to the point of resistance, then fold them back across the entire length of the dough mass. Working your way around the dough, repeat with the remaining quarters of the dough, reaching underneath each time […]

Once all of the dough has been folded over itself, continue mixing using the pincer method. Using a pincerlike grip with your thumb and forefinger, squeeze big chunks of dough and then tighten your grip to cut through the dough. Do this repeatedly, working through the entire mass of the dough. With your other hand, turn the tub while you’re mixing. […]

Repeat this process, alternating between cutting and folding, until you feel and see that all of the ingredients are fully integrated and the dough has some tension in it. For me, this takes 2 or 3 minutes. When you’re new at this, it could take 5 or 6 minutes. Let the dough rest for a few minutes, then fold for another 30 seconds or until the dough tightens up. That’s it for mixing! […]

[R]each underneath the dough and pull about one-quarter of it out and up to stretch it until you feel resistance, then fold it over the top to the other side of the dough. Repeat four or five times, working around the dough until the dough has tightened into a ball. Grab the entire ball and invert it so the seam side, where all the folds have come together, faces down. This helps the folds hold their position. The top should be smooth.

After each fold, the dough develops more structure, or strength, than it had before and will therefore take longer to completely relax. You can do any subsequent folds called for in the recipe an hour or two later, or you can give hte dough all of its folds in the first hour after mixing – whatever is convenient for you. Just don’t fold the dough during te last hour of bulk fermentation.

– Ken Forkish, Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza, Basic Bread Method, p. 67, 69

I tried this, and it does work. The pincer method is especially satisfying.

But the sides of the bowl aren’t clean…. That just goes against my sensibilities. ie: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Especially if the dog was old when it learned the first trick.

When I first started making bread seriously, I read Julia Child’s instruction to wash out the mixing bowl before putting the kneaded dough into it to rise. I just can’t stop doing this. And it’s not just about obedience. It’s practicality. When the bowl is clean, the risen dough just plops out; note that I NEVER oil the bowl. That’s right. Never.

(Eeek!!! Quick, move on, move on! before someone sings, “What? Never?” and a horrible audio virus sets in.)

Not to mention that Richard Bertinet’s turning and slapping kneading method is just too wonderful.

Here is how I have incorporated Richard Bertinet’s kneading method into my own. Nope, still no sound on our recording equipment – too bad too – I love the sound of the dough slapping down. It isn’t particularly loud. There is just a nice satisfying *Plop* as the dough hits the board.

(If you cannot view the video, please try going directly to YouTube: hand kneading slack dough)

So. Are you ready to throw away your big heavy electric mixer yet?

No?? :stomp:

Oh, come on. Just give this a try once. I know you want to.

Happy kneading!

hand-kneading edit 24 May 2013: We made another slack-dough kneading video – with SOUND!! :-D

Mixing and Kneading Slack Dough by Hand
based on methods learned from Maggie Glezer, Richard Bertinet and Ken Forkish.

  1. Use a wooden spoon to stir the wet dough until it looks like porridge; cover the bowl and let it rest for about 20 minutes to allow the dough to autolyse. Pour the dough onto the UNfloured board. Don’t worry that the dough looks like porridge.
  2. Quickly wash and dry the rising bowl (if your dough is really slack it might want to run off the board). Please, in spite what Forkish et al say, do not be tempted to skip this bowl cleaning step. It really helps – by getting your hands clean AND to make it so the final proofed dough will slip out of the bowl with just a nudge or two from the flat of your finger.
  3. A dough scraper is very helpful – read “essential” – when kneading slack dough. Make sure that it is in easy reach. (And if you remember to put a tea towel under the board, the board won’t slip around on the counter.) Using both hands on either side of the dough and thumbs resting on the top in the center, lift it up and flip it over in the air before plopping it back down on the board. Please note that you don’t have to slam it down. Fold the dough in half away from you as you plop the dough down. Keep repeating until the dough is smooth. Every so often, use the dough scraper to clean the board. Stretching the dough is desired on the turns. But this might not start happening right away. (Please look at Richard Bertinet’s video for clarification.)
  4. When you get bored with lifting, turning and plopping down the dough, switch to hand-wringing. As you wring, lift your hands high to really stretch the dough. Continue for about 5 or 10 minutes. Whatever your mind can take.
  5. The dough may still resemble porridge after hand-kneading for 5 to 10 minutes. Fear not. Just use the dough scraper to maneuvre the sloppy mess into your clean rising bowl (please do not oil the bowl; it is unnecessary). Scrape your hand off as best you can and cover the bowl. Let it rest on the counter for 20 to 30 minutes. (Note how the dough scraper has pretty much completely cleaned the board.)
  6. After the dough has rested, it’s time for its first turn. From now on, your motto should be “gently, gently“. You can either use Ken Forkish’s method of turning the dough in the bowl. Or, you can use Maggie Glezer’s method: Scatter a dusting of flour on the board and with the help of a rubber scraper, pour the dough onto the board. Try to keep the bowl as clean as possible. Don’t worry that the wet sticky mass still looks like porridge.
    dough scraper and slack dough 1st turning
  7. Slip the dough scraper under the right side of the dough in preparation for gently folding the dough in half. After it is folded, gently pat away any excess flour. Slip the dough scraper under the bottom side of the dough in preparation for gently folding the dough in half again. Fold and continue to the left and top of the dough. (four folds) Use the dough scraper to maneuvre the dough back into the clean rising bowl. You’ll see that it looks a little less porridge-like and that the dough scraper has pretty much cleaned the board. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest in a draft-free area on the counter for another 20 to 30 minutes.
  8. just before 2nd turning After the dough has rested, it’s time for its second turn. Scatter a dusting of flour on the board and pour the dough onto the board. You’ll see that it already looks less like porridge.
  9. Gently fold the dough in the same way as before starting at the right side and working around all four sides. Gently pat the excess flour off. Put the folded dough back in the clean rising bowl to rest for another 20 to 30 minutes.
    second turning pat off excess flour
  10. One more time, after the dough has rested, it’s time for its third turn. Scatter a dusting of flour on the board and pour the dough onto the board. It is still quite loose but looks much more like dough. Note how the dough just pulls away from the bowl as you pour it onto the board. If it sticks, use a (clean) finger or rubber scraper to gently pull the dough out onto the board.
  11. Gently fold the dough in the same way as before starting at the right side and working around all four sides. Once again, gently pat the excess flour off.
    third turning after 3rd turning
  12. By now the dough will look smooth but will still be quite soft. Use the dough scraper to gently put the dough back into the clean rising bowl (you really don’t want to disturb the bubbles that are beginning to form). Cover and allow it to rise in a draft-free area on the counter to about double (another couple of hours or so, depending on the temperature of the kitchen).

More Information and Tools

Harvest Bread

This post is partially mirrored on The Fresh Loaf




This entry was posted in baking, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, equipment and techniques, Flour Water Salt Yeast, food & drink on by .

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