This Week's Adventure

The joy of kneading

Sunday afternoons are perfect for making bread.

I’m a bit behind this week, so while yes, I will be making bread this Sunday, this post is about last week’s bread–KAF’s white bread 101, which technically I made once before for rolls at Easter. I wanted to make it in its proper loaf form, however, and see how it held up.

This is a fairly simple recipe, but it uses two ingredients I hadn’t much used in bread before: potato flour/potato flakes, and dry milk powder. In this video, the baker states that milk powder adds richness of flavor, but you can use fresh milk. Elsewhere I’ve read that potato in bread contributes to a soft texture, which makes sense, because potato is starchy, holds on to moisture well, and doesn’t develop gluten.

With the milk powder, butter, and a bit of sugar, this is a soft, rich dough. I used no more than the three cups of flour recommended, and it started out sticky enough that I had to use my bench scraper to knead at first.

The instructions just say to knead until you’ve made a soft, smooth dough, with no time suggestions, so I watched to see how the dough would develop over time. With sticky doughs, I basically flatten the dough with my left hand, use the bench scraper in the other to scoop part of the dough onto itself, and flatten it again, scooping different areas to keep it from sticking too badly.

What started out as a barely-unified mass became rough but cohesive inside of two minutes. It was still sticky at this point, but already starting to get somewhat stretchy.

kneading.jpg
Clockwise from top right: just mixed, about two minutes, five minutes, and nearly eight.

At five minutes, the dough started to hold together as its own entity more. Most of what I mean by that is it started voluntarily becoming a ball, rather than slouching down at the sides to stick to the counter. The texture wasn’t quite smooth, but I was able to abandon the dough scraper at this point and just knead with both hands. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of gluten development, or flour hydration, or both, that gets it to that point.

By eight minutes, I had what I considered a smooth dough.

0520181327Sometimes when I knead, especially for a recipe that tells me it’ll be eight minutes or ten minutes or something, I just check the clock and check out. Kneading in itself can be soothing, but I’m not really paying attention, just occupying my mind and my hands with different things. But by observing as I kneaded, I think I got a better handle on the stages a dough goes through.

So much of bread baking for me is just feeling it out. I appreciate being able to weigh out my ounces of flour, but I add more if it doesn’t “feel right,” or knead more or less than recommended, or do my simple flour-oil-salt-sourdough method entirely without weighing or measuring. It usually works out fine, but closely observing this recipe as I kneaded I think helped give me a “foundation” for those feelings… if that makes sense.

The dough rose as expected. I had some photos to take for work, so Husband put the bread in the oven for me, and it was just coming out as I got back. He said it fell (deflated) just slightly when he uncovered the loaf to bake, but it didn’t seem to suffer in quality.

This bread has a beautiful, classic white bread flavor, a little sweet and buttery, but light. It has the fine texture of storebought bread, but with more tooth and substance, perfect for soaking up soup. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best white bread recipe I’ve tried.

bread slices.jpg

I did notice that in the middle of the loaf, slices showed a variation in texture from top to bottom, with a layer of finer air bubbles for the bottom inch or so, then an abrupt change in texture towards the top of the slice. I have no idea why this is, but I might guess something about temperature changes throughout baking.

Need an introduction to making bread? I heartily recommend white bread 101.

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