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One of the most important steps to master in baking bread is how to knead bread dough. The technique is relatively easy. It involves compressing the dough under the palms and pushing on it. Once a clean pass has been made across the ball of dough, it is turned and the process repeated. This is done for an amount of time usually prescribed by the recipe for the bread. If the bread is not kneaded, it will either create a dense inedible lump or a pile of unevenly cooked crumbs when it is baked.
The first thing to do when getting ready to knead bread dough is to prepare the surface. The kneading surface needs to be hard and secure so that it does not slide because of the amount of pressure applied to it. The surface also should have flour sprinkled on it so the dough does not stick to it.
The bread dough should be placed in the center of the kneading area and formed into a loose ball or pile, depending on the consistency. If any wet ingredients need to be added, a well should be formed in the center of the dough and the ingredients placed inside of it. The walls around the ingredients are then pushed toward the center until the liquid is partially incorporated into the dough and is not running off the surface. Once the dough is in a cohesive pile, it is time to start kneading the bread dough.
One begins to knead the bread dough by pushing into the pile and slightly down with the heel of the hand. Once the heel of the hand has reached the far side of the pile, the dough is folded in half and rotated from one-sixth to one-fourth around. The process, including the folding and rotating, is then repeated. This is the actual process of kneading.
It is necessary to knead bread dough for as long as the recipe says. For many yeast-based doughs, the kneading time is anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes. This amount of time allows the gluten in the bread to be developed. This gluten development is what causes the airy, spongy interior of bread.
It is important to knead bread dough in a way so the gluten strands are stretched but not broken. This means the dough needs to be folded and stretched with the hands as opposed to being broken apart. It also is important to keep flour nearby when kneading because, if the dough is too sticky, it might need more flour to be handled. The flour also can be used to coat the hands so the dough does not stick to them.