I am a reconvert ... to the old fashioned way of kneading bread by hand.
I must admit that since I bought my gorgeous red Kenwood Patissier a couple of years back, I've been a lazy bread maker, using my dough hook to knead my dough for me. I love my Patissier but honestly, I recently realised that it doesn't really do justice to the bread.
So here's the story.
Last week, I went over to a good friend's house to show her how I make my Focaccia, following a basic recipe by wunderkid Jamie Oliver. She didn't have a mixer so we kneaded by hand. Like I said, it's been a while since I'd done it and the moment I felt the dough beneath my fingers, transforming from a slightly sticky, stiff mass to a pliable and smooth ball, I knew that I'd be using my Patissier a lot less. Well, at least not for bread making.
There are many reasons I opted for the machine method in the first place but I've come to realise how flimsy these reasons really are. Maybe you have the same reservations but here's why I think they aren't really valid. Well, that is if you consider the end result: a gorgeous loaf of bread you've created literally by hand.
Messy? Perhaps because as you knead, fold and slap the dough on the floured surface, you're bound to get flour all over your hands, shirt and perhaps even your floor. Or maybe that's just me.
Dough sticking to your hand? Well, yeah but this isn't catastrophic and if you flour or oil your hands (I prefer oiling as it doesn't make the dough too dry and adds flavour to the bread. Just don't be over enthusiastic with the oil!), the problem is no longer a problem.
Time consuming? Well, it only takes about 10 minutes longer. The machine kneading time is usually between 5 to 7 minutes. With your hands, you'd probably take 10-12 minutes. Plus, you work your biceps (even if it's just on one arm). Plus, there is a much lesser chance of over-kneading your dough because the ache in your arm will prevent you from kneading longer that necessary. I didn't realise this but I think I've been over-kneading a little with my mixer. Though my bread always rises and turns out fine, the difference with the hand-kneaded breads (I've made a couple more since my session with my mate) is that the latter rises quicker and the texture and quality of the bread is a lot nicer: it's even, more fluffy and has a nice chew to it.
How do you know when the dough is ready? Pinch a bit of the dough off, gently stretch it with your fingers until the dough is pliable enough that it stretches to a thin, opaque layer without tearing. This is call the window-pane test. It's pretty cool — check it out here.
Lastly, kneading the dough by hand can be extremely therapeutic. No matter what method of kneading you choose, you can wither work you aggression out on your dough (though you may be eating all that bad energy later on, be forewarned) or be calmed by the action of pushing, pressing and folding. Try it. The latter works better for me because I seriously don't want any negative energy flavouring my loaf.
For more on kneading dough, check this article by master baker Dan Lepard published in the Guardian.
Thyme and Parmesan Focaccia
500g bread flour
pinch of salt
1 tbsp instant yeast
1 tbsp honey
325ml tepid water (a bit more if necessary)
1 tbsp minced thyme
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
Whisk the salt and flour together.
In a bowl, dissolve the yeast in half the water and honey. Let it sit until the mixture starts foaming.
Create a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the foamy yeast mixture. Using your fingers and working from the middle (from the liquid) mix in the flour and liquid.
Add more water gradually as you mix the flour into a ball of dough. The dough should be a little sticky.
Oil (or flour) your hands and work surface lightly and then transfer the ball of dough onto the surface and start kneading. It should take about 10 mins.
Transfer the dough into a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and leave to rise until double its size (about an hour).
Once rise, lightly punch out the dough to release the gasses (press down with your fingers or knuckles). Gently knead in the chopped thyme and Parmesan: not too much, just so that the ingredients get into the dough a little.
Transfer to your baking tray and gently stretch it to fit the pan. If it's difficult to stretch, don't force it. Let it rest for 5 to 10 mins and resume.
Dimple the bread with your finger tips (press your finger through the dough till it reaches the pan and move it to form a dimple) and pour some olive oil on the surface (about 2-3 tbsp). Some of the oil should collect in the dimples. You can
Leave the bread to rise one last time, about 10-15 mins.
Preheat the oven to 200C.
Bake for 20 mins or until the tops and nice and golden brown. Remove and drizzle with more olive oil (1-2 tbsp).