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Wednesday Baking: The Basics | Kneading and Gluten

Recently, several of you have submitted questions related to baking, so instead of sharing a recipe today, I’ll answer those questions.

Some of you have expressed concern that your kneading technique isn’t quite up to snuff, and requested a video of me kneading. I have good news and bad news on that front. The bad news is that I don’t currently have the technology necessary to shoot and upload a video of that (though perhaps when I upgrade my camera body, I’ll have video capability). The good news is that the when the TV producer was here a few weeks ago, they shot some footage of me kneading. I have no earthly idea how much of that will make it into the TV segment, but hopefully a little bit of it will (I should have a link to the show on Feburary 8th).

In the meantime, let me point out a post on kneading that I did a while back. In that post, there is a link to a Picasa slideshow of me kneading. If you click on “slideshow” and go throug the pictures really fast, it’s almost like a video.

Also, you may not have noticed it, but in all the yeast recipes I post, I usually make the word “knead” a link to the post on kneading, so if you ever need a refresher, there it’ll be.

In case you are too uninspired to click on over to the kneading post, here are a few quick pointers.

  • The point of kneading is to stretch the dough. Whacking it with a rolling pin and throwing it against the counter (seriously, I have seen these methods advocated on other blogs!) is not going to efficiently accomplish the goal of stretching the gluten. You’ll want to use a turn, push, turn, push motion.
  • Don’t add too much flour. A stiff dough will resist rising (the yeast is not strong enough to push through really hard dough) and will be really difficult to work with. Only add enough flour to keep the dough manageable, and only sprinkle flour on the counter, not onto the dough itself.
  • Try to keep the flour on the outside of the dough. This is why I suggest only sprinkling flour onto the counter, not onto the dough. It doesn’t matter if the side of the dough facing you is somewhat sticky…it only matters if the side touching the counter is sticky.

On a related note, in order to understand why bread dough should be kneaded and why muffin batter should only be mixed gently, you might find it helpful to read my post on gluten. It explains what gluten is and how it should be handled in varying baking recipes.

Again, here are a few pointers for those of you who aren’t interested in reading the whole post.

  • Gluten is a protein in wheat that can develop into long, stretchy strands if it is moistened and mixed.
  • Gluten development is very important for yeast breads, because a stretchy dough will hold the air bubbles the yeast makes as it grows. This is what causes bread to rise.
  • Gluten development should be very minimal for breads that don’t use yeast (muffins, pancakes, biscuits, cornbread, pumpkin bread). Thus, these batters/doughs should be mixed or kneaded as little as possible to ensure a soft, fluffy end product.

Beginner Yeast Baking Recipes
If you’re a little nervous about your kneading techniques, here are a few recipes that are fairly easy. None of them are full-sized loaves, which means that they should turn out well even if you aren’t the world’s greatest kneader (full-sized loaves are more prone to rising/baking issues if the gluten is not developed well).

Easy French Bread

Basic Dinner Rolls

Honey Glazed Pan Rolls (this is what is pictured at the top of the post)

Garlic Breadsticks

If you have any other burning questions about baking, do feel free to leave a comment or send me an email (the frugal girl {at} gmail {dot} com). And if you have a helpful tip about learning to knead, please do share in the comments.

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Sunday 18th of October 2020

Thank you. I’m doing a yeasted cake recipe by Deborah Madison from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I recommend it highly. I think since I am mixing by soon I am not stirring it up sufficiently for it to rise. It is always spreading out and staying flat during the first 45 minute ride. It’s not proofing enough. Maybe I need a machine with a hook. My arm gets tired. And the yeast is dead.


Wednesday 14th of September 2011

This is not terribly accurate information. Gluten is the formation of linkages between glutenin and gliadin. Kneading dough is not about "stretching gluten", it is about accelerating the rate at which these molecules collide and link to form the gluten chain.

Gluten development does increase elasticity which allows for an airy crumb, but this is not due to the yeast. Leavening the dough is a result of yeast activity (or other leavening agent), however yeast activity is inhibited by heat which kills them. Most air pocket formation during baking is a result of steam.

For a more accurate explanation of gluten development, refer to


Friday 17th of June 2011

Whacking it does work. I do it all the time now.. I cant stand doing that shove push fold method. It traps more air into the dough and produces a more airy and light bread.. I just cant see reason in pushing dough around on itself... over stretching by slamming and folding over an arc to capture air.... if you see FRENCH KNEADING on youtube... I think you may see the results too


Thursday 21st of January 2010

I took a closer look at your pictures of French bread today before I made some and ended up adding about 2 extra tablespoons of flour before turning it out (taking me somewhere between 2 1/2 and 2 3/4 cups of flour). It turned out perfect! I sprayed my hands just a little too, but I don't think that would have been necessary. Thanks for the suggestions!


Wednesday 20th of January 2010

Kristen thanks for the informative post. I have been a reader of your blog for a little while now and just recently decided to start a food blog myself (still in the design stage though!) Your posts on frugality and the wonderful bread pictures have been an inspiration to me.

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