Like pizza making, dough preparation and shaping are very tactile experiences. Getting to know the feel of properly kneaded dough takes time and patience to learn.
However, understand that for most recipes fully kneaded dough should register between 77º and 81ºF; slower rising sourdough bread from 75º to 78ºF. This is one place where your instant-read thermometer is indispensable. It is unwise to knead in a mixer to a temperature higher than 81ºF because it will affect the yeast and the rise, resulting in dense, gummy bread. If you reach that temperature range, but still think the dough needs more kneading, finish it on the counter by hand.
Gluten Structures & the “Windowpane Test”
Hearth bread relies in part on gluten structure to obtain that classic open-hole crumb in the baked loaves, because the gluten forms walls around the gas pockets created by fermentation. The best way to ensure that the gluten is fully developed is to use the “windowpane test” pull off a golf-ball-sized piece of your kneaded dough, flatten it and stretch it out between the thumb and forefinger of both hands in front of a good light source. The dough should not tear, and there should be a dark web of gluten strands showing within the “pane.” Dough that is in the right temperature range and passes this test is ready to rise, or more properly, ferment, because it has achieved the optimum environment for gas production from the yeast, plus flavor from lactobacilli and enzyme activity in the dough. (WarningDoughs made with gritty flours and whole wheat flours do not perform well with this test.)
If you do knead by hand, get ready for a workout! The dough should be pushed away from you on the counter, forcefully, with both hands. Turn it, and then push away again, three or four more times. Grab one end, twist your wrist as you take the dough up to shoulder height, and slam what was the top of the dough down on the counter. Slamming it down, after pushing it away from you, elongates the gluten strands. The same technique should be used when you finish machine kneaded dough on the counter, only nowhere near as many times. One French baker, who kneads all her baguette dough by hand, swears that 700 times are about right for good dough. Watch our Hand Kneading Dough Video to see how it is done.
Next, learn how to Slash (or Dock) a loaf.Back Forward
This is the sort of crumb or hole structure, you are looking for in your hearth bread. The dark chunks are pieces of Kalamata olives in our Olive & Thyme Boule. The incredible oven spring that results from wood-fired baking is apparent in the pattern of the gas pockets from bottom to top.