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Is there such a thing as over-kneading bread dough. From what I understand, kneading the bread dough is what allows the gluten strands to align and form the beautiful gluten networks that create bread with all the little air bubbles.

If that is the case, is it always, "the more you knead the better", or are there any negative effects that occur if you knead it longer than what your bread recipe states.

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2 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are several negative effects from over-kneading bread dough:

  • Overheating - if the dough gets too warm, it will ferment too quickly (or over ferment) and will therefore lack flavour.
  • Oxidisation - kneading for too long can cause the flour to oxidise and bleach, again impairing flavour.
  • Breaking down - eventually the molecular bonds of the gluten will break, which is obviously not what you want to happen!

The latter two are really only possible with electric mixers, however.

Most doughs are ready for fermentation when they reach an internal temperature of 77-81ºF (25-27°C). You can also check the gluten development with the Windowpane Test: pull off a chunk of dough and stretch it with your hands. It should stretch to form a very thin translucent sheet, without tearing.

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Just a note to add--without using an electric mixer, it's hard to over-knead. It's not impossible, but if done by hand it's likely you'll get tired of kneading before it's "too late," and bakers that aren't used to how bread feels and looks when its ready tend to under-knead, not over-knead. –  jandjorgensen Apr 14 '12 at 20:34
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I disagree with number two. Flour sold in shops is already oxidized, and this is a good thing. "Just-milled flour [...] makes gummy doughs and poor quality bread. As flour stands exposed to air, however, oxygen [...] reacts with the thiol groups in dough and prevents their interfering with elasticity." (Corriher: Cookwise, p. 56). In the US, producers even speed up the process using chlorine bleaches. Also, the aeration which happens in the dough during kneading is a good thing, it gives the yeast oxygen to grow on and makes for a lighter bread. –  rumtscho Apr 15 '12 at 8:39
    
Oxidisation is essentially bleaching. Any baker will tell you that unbleached flour is best. See BBA, page 58. –  ElendilTheTall Apr 15 '12 at 15:12
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@rumtscho - Some oxidation of flour is good, for the reasons you state. But excess oxidation of developing dough is bad, as Jeffrey Hamelman (more of a bread expert than Corriher) clearly states. I don't think these two things are mutually exclusive, since oxygen can have a chance to react with different elements of the flour when it is hydrated in bread dough compared to in its dry state. –  Athanasius Jan 9 '13 at 2:40
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It is also possible to overknead for a specific bread dough recipe. For example, American Sandwich Loaf bread is a lightly kneaded, white-flour pan loaf, and if you kneaded it heavily you would get the wrong texture and flavor. It might still be good, but it would be a notably different bread. Likewise brioche, pain de mie, foccacia, potato bread, and many other breads whose soft texture owes itself to a short kneading and limited gluten development.

So no, more kneading isn't always better.

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