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I made bread the other day and kneaded the dough by hand. The recipes everywhere ask for warm water, which is understandabe for the yeast to rise.

When my mother kneads dough using the same recipe, it turns out much softer and her bread in turn is softer. I wonder if it is because her hands are generally warm and mine cold? Or is it just a different kneading technique.

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Are you using the same type of flour and yeast too? –  Michael E. Jun 18 at 1:07
    
@MichaelE. Exactly the same and very similar kneading techniques –  Divi Jun 18 at 1:08
    
Same water source? I bake almost exclusively sourdough over the past 4 years and water source has affected my breads 'softness'. ( or maybe it affects yeast performance and gluten development). –  Michael E. Jun 18 at 1:14
    
@MichaelE. Water source could be different. –  Divi Jun 18 at 1:24
    
@Divi- I live on the San Francisco peninsula. Our tap water contains Chloramine. Through trial and error - and comments from a brewer friend - I've learned to slow boil the water for 30 min. in order to get rid of it in order to get better yeast activity ( and probably other things ) which resulted in 'softer' bread. I used to live near the source/reservoir. Since I've moved, my bread has reacted differently - same ingredients and process. Anyway, I'm not sure that this is an answer for you, though I recommend you try to use the same water mom uses and rule any water differences out. –  Michael E. Jun 18 at 1:39

2 Answers 2

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The temperature influences the speed of rising, but to significantly change the dough hardness, you need a very cold temperature. Even if your hands are "cold", they are certainly above air temperature, and firming up dough through coldness is only possible if you use very cold ingredients, below fridge temperature (4 Celsius).

It could be kneading technique, if by "technique" you mean the amount or type of lubricant added. Some people knead in a bowl of flour until the dough stops sticking. This will give you a very hard dough. Some use minimal amounts of flour during kneading, and yet others may knead without a lubricant, or using oil or water. Again, this is a very likely culprit in achieving different grades of softness.

A somewhat more "hidden" influence would be the direction of kneading (do you align your gluten into sheets or ropes, or do you just knead directionless) and the relaxation time given to the dough during kneading. The length will also play a role, longer kneaded dough develops more gluten and becomes tougher. But while these differences will contribute to a harder (actually "tighter") dough during kneading, they should be reduced after proofing. And the baked bread won't be harder, but slightly more translucent and chewy. This is because they result in more gluten, and what you describe (bread harder after baking) points to more flour.

So, if there is no difference in lubricant addition, one of you is probably measuring differently from the other and ending with a different ratio. Maybe one or both of you measures by volume, or is using a badly calibrated scale.

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Thanks, the way you described, it does seem that there could be some subtle differences that could be leading to different results. I'll try using the same scales as my mum's and see if that makes any difference and pay more attention to the direction –  Divi Jun 19 at 4:26
    
I invited my mum over for making the bread using all my ingredients and equipment and the bread turned out very soft again. But I did notice this time that she relaxes the dough between every knead a bit more than I do and her "kneads" stretch the dough a bit more. Can't think of anything else. –  Divi Jun 26 at 22:08

How are each of you measuring your ingredients? If, for example, you both use a scale and you both measure to within a few grams, then that's not likely the cause of the difference. If even one of you measures by volume, then there are likely differences in how much flour gets into the dough. One informal poll I read had people measure flour by volume however they normally did that, then weighed that cup of flour. The amount of flour in that cup ranged from around 80 or 90 grams to over 200 grams. Whether someone sifts, fluffs, scoops, or spoons can make a difference in the amount of flour used.

More flour in the dough, the drier the dough and tougher it is. Less flour means a softer, wetter dough. That can account for what you describe.

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