Ideally, ingredients should be at room temperature when they go into the pan. However, due to potential health risks, it's a bad idea to store eggs at room temperature. To bring eggs to room temperature quickly and safely, place the whole (uncracked) egg in a cup of hot tap water for four or five minutes. If your recipe calls for milk you should not use a delayed mix cycle. Cut butter or margarine into small pieces before adding it to the machine.
It's best to mix in the first two cups of flour all at once and then stir in the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time with 30 or 40 strokes of the mixing spoon after each addition. When your batter has pulled together into a lump of dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
To keep dough from sticking to your work surface, a rectangular bench knife is a very handy tool to have. Use your bench knife to handle the dough when it's too wet to fold with your hands or to scrape the dough off of the work surface. Also, by putting flour on your hands first before kneading it is less likely to stick on your hands.
Kneading is a very rhythmic process. The basic motion for kneading dough is this; fold over, push down, quarter turn.
- Step one: Grab the far end of the dough blob and fold it towards you.
- Step two: Push down on the folded dough with both hands. When the dough is soft this will be a very gentle push, but as the dough gets stiffer you can be more forceful. When the dough is pushed down it should be stretched but not torn.
- Step three: Turn the dough a quarter turn and start again. Repeat this for 8 to 10 minutes and your dough should be fairly smooth and elastic.
Making bread is like weaving fabric. If you don't weave it tightly enough, or weave it too tightly, the bread does not rise right. Instead of yarn the baker is weaving together strands of gluten protein. If you pull a chunk of dough apart you can see the strands of wheat gluten. These strands of protein have to be woven together so that the dough will inflate properly.
Dough will feel different depending on what ingredients are in it. Fats such as butter, milk and oil will soften dough, while eggs will make it lighter. Adding flours without gluten such as rye, soy or oat flour will make the dough weaker and stickier. No matter what type of dough you are making, dough that is well kneaded will be both soft and strong.
The trick is to feel how your dough is developing: Is it soft, stiff, sticky or dry? One big fear that people have is that they knead the dough too much. In fact, it is pretty much impossible to over-knead dough by hand. Mechanical mixers can over-stretch the gluten web, but it would take extremely vigorous kneading to do this with human hands. If you do feel your dough getting stiff and starting to tear, just cover it and let it relax for a few minutes.
If your dough feels stiff and dry, just sprinkle a little water on it and knead the dough a few times to work the water in; repeat as necessary. If your dough is extremely wet, simply add a little extra flour to your work surface and knead your dough a few times until it is worked in. Keep adding flour until your dough has firmed up sufficiently. Make a note on your recipe to add more flour (or decrease the water) the next time that you make that bread.
When your dough is well kneaded, you should also be able to see small bubbles on the surface of the dough. It will also feel smooth, supple and elastic. If it does, your dough is ready to be put in a bowl to rise. Before you oil the bowl, smell your hands. They should be soft and have the warm sweet smell of dough on them. It really is nice to knead!