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Why do You Need to Knead Bread Dough?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 16, 2024
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While the practice of kneading bread dough is well established, people who do not engage in making bread from scratch do not always understand that it is an essential step if the bread is to turn out as described in the recipe. One of the most important things that takes place during the kneading process is the development of gluten, a type of protein. As the flour that makes up the dough is moistened and stirred, the gluten begins to form and also gains in strength as the dough is subjecting to the kneading process. This protein acts as a binding agent within the dough, allowing the loaf to take on a cohesive texture that will allow the substance to not fall apart during baking.

The presence of the gluten also sets the stage for another good reason to knead bread dough when making fresh bread at home. >As the gluten is acting as a binding agent, it is also helping to create small air pockets of bubbles in the dough. This is very important, as these bubbles are necessary to allow for the formation of small pockets of carbon dioxide as the dough is rising. The carbon dioxide is created by the interaction of the yeast with the other ingredients. By filling the small air pockets in the structure of the dough, the bread has a chance to rise and become supple enough to result in a loaf of bread that is light, flavorful, and airy.

When kneading, it is important to remember that the process needs to take place for at least eight to ten minutes. Typically, this is enough time to create the appearance and texture that is specified by the recipe. Of course, the best gauge is the recipe itself. If the dough does not quite seem to have the appearance suggested by the recipe, then try kneading for a few more minutes. Generally, people tend to knead the dough for too short a period of time, which can mean the yeast does not interact with the mixture as it should, the bread will not rise properly.

One by-product of choosing to knead bread dough is that the activity is good exercise. Bakers have a chance to work their upper body muscles, and gain some mental satisfaction from the process as well. While neither of these two perks have any bearing on the flavor or texture of the bread, they often are quite beneficial to the temperament of the baker.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including DelightedCooking, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon983573 — On Dec 31, 2014

Kneading is just not worth the hassle. Try it for yourself. Divide your dough in two after mixing it. One half you knead the recommended time. The other half you don't knead at all. The difference is barely noticeable.

I never knead, ever, and my bread is delicious.

By anon328466 — On Apr 03, 2013

@Planch: No knead bread dough is often a very wet dough and allowed to rise for a very long time, often 18 to 24 hours, depending on the recipe. It is handled very little after rising as well and often baked in a moisture rich environment.

The time and moisture content of the bread allows the gluten to develop. Essentially, kneading just speeds up the process, doing the same thing in a matter of minutes.

By burcinc — On Jan 25, 2013

This is why I don't like bread from bread machines recipes. It never comes out like the bread that is kneaded by hand.

I had a neighbor that used to make excellent rustic bread. He always told me that making bread is the oldest thing that humans have been doing. He said that bread dough should be kneaded by hand because the warmth of our hands help activate the ingredients. Kneading also adds air bubbles into bread that make bread lighter and more fluffy.

By turquoise — On Jan 24, 2013

@anon288406-- No, I think kneading is necessary for bread dough no matter what type of flour you're using.

By literally45 — On Jan 24, 2013

Wow. I knew that kneading is the most important part of making bread but I didn't know all the technicalities of it. I thought that it just makes the dough softer and helps it rise while baking.

I realized the importance of kneading the very first time I was making bread. I messed up he proportions in the dough and it didn't come out quite right. I was about to throw the dough away and start from scratch when my mother stopped me.

She kneaded the dough for about fifteen minutes and the dough completely changed. It became perfect. That's when I realized that kneading is vital.

By anon288406 — On Aug 30, 2012

So, does that mean kneading is not necessary with gluten free flours?

By anon174391 — On May 10, 2011

Glutenen and Gliadin are two amino acids found in wheat flour. When water is added they combine on their own to form gluten, which gives bread structure. Kneading the dough accelerates the process. That's why no knead bread works.

By anon166988 — On Apr 11, 2011

I bake bread every few days, yet knead the dough a lot less than ten minutes.

My recipe is 12 oz white bread flour, 8 oz wholemeal bread flour, a heaped teaspoon salt, a heaped teaspoon sugar, 2 sachets of dried yeast and a good glug of olive oil. Mix all ingredients dry thoroughly, including the oil, trying to rub out any large clumps the oil makes in the flour. Add enough hand hot water to make a dough that looks like the dough you see people kneading. If it's too dry, add more water. If it's too wet, sprinkle flour on your work area and knead the dough in it, adding more steadily, until you think it's OK, (it's your bread, it'll be fine).

Knead it until you feel it going rubbery, usually two or three minutes, I find. I like to bake mine in a loaf tin as I like a softish dough, and it is a very big flat loaf if it's not contained, but make it a bit stiffer, and it'll sit up nicely. Never mind all the knocking back and stuff. Just cover it with a piece of loosely fitting plastic clingfilm, gladwrap, kitchen wrap or a damp cloth, and wait until it's well risen, they say doubled it's size, but I think it's closer to trebling.

Bake for 15 mins at 220c then another 30 mins at 180c. It'll look like a loaf, taste beautiful and last three or four days if you keep it wrapped up. --Ian.

By musicshaman — On Nov 24, 2010

If the kneading activates the gluten, then how do breads without gluten work? Do they just have some sort of bread dough enhancer that holds the dough together, or what?

I've always been curious about how that works actually -- I mean, if you take the yeast out of dough then you end up with a cracker, but somehow people can take the gluten out of dough and still end up with bread.

How does this work? Can anybody explain this to me? I'm not a baker (I barely cook), but I am really interested in stuff like this, so I'd really appreciate it if somebody could clue me in as to how this works.


By EarlyForest — On Nov 24, 2010

If you do a lot of baking, and don't want to wear yourself out, then you might want to consider getting a bread dough kneading machine.

They have all kinds of different machines, some of which are hand-operated, and some of which are entirely mechanical, like a mixer.

I know that some people really hate using these things because they say that you can't get a feel for the bread if you don't knead it yourself, but I really think that you can get good results with a machine, sometimes even better results than you can get from hand-kneading, if you're a beginning baker.

This type of thing is also great for impatient bakers like me, who get bored after about 30 seconds of kneading. So if you'd like to try baking, but have always been scared off by all the kneading, you might want to try a dough kneading machine -- they really do give you good results, and you don't have to worry about developing football player shoulders.

By Planch — On Nov 24, 2010

So then how does no knead bread dough work? Because there are some recipes for bread in which you don't have to knead it, and yet they come out just like regular bread.

I've been trying to figure this out for a while now, especially because a lot of the recipes that I use for no knead bread dough look very similar to those for regular bread dough -- there's no baking soda or baking powder or anything like that that could make it rise.

Do you have any idea how something like this works, and why some bread doughs have to be kneaded while others don't?

I'd be really curious to learn more about this. Thanks for the interesting article!

By anon112325 — On Sep 19, 2010

Clear, precise information. I always wanted to know why kneading dough is so important.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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