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.