Sourdough Workshop: Mixing and Fermenting the Dough

January 30, 2014

Sometimes you may need to knead your bread and sometimes you might not. It depends on the recipe. Either way, ingredients should be added in the following order: Starter first. Salt last.

No-Knead Bread

If you're baking no-knead bread, all you need to do is mix the ingredients so that all the liquid is absorbed and there aren't any loose clumps of flour left. See the first photo below.

Kneaded bread:

If your bread requires kneading, the dough might require an 'autolyse' period before kneading. Autolyse is a resting time that allows the flour to better absorb the liquid you've added, and makes it easier to handle. To do an autolyse, mix all ingredients except the salt and let the dough sit for 15 - 20 minutes. That's all there is to it.

Next, add the salt, and knead in a mixer or by hand.

The point of kneading is to stretch out the gluten, and gluten is what holds the shape of the bread. Here's a video on how to knead your dough by hand. Even if you have a mixer it's helpful to know what the dough should feel like when it's ready:

How do you know when you've kneaded the dough enough? It depends on your recipe, and it probably will be stated. If it doesn't say, then you can assume you need to make a smooth dough.

You can check the gluten development using the window pane test or by forming the dough into a ball and checking if it's lumpy.
  • A little lumpy = medium gluten development.
  • smooth ball = full gluten development.
1) Just mixed dough 2) Medium 3) Smooth
Fermenting the dough

When you've finished mixing or kneading your dough, you need to let it rest for some time. This is the fermentation period. In that time, the dough should double in size.

This stage takes longer on a cold day, but you can speed it up by putting the dough in a warmer place. The top of the fridge is ideal. You can also try turning on the oven for 5 minutes, turning it off, then sticking the dough in the oven (in a large bowl covered with a plate - not plastic wrap) to rise. 

To determine if the dough is ready to shape, press it with a finger. If your finger creates a hole that doesn't spring back up again, the dough is ready.

Start from the beginning: Sourdough Workshop Index.

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