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Making yeast bread typically involves several basic steps. You need to mix the ingredients, knead the dough, then let it rise before you shape a loaf and bake it. Kneading plays an important role in the formation of a loaf of bread. You knead bread to help gluten, or the combination of water and the proteins, glutenin and gliadin, develop. The gluten in turn forms a mesh structure the traps the gas produced by the yeast, which allows the dough to rise.
How to Knead
You can knead bread dough in a few ways. You can use a machine, such as a stand mixer or a food processor, or you can use your hands. Hand kneading is a little more involved but, can be an enjoyable part of the bread making process. To knead by hand, sprinkle some flour on a clean counter. Set the dough on the counter and sprinkle a bit more flour on top of it. Pick up the edge of the dough that is farthest from you and fold it over the rest of the dough. Push the dough away from you using the palm of your hand. The dough will stretch a bit as you do so. Repeat the process and don't be afraid to be rough with the dough.
Length of Time
How long you need to knead dough depends on the type of flour you use and your experience level. The average time is about 10 minutes but, if you are new to bread making, you might need longer. Bread flour, which has a higher gluten content than all-purpose flour, typically needs a longer kneading time. You do not want to under-knead the dough or over-knead it. If you knead for too long, the finished bread will be stiff and hard to eat.
When It's Ready
Bread dough is ready once it feels smooth and has an elastic quality. You can test the dough to see if you've kneaded it enough by tearing off a small piece. Stretch the piece of dough into a flat square. The dough should develop a thin membrane as you stretch it. If the membrane breaks or the dough tears in half, knead for a bit longer. This is referred to by bakers as the "windowpane" test, because the dough should stretch enough to be see-through.
If you find you don't enjoy getting your hands dirty when making bread and don't own a stand mixer or food processor to handle the kneading for you, you can make bread without kneading at all. To make a no-knead bread, you replace active kneading with more water and more time. Over the course of many hours, the water and proteins combine to form gluten. Instead of kneading the dough for several minutes at a time, you'll simply stretch and fold it periodically. While you don't have to worry about getting dough all over your hands when you make no knead bread, it takes significantly longer. Most breads require at least 24 hours for rising.