Making a dough can be a big challenge. It can’t be too soft or the bread won’t hold it’s shape. It also can’t be too firm or you will be stuck with a few other bread issues. So what exactly does happen if you over knead bread dough?
Let’s find out!
Why Knead Bread Dough?
Before taking a look at what happens if you over knead a bread dough, let’s first see why you need to knead dough at all. There are actually two main reasons why kneading a dough is so important.
The first reason is to add strength to the dough and the second is to provide structure for the final baked product.
Flour is made with two proteins called gliadin and glutenin. When the two combine, they form gluten. When a dough is first mixed, the proteins are all jumbled up, kind of all around the dough.
As the dough is kneaded, the proteins begin to become more orderly, lining up to form long chain amino acids that make the dough strong. The longer you knead the dough, the stronger it will get!
As you knead the dough you are creating uniformity in the dough. You will feel it get more smooth and also more tough as you need.
After kneading, when the dough bakes, this beautiful matrix of proteins that you created by kneading the dough will trap gas released from the yeast in the dough, helping the dough rise.
A well kneaded dough will hold its shape while being baked thanks to all that kneading!
On a side note, we’ve been focusing on bread dough so far, but it’s good to understand how bread dough is similar or different from pizza dough.
Best Way to Knead Dough
There are a few ways to knead a bread dough but the most tried and true method is to use your hands. Kneading a dough by hand will give you the most control over the dough.
You will be able to feel the firmness of the dough along with the texture. You can easily adjust the dough as well, adding more flour if the dough is sticky (more on that here), for example.
To knead dough by hand, one should push the dough down and forward then fold the dough over itself and repeat. Once the dough is soft, silky and springs back to the touch, the dough is done!
Another, very easy method of kneading dough is to use a bread machine. Most bread machines are programmed to mix ingredients and knead the dough for you which makes them an almost fool proof method of kneading.
However, bread machines are limited in the kind of bread they can make so not all doughs will work in these convenient kitchen appliances.
Many people opt to use a stand mixer to help knead dough. Most mixers come with a dough hook (like this Cuisinart mixer) that is designed to knead dough and mimic the hand kneading method. Since stand mixers are very powerful, it can be very easy to over knead a dough using a stand mixer.
If you are using a recipe that suggests using a stand mixer, follow the directions carefully and take note of how long it is recommended to mix the dough and on what speed.
Essentially, you will be looking for the dough to pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl cleanly, then mixing for about 4-5 minutes more afterward, depending on your dough type.
Signs of Over Kneading
The first thing you will notice when you over knead a dough is that it will feel very dense and stiff. It will be hard to press the dough down and flatten it on the counter. It will also be hard to knead by hand and resist being re shaped. The dough will likely rip easily rather than stretch when pulled.
These are all indicators that the dough has developed too much gluten, causing the dough to be overly firm. When the gluten has been over developed due to too much kneading, it will be tight and have almost no give.
If this describes your dough, you have definitely over kneaded!
Baking Over Kneaded Dough
If you think that your dough have been kneaded too much but you decided to bake it anyway, you may notice that the end result is a little different than expected. First, the outside of the bread will be very hard and dense. The exterior may feel more like a rock that a nice soft bread!
Next, you will likely notice that the bread did not rise much as it baked, creating a small, solid loaf. This is because the dough had so much gluten that it created a solid barrier inside the bread, trapping the gasses released from the yeast completely and preventing them from pushing the dough upward.
When you cut into an over kneaded dough, you will notice that the interior is very dry and crumbly. The slices will likely fall apart rather than holding their shape.
While the general taste of the bread may be the same, it will not have a nice mouth feel but, again, be dry, dense and crumbly- no thank you!
What to Do When You Over Knead Dough
If you have found out that you definitely did over knead your dough, there are a few things you can do to try and help fix the dough. First, let the dough sit and rest (find out why rest is so important), untouched for about double the time recommended in a recipe.
If your recipe says to let the dough sit and rise for an hour, let it rise for two hours. If possible, place the dough in a bowl, cover it and let it rise overnight in the fridge.
The dough will cool, causing the yeast to act slower, taking a full night to inflate the dough. This will give the gluten time to relax and soften a little. It will also allow the yeast to work it’s magic and push the dough upward slightly.
After rising, shape the dough quickly and try not to play with the dough too much. You want to manipulate the dough as little as possible to prevent creating more tough strands of gluten. Let the dough do its second rise, again allowing it to rise a little longer than normal and then bake.
If the bread comes out of the oven and is still tough from over kneading, do not throw it away! This is the perfect loaf to use to make croutons or even breadcrumbs with!
There are uses for even the toughest breads (see several other ideas in my post about uses for leftover bread)!
How to Prevent Over Kneading
One of the best ways to prevent over kneading a dough is to always opt to knead by hand. When you use your hands to knead dough, you can feel the dough at every step of the way. You will know if it needs a touch more flour or if it is starting to get firm.
When you have your hands in the dough, you will likely stop kneading before the dough ever gets too tough- your hands will get tired too! Read the notes in your recipe regarding kneading and try to follow them exactly so that your kneading time coincides with the recommended and proven times.
In addition, always remember that making dough is an art form. The more you do it, the better you will become and the less likely you will be to over knead! Practice makes perfect dough.
For more tips, be sure to check out my bread baking tips and tricks post!
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.