A guide to kneading dough with a food processor

Dough above 75 percent hydration are very sticky. Bread Illustrated suggests a mixer for these dough so you can stay “hands off” until the kneading of the dough hook turns it into something more manageable. If you don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, or like ours the dough hook just makes a mess, you can use a food processor!

Tips for use

Bread Illustrated suggests using the standard metal blade, since the dough hook attachment doesn’t reach to the edge of the bowl. Ice-cold water is suggested, as the movement of the blades quickly creates heat. I’ve used the metal blade, it works well, and I add ingredients at fridge instead of room temperature.

From my personal experience, the food processor is very good for a few specific situations: pizza dough works great and comes together in minutes, and low-hydration dough forms a tight ball in minutes. I have done both bread and pizza dough in quick succession because they’re so quick.

One very big drawback is that the machine quickly gets stuck with breads above 72 percent hydration and those using a tanzhong, which is a sticky flour-and-water roux for adding moistness to the final product. I made a whole wheat bread recently that was both heavier and higher in hydration. The flour soaked up more liquid than normal, so it didn’t seem sticky, but the whole weight of the dough was nearly too much for the machine. The blades struggled to keep turning.

In either of the cases above, when the machine is jammed or overworked, it clicks off and needs to sit and then be restarted. You can feel the heat coming off the side of the machine when the motor is struggling. Bread Illustrated, in fact, recommends that a food processor not be used for more structured dough because the blade can cut the gluten strands, but I’ve forged ahead anyway and it doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference to the end product, the biggest issue for me has been keeping the blades from getting jammed.

Steps by step

The steps to kneading when using the food processor are something like this:

  1. Mixing. I like to mix the water into the other ingredients already in the machine’s bowl little by little, in maybe 3-4 parts and pulse the machine after each addition.
  2. Rough dough. The dough will start to come together and will be rough.
  3. Kneading. The dough should come together into a ball or two balls by pulsing the machine. Eventually the balls will start to bat around the inside of the mixer, slapping against the side. This is akin to the rough hand-kneading process. I haven’t seen the gluten being “cut” at this stage as Bread Illustrated suggested, but I might just not know what to look for.
  4. “Windowpane test”. After maybe two minutes, open the bowl (I unplug the machine to be safe). If the dough passes the “windowpane test”, which means the dough can stretch until translucent without breaking, it is ready to go.
  5. Hand kneading. Turn the dough onto the counter and knead it a few times to bring it together.

Bread Illustrated, my pick for top breadmaking cookbook

This past month I was deep in the early learning phases of making yeasted bread and I came across this great book, Bread Illustrated by America’s Test Kitchen. After looking through dozens of cookbooks, it was exactly what I was looking for.

I was struggling to understand the timing of everything: When making a bread, why wait for an hour, what am I waiting for, can I move to the next step? Bread Illustrated has step-by-step instructions with photos at each step. It includes useful tips for common issues like under-kneading or sticky dough. For a beginner, it does a great job of laying out the basic transferable concepts in breadmaking, which are often lost in other books because of their focus on individual recipes and glossy photos.

Here’s a bit of the basics that I learned from the book: The basic steps of breadmaking are mixing, kneading, first rise, shaping, second rise,  baking, and cooling. The steps are, in order:

  1. Mixing brings the ingredients together (3 minutes)
  2. Kneading develops stretchy gluten and brings the dough into a ball (10 minutes, by hand)
  3. First rise is waiting for the bread to double in size (about an hour)
  4. Shaping is when you roll or ball the dough into a shape to fit its baking pan (a few minutes)
  5. Second rise is an hour or so where the dough rises again to nearly fill its pan (about 45 minutes)
  6. Baking creates the final loaf with its crust and fluffy, risen texture (from 25-45 minutes, depending on the recipe)
  7. Cooling allows the bread to finish baking and release steam (about 3 hours)

Bread Illustrated is available online and as a NYPL ebook.

Home baking Japanese shokupan (white bread)

In Japan they have this really fluffy, Wonderbread-style loaf that they call shokupan. It’s basically freshly baked white bread except more exotic because the recipe is from Japan. I’ve been into baking lately so I decided to make my own.

When I was starting out I used a recipe from Ethan Chlebowski and another from Kitchen Princess Bamboo. I actually preferred the latter, even though it didn’t include egg or the additional tangzhong step, which is a roux made from flour and water.

I even bought this book about shokupan at Kinokuniya, the local Japanese bookstore. It has great instructional photos and takes the most intensive, handmade approach, but the recipe is still roughly the same as below.

Here is the rough recipe with the ingredients listed as a percent of the flour, by weight:

  • Bread flour
  • Milk and water (68-72%)
  • Sugar (5-10%)
  • Salt (2%)
  • Yeast (0.3-1.3%)
  • Butter (5%)

Mix ingredients until they come together into a ball. Add in butter, knead again. Once the dough comes together in a ball and passes the “windowpane test“, proof it for an hour. After that, shape the loaf by rolling it into a loaf the length of your loaf pan (think of the shape of a cinnamon roll, only fatter).

Once the bread has risen nearly to the top of the pan, bake it for 25-28 mins at 390 F or 30 mins at 375 F.

These recipes sometimes include egg, dried milk, or other additives. Some recipes use a tangzhong, which is a roux made from flour and water, though I’ve found it makes the dough even stickier than normal.

I tried several methods for working the dough:1. Our vintage Sumbeam mixer. The dough climbed the hooks and ended up inside the mixer, which took hours to clean out. I don’t recommend it.2. By hand, in a bowl or on the counter. High hydration dough sticks to everything, particularly your hands. I may try this again but it was a mess the first few times.3. The food processor. This was recommended in Bread Illustrated from America’s Test Kitchen and it actually works well as long as the dough is around 70% hydration or lower.

The biggest adjustment when making bread is the waiting. The first rise is roughly an hour, then you shape the dough and put it into the Pullman loaf pan and wait another hour. That’s the bare minimum. Some recipes have two rises or even rest the dough overnight, which lets it rise more slowly and develop more gluten and flavor.

After all the waiting, we’ve had some great bread lately and I will keep making more.