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.