The home bread-makers often ask themselves “Have I kneaded my dough long enough?”. A good question, as dough that is insufficiently kneaded will not rise properly or will fall flat when the top is slashed, which is very frustrating.
To know when the dough is ready, one can rely on the length of kneading time shown in the recipe or test the temperature, but both can be unreliable guides. It is better to check visually if the dough is sufficiently well kneaded. Then one can say, “OK, let's stop there”, or “No, that needs a bit longer”.
To check the dough visually, like the professionals do, we need to check for the “window-pane” effect, also known as the membrane test.
Behind this mysterious name lies a very physical phenomenon: when dough is kneaded, the gluten in the flour forms a structure, like a kind of net, which holds the dough together. This gluten network gives the dough its elasticity and traps the C02 formed during fermentation to create the “bubbles” which will become the open spaces in the bread.
If you stretch well-kneaded dough, the gluten network will prevent it breaking immediately, so it is possible to stretch it out very thinly, indicating that the gluten network is properly developed.
So, the test is very simple: if the membrane is there, the dough has been kneaded long enough. If not, continue kneading.
Now, of course, we need to know how to check whether the membrane is there or not.
To do this, stop kneading and take a small piece of dough, about the size of a walnut. Stretch this out gently: if the dough tears easily, the membrane is not yet developed and you will need to continue kneading, like in this photo:
If, on the contrary, the dough does not tear, but can be stretched out into a thin, translucent membrane, you can stop kneading. This is shown here:
Here ios a small video to show you the gesture and the result:
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