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Making Bread the Old-Fashioned Way

 Is there a basic set of instructions for converting any bread machine or food processor recipe to a recipe for making by hand?

 Yes and no. There are so many different types of recipes that have different requirements for mixing and kneading. But, in general, it just takes more time and what we in this country call elbow grease — manual labor. The good news is that any dough you can make in a bread machine or food processor, you can make by hand. Breads, pastries, starters, and batters were all made for centuries without the indisputable convenience of the bread machine, food processor, or electric mixer, and absolutely still can be today.

To keep this answer from becoming a novella, though, we'll just talk about bread dough, and skip the numerous other doughs that can be made with the help of a machine.

In general, mixing and kneading a bread dough by hand takes 10 to 15 minutes. The mixer might take 5 to 8; the food processor whips through it in 1 to 2 minutes; and the bread machine varies from model to model. Some high-gluten and whole-grain doughs take a lot more work to fully activate the gluten and enable the bread to rise.

The process for making dough by hand is straightforward enough. Put a portion of the dry ingredients in a bowl. Form a well in the center and pour in the wet ingredients. Gradually incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet with a whisk, spoon, or your hand, producing a smooth and creamy batter. Mix in the remaining flour bit by bit until the dough is ready for kneading. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead, knead, knead.

In some regards, the time-saving machines can be fussier. You often use a fast-rising yeast in a bread machine to compensate for the rigid time constraints a bread machine imposes on its dough (although many wise people we know who use bread machines just use them for mixing and kneading, then remove the dough for rising, shaping, and baking). A stand-mixer may have a dough hook, which is great for kneading, but is often inadequate for the initial mixing, making a lumpy batter. So many people start with a paddle attachment and change to the dough hook once the batter is well mixed.

Some of the best bread books — notable among them, Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads and Beth Hensperger's The Bread Bible — provide separate instructions for preparing a dough by hand and with one or more of the machines.

Finally, we appreciate the question. While we understand that time is always of the essence for most people, there is a lot to be gained by knowing how to mix, knead, and shape a loaf of bread by hand. Unless you get in there with your hands, it's hard to learn the nuances that tell you how much more flour to add to your dough on a humid day and how long to knead to get just the right measure of elasticity.



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