Proper kneading is one of the most important steps in making bread. Kneading develops the gluten, which gives the dough elasticity by trapping the bubbles of gas formed by the yeast. The result is a bread with an even texture that is not crumbly or dry… bread that falls apart when you slice it has not been kneaded enough.
By the time you reach the stage of kneading the dough, you will have dissolved the yeast in water and mixed in the wet and dry ingredients, including approximately half of the flour. At this point the dough should have only enough flour mixed in so the dough forms a mass in the bottom of the bowl. You will be adding most of the remaining flour as you knead the dough, but remember that the amount of flour needed can vary greatly depending on the type of flour being used and even the amount of humidity in the air.
Oatmeal bread dough,
kneaded and ready for rising
You will need a lightly floured surface at a comfortable height… perhaps a table or countertop. Work just enough additional flour into the mass of dough with your hand until the dough ball can be handled easily. Turn it out onto the floured surface, and using both hands (your fingertips or palms, whatever works for you), push the dough out and fold it in half. Keep folding the dough and pressing it out, turning the dough a quarter turn each time. Repeat this procedure over and over again, adding only a small amount of flour at a time whenever your hands, the dough, or the board become too sticky. Most doughs should be kneaded for at least ten minutes. When the dough has been kneaded enough, it will tell you… it will feel soft and elastic and “alive” under your hands as you knead it. You will begin to see small bubbles forming under the surface of the dough. At this point, form the dough into a rounded shape and place it into a greased bowl to rise. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and set it in a warm place (around 85°F) until it has doubled in size.
I’ve never seen this idea mentioned anywhere else, but I have found that it is very possible to knead bread in a large bowl. I discovered this by necessity after I injured my back and was no longer able to stand at the counter for long periods of time. I kneaded bread sitting in a comfortable chair with an extra large bowl on my lap, and often as I kneaded, I watched the television news channel or talked to family members, so the kneading time passed quickly and was a quiet respite I actually looked forward to. I followed the same kneading procedure described previously, keeping another small bowl containing the rest of the measured flour nearby to add to the dough as necessary. I especially appreciated the added benefit that I had no floury countertop mess to clean up afterwards.