I usually knead my bread with my hands. Although a handheld mixer or a food processor would do the job just fine, I don’t like to use the food processor because it is a mess to clean. And our cheap handheld mixer usually sounds like he’s about to explode any minute.
If you knead your bread by hand, the rule of thumb is to knead your bread for ten minutes. When you knead the dough you aim for three things: mixing the ingredients properly, developing gluten, and starting the fermentation process. If you don’t feel like kneading your dough for ten minutes, there is another way you can achieve proper gluten development. The gluten development process starts once flour and water get mixed. If you mix water and flour only briefly and then stop mixing, the gluten will continue to develop. (The no-knead method is based on this.)
The French technique of autolyse calls for mixing water and flour only briefly and then letting the dough rest for 20 minutes to an hour. After that time the remaining ingredients are added. If you follow this technique you will realize that it requires much less kneading than the traditional ten minute method.
You can also use pre-ferments to improve gluten strength. Pre-ferments work like the autolyse method and the also add lots of flavour to the bread. Whenever I have the time, I like to use a combination of pre-fermentation and a knead and rest method. The pre-ferment is mixed with the remaining ingredients and kneaded for 2 minutes. Then the dough should rest for 15 minutes. After that time, the dough will have changed from loose and sticky to smooth, almost like it would be after 10 minutes of kneading.
Poppy Seed Crescent Rolls (makes 12 rolls)
200 g all-purpose flour
150 g water
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
300 g flour
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
150 ml water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 g salt
poppy seeds for sprinkling
To make the pre-ferment, combine flour, water, and yeast in a bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until all ingredients are combined properly, about a minute. Cover and let the dough rest for 3.5 hours in a place that is not too warm (about 19°C/66°F).
Add remaining ingredients to the pre-ferment and knead the dough for 2 minutes. Let sit for 15 minutes and knead for another minute. Cover the dough at let rest until doubled in size, about 60 to 90 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
Roll the dough into a rectangle of 38 to 33 cm (15 x 13 inch). If the dough is too elastic to shape it, let it rest for 1-2 minutes to relax the gluten and then start rolling again.
Cut the rectangle in half so that you get two 16.5 x 38 cm (6.5 x 15 inch) rectangles and cut those into 6 triangles. Roll them into crescents and place on two baking sheets. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 20-30 minutes.
Brush with water and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Let cool completely.