Developing Gluten

I think I am about to throw out (or freecycle) my bread machine that I have had for more than two decades. I’ve decided I need better control over how bread dough is kneaded to develop gluten.

When I go on long day hikes, which I often do for trail maintenance, I like to pack a sandwich. Lately I’ve been experimenting with submarine sandwiches. Subway has stopped selling my regular sandwich, so I’ve been trying to make my own. However, finding suitable bread has been a challenge. Hoagie rolls are too hard, french baguettes are too big and too dense, etc.

I found a copycat bread recipe. It has instructions for making the dough with a mixer using a dough hook, which I own, but had never used. The recipe mentioned that readers have reported success using a bread machine, so I tried that. The dough turned out dense and crumbly, and nothing at all like Subway bread.

More research led me to learn that this symptom is most likely caused by kneading the dough insufficiently. Kneading causes the gluten to develop a structure which gives elasticity to the dough, and this elasticity makes the baked bread less crumbly and more airy. So I tried the recipe again in my mixer, and though still not perfect, it was much closer to what I wanted.

I will probably never use my bread machine again. It has been many years since I have baked bread in it. I will say that waking up in the morning to the smell of freshly baked bread is fantastic. However, I have lately only been using the machine for its dough mode, primarily for pizza dough. Both my mixer and my food processor can mix bread dough. The bread machine warms the dough for its first rise, but otherwise it provides no benefit over these other machines. That makes it rather redundant.

(I am not trying to make the point that all bread machines are bad. It might just be mine. Mine is a simple, low-cost model from the early days of bread machines.)

Meanwhile, I have more to learn about kneading and gluten and elasticity. I think I need to learn to be precise about how much kneading is done. For every bread recipe, I need to experiment with more and less kneading. I also need to learn how to knead by hand. Then I need to apply these lessons to all of the bread recipes I make.

I need to get better at making the sub sandwich bread. My pizza crust recipe could use some improvement, and kneading it differently might be just what it needs (although, I think what it really needs is more oil). I would like to try again making italian bread and sweet bread.