Bread Kneading: A Visual Guide to the Consistency of Doughs

See exactly how your bread dough should look at every stage.

loaf of bread on towel

Kelsey Hansen

There are fewer things more delicious than a slice of freshly-baked bread. Even better? When it's made from-scratch by you! If you're on a new journey into bread-baking, there can be challenges when figuring out the scientific method of yeast bread or quick bread. Once you get the hang of making fresh bread—with the assistance of our Test Kitchen's tips and visual guide below—you'll be acing proper consistency of dough every time.

Less Is More

Carefully read recipe directions and descriptions of how the dough will look. For the right texture, your dough may need to be on the sticky side and your recipe will note that. Use the least amount of flour possible to allow you to knead the dough, and use your bench scraper to help lift and fold the dough.

The Consistency of Doughs

BHG bread recipes include descriptions for the dough (or batter)—soft, smooth, ragged, sticky, lumpy—to help you under stand how it will look and feel. These photos offer a visual guide for the mixing and kneading steps.

01 of 09

Moderately soft dough; smooth and elastic

bread dough consistency visuals

Brie Goldman

This dough is soft and supple but elastic (holds its shape and pulls back together).

Gluten Development

Two proteins in flour, gliadin and glutenin, combine to create gluten when mixed with water. During kneading, gluten strands begin lining up and strengthening, essentially forming a matrix within the dough to trap carbon dioxide that is released during rising.

02 of 09

Soft dough; smooth, elastic, and slightly tacky

bread dough consistency visuals

Brie Goldman

Soft dough is smooth, elastic, and slightly tacky. It's similar in smoothness and elasticity to the moderately soft dough image, though slightly sticky to the touch.

03 of 09

Dough pulls away from the side of the bowl

bread dough consistency visuals

Brie Goldman

When mixing is done, this dough will come together in more of a ball and stop sticking to the bowl sides.

04 of 09

Press/knead just until dough comes together

bread dough consistency visuals

Brie Goldman

For biscuits, you want tenderness vs. tugginess, so the dough is kneaded just until it holds a loose shape.

05 of 09

Dough holds together in a ragged ball

bread dough consistency visuals

Brie Goldman

The edges of this dough will rough, jagged, and not smooth.

Purpose of Proofing

Proofing is the final rise, which is done in a warm location to encourage yeast activity. This rise produces carbon dioxide bubbles that will get trapped within the network of gluten strands. During baking, these bubbles create permanent air pockets that open and lighten the texture of the bread.

06 of 09

Stir in flour (dough will be sticky and soft)

bread dough consistency visuals

Brie Goldman

This dough will be loose, not hold any shape, and will stick to the bowl sides and spoon.

07 of 09

Moderately stiff dough that is smooth

bread dough consistency visuals

Brie Goldman

This dough is firmer, tighter, and as you knead, it has less give. When shaped, it has a smooth surface.

Why Rest?

Resting allows the gluten strands to recover and relax from kneading, which makes rolling and shaping easier and prevents the dough from tightening and shrinking back into its ball shape.

08 of 09

Stir until flour mixture is moistened

bread dough consistency visuals

Brie Goldman

For a tender texture, stir the least amount possible to avoid gluten development. Stir just until ingredients and evenly mixed.

09 of 09

Stir until just moistened (batter will be lumpy)

bread dough consistency visuals

Brie Goldman

For tenderness, most muffins and quick breads call for brief stirring, just until batter is mixed but still looks lumpy.

Use these bread dough visuals to knead your way into a delicious loaf. For inspiration, try one of our favorite bread recipes. Or continue the baking journey by making your own sourdough.

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