A baked product, to get to its final shape, must follow a path that has simple ingredients as its starting point and the finished product as its point of arrival.
Simplifying, we can say that this process begins with the dough phase, continues with the leavening phase and ends with cooking.
Each of these phases can in turn be developed and divided into several operations.
A bread made with indirect dough, for example, will include 2 phases of dough: the first will be the one to make the pre-dough (biga, poolish), while the second will be that of the final dough.
Even the leavening can take place in several moments, there is usually the resting phase of the freshly kneaded mass which takes the name of "puntata or puntatura", after which the division into portions of the desired weight takes place (for example, in the case of pizza , in balls of about 200 g), and the final leavening, also called "dressing".
In most cases, cooking takes place in a single moment, even if for example, with pizza by the slice, the red or white bases are pre-cooked, and then they go into the oven at a later time with the final ingredients.
As you can see, the creation of any leavened product is a long and delicate process, during which the utmost attention must always be paid, as a mistake made at the beginning of processing can continue throughout it and have repercussions on the quality of the finished product. .
It is therefore clear that a good product cannot be separated from a good dough.
The dough is the initial phase of the whole process, perhaps one of the most delicate. During this phase, many processes begin: gluten takes shape, the enzymes in the flour begin to work, starting the maturation process, the yeasts find food for their multiplication process ... there are really a lot of things that happen from the moment we activate our mixer or simply start mixing the ingredients in our bowl.
Usually the goal of a good dough is to be able to form a resistant and extensible gluten mesh, while managing to oxygenate our dough well.
If we manage to trap a lot of oxygen in the dough, this will be used for a greater multiplication of the yeasts, which will produce more carbon dioxide during leavening, which, if we are able to create a resistant and extensible gluten mesh, will be retained and will give us a product with greater volume and greater alveolation.
The result of these multiple steps, therefore, will be a light and well leavened product.
This goal, kneading by hand, is not always easy to achieve, because often and willingly you end up kneading too much, having to add a lot of flour and getting quite hard dough.
A small technique that can come to our aid when kneading is what I call “rests”. It consists of dividing the kneading phase into short manipulations, followed by some resting phases of 10-15 minutes.
You start by combining flour, water, yeast and salt in a bowl and, with a spoon, mix until you create a raw mixture, but which no longer has free water in the bowl. It will take about 30 seconds of work. Once this is done, we begin to knead with our hands, trying to close the edges of the dough from the outside of the bowl, towards the center of the same. With this movement we try to incorporate a lot of air into the dough. We work in this way for about 1 minute and, if required by the recipe, we add oil or some other type of fat only at this point. We knead again until the latter is absorbed and then we stop. We must have a very rough dough, the gluten mesh has not yet formed well, if we roll a piece of dough it must tear.
We cover so as not to create crusts on the dough and let it rest at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
Once the rest is finished, we resume the dough and continue to knead by taking the outer edges of the dough and always closing them in the center. You will immediately feel that the dough has a completely different consistency, it already seems more silky and soft, while before it was rougher and coarser.
Work the dough for no more than a minute, without using too much force and close it in the shape of a ball.
Now it is up to you to understand if the pasta needs more rest or it can already be fine. Usually for doughs up to 55% hydration after the first rest the dough is finished. You realize this because if you try to work the dough a few moments more, it does not tear immediately, leaving parts that are still moist to glimpse. This happens instead with more hydrated doughs, which need an additional rest to be complete. You simply have to cover the dough and let it rest for another 15-20 minutes, then knead for about a minute and you will find a smooth and velvety dough, which has created a discrete gluten mesh.
The dough, at this point, is ready to begin the first real leavening phase, called the stake, which is also very important in determining the type of product we can obtain.
But we will deal with the leavening and subsequently the baking in the next articles, for now having seen a different dough technique than usual can already be an excellent starting point to try and touch the differences.
These are not new techniques that I invented, or that are the fruit of innovative and particular research, it is simply a further step of the return to the past that we are (rightly) experiencing in the field of nutrition: in your opinion 200 years ago, when they did not exist. kneaders or other mechanical aids, when they kneaded kilos and kilos of bread for large families or for the pizzerias of Naples, what were the kneading techniques like? Is it more likely that they worked the dough indefinitely, or that they let themselves be helped by time, as we have described here today?