What Kind of Kneader Are You?

I have a question for you bread bakers out there. If you use a technique that involves kneading, what sort of atmosphere do you like to create for yourself ?

Do you like quiet and solitude, or do you prefer a livelier vibe?

Last Summer I was re-reading Brother Juniper's Bread Book, and I paused at his chapter, "Buy the Bread, We knead the Dough". I left a separate bookmark at this chapter, and Peter Reinhart's discussion has made me a more mindful bread baker ever since.

This chapter is about kneading as meditation, and the therapeutic benefits of the kneading process.

One of the most satisfying aspects of breadmaking is kneading dough. Much has been said and written about the therapeutic benefits of kneading, which range from the physical exercise to the emotional release, the psychological workout, and the personal satisfaction.

...my interest in breadmaking was sparked because of kneading, which was, from the start, the most enjoyable part of the entire process... The act of kneading dough can become a meditation if you perform it without distractions...

...Try to schedule your dough making when there are not too many distractions so that you can knead in peace. Once the dough is formed and rising, you can resume your other activities but, if you establish kneading time as sacred time, you will enjoy the synergistic opportunity. Let the process of handling the raw dough ground you, connect you, and center you...

I found myself for a while changing my dough-making habits. I made an effort to begin my morning, after A. and O. were at school, by coming home and making my dough. I liked the idea of organizing my day around the dough, and I enjoyed being able to give it my full attention. It felt calming, ordered and productive.

Sometime after trying this routine, I began baking with a book I found years ago, but had never used, Country Baking by Ken Haedrich. I had to laugh when I came across a passage in a section called Kneading 101.

A good way to find your kneading rhythm is to play music while you knead. I used to think that kneading had to be some sort of meditative exercise, done in absolute silence in a contemplative state of mind; heaven knows where I got that idea. Anyway, that never worked for me; 10 minutes of contemplative kneading can seem like an eternity. Eventually I discovered I was a rock-and-roll kneader....

As for me, I've never tried kneading to music. I'm not sure it's a good fit. I lean more toward liking the quiet. Solitude is optional.

What I definitely don't like in my breadmaking is feeling chaotic and rushed. Then the baking is just about producing a loaf of bread to eat. The benefits of the process are lost completely.

Sometimes when I'm mixing dough while cooking dinner, I've run out of time and brought a bowl of dough over to the dinner table and kneaded or turned every few minutes in the middle of our dinner.

The last time I did this O. thought it was really "cool". She had a ringside seat and was captivated, watching me make the shaggy dough come together into a smooth ball. Maybe it's a little like the experience of going to Benihana with my mother when I was a kid.

Recently O. told me she wants to be an artist and a baker when she grows up. Maybe I've found my niche in tableside kneading. It could be a way to encourage a whole new generation of bakers!