MIXING: Have a small bowl of bread flour close at hand. Add the dry ingredients to a mixing bowl that is large enough to accommodate about 3 pounds of dough. Blend the yeast and salt into the flour. Add the water to the bowl. With a rounded plastic dough scraper, bring the ingredients together into a shaggy mass by running the scraper down the inside wall of the bowl and bringing the ingredients up from the bottom of the bowl and dragging them on top of the ingredients that were on top of the bowl (illustrations A and B). Rotate the bowl about a quarter turn with each stroke, so you are always working on a different portion of the dough. With each stroke more of the water will be incorporated into the dry ingredients. After a minute or 2 the flour should all be hydrated, and you will have a sticky, shaggy, very “undoughlike” mass (illustration C). Resist any temptation to add more flour! What begins as a rather unruly mess will transform in a few minutes into a lovely supple ball of nicely kneaded dough. Once the flour is hydrated, scrape the dough onto an unfloured work surface (illustration D).
Now we begin the actual kneading process, which consists of 4 movements. Although described as discrete steps, they are actually performed as one fluid motion. Once learned, you will notice a pleasing flow and rhythm to the actions. Begin by pointing both thumbs to either the left or the right, whichever feels more natural, and grab the dough sideways with your thumbs on top and four fingers wrapped underneath, as in illustration E. Pick up the dough, rotating and turning it as you do, so that your thumbs are now pointing upward (illustration F). Slap the tail down onto the work bench so that it is pointing away from you (illustration G), and lift and fold the portion of dough in your hands up and over the top (illustration H and I). This action is not a smearing of the dough with the heels of the hands, but a swift stretching and folding of the dough, more or less in half. That completes one stroke of the kneading process. Again point your thumbs to the same side as you did for the first stroke and repeat the motion. By always starting with your thumbs pointed to the same side, it means that you are working up about 25 percent of the dough with each stroke, and the full mass is worked once every 4 strokes.
Periodically use the flat side of the plastic scraper to clear the dough from the bench, adding this dough back to the mass. After 4 or 5 minutes, the dough should begin to look like a nicely structured ball (illustration J). Now it’s time to “wash” your hands with flour. Remove whatever dough you can from your hands and add it to the mass. Now take some of the flour from the small bowl you had close at hand at the beginning (the flour you were tempted to add at the beginning but resolutely resisted), spread it onto your fingers and palms, and vigorously rub away any bits of raw dough that you can, doing this over the bowl that initially held the dough ingredients. By clearing your hands of dough bits in this manner, it will be much easier to resume and conclude the mixing process. Continue in the same manner for a few more minutes, until the dough is smooth, supple, and reasonably strong. Alternatively, after cleaning your hands, allow the dough to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. As in an autolyse, you will discover that the dough has developed on its own during the brief rest, lightening your workload. When the dough has been sufficiently developed, scrape the mixing bowl thoroughly and place the dough into it, with seams down. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic. Desired dough temperature: 76°F.