The first two purposes of mixing—combining the ingredients into a dough and distributing the yeast—are accomplished during the first part of this step. The remaining time is necessary to develop the gluten. Overmixed and undermixed doughs have poor volume and texture (review “Mixing and Gluten Development,”).
Mixing times given in formulas in this book are guidelines only. You must learn to tell by sight and feel when a dough is thoroughly mixed. This can be done only through experience. A properly developed dough feels smooth and elastic. A lean dough should not be sticky.
The windowpane test is a good indication of complete and proper gluten development. To apply the test, take a small ball of the developed dough and stretch it as shown in the photo. It should form a thin, translucent membrane. Please note that this test works best for standard white breads. Whole-grain doughs do not form a gluten window because the particles of bran break or interfere with the gluten strands. Also, many sourdoughs do not easily form a gluten window because the acidity of the dough affects the gluten.
Mixing speeds in formulas should be taken as guidelines rather than as firm instructions. Small mixers, whose motors and gears are not as strong as those of larger mixers, can be damaged if they are run at too high a speed with stiff bread doughs. In such cases, a lower speed than the one indicated in the formula should be used. For the same reason, batches of stiff dough should be kept small. Too large a batch puts excessive strain on the machine.
Follow the recommendations of the mixer manufacturer with regard to mixing times and batch sizes; manufacturers’ recommendations should take priority over the instructions in this book. If a slower speed is used, extend the mixing time as necessary to obtain a properly mixed dough. Depending on the mixer, developing a dough at first or slow speed requires approximately twice as much time as at second speed.
Rich doughs are generally undermixed slightly because a greater tenderness is desired for these products. Rye breads are also mixed less because of their weaker gluten, which tears easily.
Overmixing is a common error in bread making. Gluten that is developed too long stretches nearly as far as it can and loses its elasticity. Then it tears instead of stretches, and molding is more difficult. The texture and volume of overmixed products are less desirable.
Salt, used in proper quantities, helps alleviate this problem because it makes gluten stronger and more elastic.