Kneading bread dough in a KitchenAid Stand Mixer

I almost broke my KitchenAid Stand Mixer again this week. My daughter turned six and requested cinnamon buns for breakfast. I’ve made them a few times over quarantined weekends with yummy results, but the process to get there has not come without stress.* I’m a perfectionist in the kitchen, so when things don’t happen as expected, my blood pressure goes up and I start ordering my family out of my way. (I’ve gotten much better from a low point of throwing an entire pan of food in the trash. Emphasis on physical pan.)

In this case, I had a few minutes to make the dough before I put the two-year-old down for his afternoon nap and leave to pick up birthday cookies for her class. I was in a rush. I didn’t have a microwave to soften the butter, or warm the milk so the yeast could bloom. I was too quick to pour the dry ingredients into the turning mixer so a cloud of flour puffed out much to the delight of my son who was playing with cracked egg shells next to me.

My go-to Cinnamom Bun recipe, minus the mimosa

from Lodge Cast Iron

Once the ingredients were all in, I watched closely for the promised ball of dough. My expectation is for a perfectly round, smooth orb. But, again, no such luck. Instead, I get a dough cylinder that tries to escape the mixing bowl. And then, the KitchenAid motor starts struggling to contain it and I start picturing that worm gear shredding. My kids, having seen this dough creature in each and every attempt, call this phenomenon “Wormy.” (Absolutely no relation to the worm gear, just a funny kid coincidence)

Wormy still turns into to great cinnamon rolls or pizza dough, once he is shaped into his correct form and left to rise in a bowl. But, I finally figured out how to save my KitchenAid Stand Mixer from the brink of failure and avoid another appearance of Wormy. Sorry, kids.

If dough is climbing the hook

“Climbing the hook” is the technical term for Wormy growing out of the bowl. There are two things to know here that most recipes don’t mention.

MIXER SPEED – When kneading dough on the dough hook, the mixer speed should be set to 2. Slower won’t get you the momentum you need to knead and faster will strain the motor.

TIME TO KNEAD – Unless explicitly mentioned, most recipe directions assume your are kneading dough by hand. My go-to cinnamon bun recipe says to knead for 5-7 minutes in a stand mixer. So, of course, that’s what I did. Recipe developers know better than me, right? Turns out, that’s way too long and exactly why Wormy appears. A little internet troubleshooting told me that dough is kneaded enough after two minutes when using a KitchenAid.

CLEAN BOWL SIDES – The ultimate sniff test (sight test?) is to make sure the dough has formed enough to pull off all the ingredients from the sides of the bowl. It may not meet expectations for a perfectly smooth orb, but if it’s a ball and there is nothing left behind in the mixing bowl, you’re good. Time to turn off the mixer. Protect the worm gear!

If a dough ball isn’t forming

This is what happened when my KitchenAid Stand Mixer broke the first time. I was making pizza dough on my own after one successful practice during an online cooking class. The ingredients were spinning and spinning, getting tough and craggy, but never ever forming a promised ball. I let the stand mixer work and work for ten minutes before it gave out and stopped spinning.

JUST ADD WATER – That’s it. Just have a few tablespoons of tap water on hand and add it to the bowl a little at a time until the dough comes together.

SHAPE AS NEEDED – If the ball that eventually forms after two minutes (just two!) isn’t perfect, there is no harm in shaping it with your hands to get to your expected dough ball results. If it’s a yeast dough, it’s going to rise into a wonderful blob anyway. So let it do it’s thing.

With all the trial and error I’ve had recently making doughs, I’ve learned one important thing: no matter what the dough looks like to start, it still bakes into something delicious. Though I’ve yet to attempt sourdough…

Happy kneading!

*Let’s talk about stress while making cinnamon buns. During the last attempt before this birthday batch, the two-year-old fell and cut the bridge of his nose on the coffee table and required three stitches. Thank goodness I had enough wherewithal to pull them from the oven before we left for the ER. They were delicious when we got home.

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