Most yeast bread recipes call for letting the dough rise twice before baking. This step is not necessary but is advised because it adds texture and flavor to the finished product. Since yeast is a living organism, how it is activated and incorporated with the other ingredients is key to producing successful yeast-based baked goods.
Mixing and Kneading
Mix the dry ingredients with a whisk or electric mixer, add the liquid components and combine well with a wooden spoon or paddle attachment on the mixer. When the dough is manageable and forms a ball, remove it to a floured board or counter, flatten it into a disc and knead it for three to five minutes. This motion requires repeatedly turning and folding the disc with the heel of your hand. If the mixer has a dough hook attachment, leave the dough in the bowl and let the machine do the kneading for the same amount of time. The dough is fully kneaded when the surface is smooth and elastic. For wet, sticky dough, you can omit the kneading process and let it rise in the refrigerator overnight in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Kneading activates the gluten in the dough that forms when the flour mixes with liquids, and wet dough self-activates the gluten. Gluten forms the body of the bread and the yeast in the dough makes it rise.
First Rise and Punch Down
Place the prepared dough in a bowl large enough for it to double in size without overflowing the edges of the container. Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and set it in a warm, draft-free area to rise for one to two hours. The rising is the result of the sugar converting to carbon dioxide and alcohol based on the active ingredients in the yeast. When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down by poking it with two fingers and letting the gases escape. Briefly knead it a few times to release all of the air bubbles. But do not overwork it, as this will make the bread tough.
Before proceeding to the second rise stage, form the bread into the desired shape. This can be done by pressing the dough halfway up the interior of loaf pans, shaping it into your preferred roll forms and placing them into muffin tin holes or forming the dough as desired and placing it on the center of a baking sheet.
Cover the dough lightly with plastic wrap and let it rise until almost doubled in bulk. The second rising makes the bread fluffy and gives it more yeast flavor. Do not let it rise too much or it will overflow the pan or fall apart when it is placed into the hot oven to bake and experiences the last yeast "spurt." Let the baked bread cool in the pan for a minute or two, remove it and let it cool completely on a rack that allows air to circulate around all sides.
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