Amateur bakers quickly learn that making bread is a waiting game. Depending on the recipe and type of yeast used, rising alone can take anywhere from three to 24 hours, meaning that a lot of a baker’s energy goes toward keeping an eye on towel-covered dough. The entire process results in something delicious, but can potentially overwhelm first-timers who aren’t prepared to spend the afternoon worrying about whether their loaves have doubled in size.
Understandably, home bakers might wonder why some breads spend so much time rising. More to the point, why do some loaves need to rise a second time at all? The answer has a lot to do with how bakers achieve the desired texture for different types of loaves.
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Rising, or proofing, is the process by which yeasted breads achieve their structure and height. When active, yeast converts sugar and other foods into gas, which is then trapped by the dough. The same process can be observed in sourdough starter, which tends to rise in volume after it’s been fed.
The gas bubbles created during the first rise create the types of loaves known for their craterous holes. Breads like this garlic-thyme focaccia, for example, are usually only given one rise; English muffins, too, derive their nooks and crannies from a single rise. Breads with a tighter, smoother crumb structure require a bit more help from the baker, however, which is why the chef is next instructed to push out all the gas that the yeast has just put into the dough.Watch: How to Make Rosemary Focaccia Bread
By deflating — or punching down — the dough after the first rise, the baker is allowing the yeast to move to areas where more sugars are available. The yeast can then repeat the same process during the second rise and create more gas to be trapped in the dough. Because the yeast has already exhausted some of the dough's food supply, it won’t be as energetic and will create much smaller air bubbles. Those smaller bubbles will allow for a texture more suited to sandwich bread, however, and will result in hardier bread. After a second rise, bakers can finish up beautiful loaves like this rich chocolate babka or this salt-rising bread.
Some recipes demand a third rise. This white bread, for example, credits its softness to its additional proof. Most recipes stop at the second, however, so as not to fully exhaust the yeast, which continues to contribute to rising while in the oven.
When going through the rising steps, it’s important not to overproof your bread. After the first rise, most experts recommend pressing a finger into the dough. If it holds its shape, then it’s ready for the next step. After the second rise, however, a baker is looking for the dough to spring back at her slowly when she pokes it. The second proving has given the bread more elasticity, and made it harder to deflate the air.
Second rises may add significantly to the total time it takes to complete a loaf of bread, but the step can be essential to achieving the taste and texture inherent to a number of popular breads. By understanding how the rising process affects dough, bakers can better choose whether they want their bread to rise, and how many times it will need to do so to achieve the end result.
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