Stage III: Primary Fermentation and Punching Down

Chocolate Bread RecipeAfter the bread dough has been Mixed and Kneaded, it is usually allowed to rest and rise from fermentation*, with its length being dependent on the type of bread recipe being made. Also known as primary fermentation, this stage helps barely cohesive bread dough become more manageable – the yeast cells produce carbon dioxide, which diffuses into the dough's air pockets, slowly inflating and raising it as a result. Ths is also where most of the bread's flavor is developed from the wheat flour fermenting.

*NOTE: Technically, the initiation of fermentation really starts when yeast is triggered by hydration, from either water or some other liquid, and there is a presence of a food source, such as added sugar (but not sucrose, or table sugar) or that derived from the complex starch molecules from flour, a complex carbohydrate.

Afterwards, the risen bread dough is "punched down", also known as degassing. Optionally, dried fruit, nuts, and seeds can be kneaded into the bread dough.

Bread recipes specify the length of fermentation and how much the dough should rise. Choices for raising are:

1. Short Rest Period - For bread recipes using Instant Active Dry Yeast: The first rise is usually a short rest period, taking about 10 minutes, and afterwards, it is divided and shaped. The dough does utilize a final fermentation period after being shaped.

However, even with recipes using Instant Active Dry Yeast, a longer overnight refrigerator rise is used to develop its irregular air bubbles in its crumb, such as our Easy French Baguettes Recipe. A final fermentation period follows its shaping stage.

Fluffy, Buttery Cinnamon Rolls or Buns Recipe2. Rise until (ALMOST) doubled - For bread recipes using Active Dry or Fresh Yeast, requires two rises, a first one after mixing, and a second one after shaping: Allow the dough to rise until ALMOST double in volume or bulk, although bread dough, heavy with bran and grains, will not rise much. This is tested when a fingertip is pressed into the top of the dough; fully fermented dough will retain the impression for at least 5 minutes and won’t spring back. It’s because the gluten has been stretched to the limit of its elasticity you have developed in the dough.
SARAH SAYS: This is done with our Make Ahead Dinner Rolls Recipe.

Use a bowl or container a little larger than double the initial size of the dough for rising in and make sure it is well greased. Some baker's use a dough rising bucket. You do not want it to overflow its container resulting in tearing the gluten strands. Cover the dough with greased-side-down plastic wrap or the cover that comes with the dough-rising container.
NOTE: 4 cups of flour hits the 2-quart mark when it's doubled

SARAH SAYS: Bread recipes typically instruct you to "place dough in a warm place until doubled in size." Because these instructions are vague, baker's have problems with this step. For direct dough, it normally takes about an hour to 1 1/2 hours for the yeast to accumulate a volume of carbon dioxide gas strong enough to stretch the gluten strands that hold in and make the dough rise. For some recipes, the ball of dough must be smooth and rounded. It must be well greased and the rising container tightly covered. Rising time is also influenced by the amount of kneading, too (if too little or too much, dough will not rise well.)

Turning Method: Parmesan, Bacon and Walnut Topped Whole Wheat Focaccia Bread Recipe 3. Turning or to turn the dough after every 30 to 60 minutes, until it has doubled. With wetter, less developed Artisan Bread recipes, most professional bread bakers gently deflate, stretch, and fold the dough. which helps develop and stretch the gluten strands in the dough(helping to make them more extensible), redistribute the yeast and retain gasses that form. This gentle action also adds in air bubbles, and dispels some of the carbon dioxide and alcohol build-up in the dough, similiar to "punching down". Turning also orients the gluten strands in one direction by helping the glutenin molecules link up end to end which results in a finer and more even crumb in the finished baked loaf.

Afterwards, the dough is rounded into a ball and left to "rest" for a period of time before the final bread shaping takes place.

SARAH SAYS: Breads like focaccia and ciabatta, which could be 65 to 80% or more hydrated, are extremely sticky. For example, we use this technique with the Parmesan, Bacon and Walnut Topped Whole Wheat Focaccia Bread Recipe after mixing and a short resting period. This stretching and folding is repeated about a dozen times, and stopped before the dough starts sticking to the work surface. The dough will change from lumpy to smooth and elastic.

4. Multiple rising periods: Some recipes require multiple rising periods, such as a punch down and a second rise, such as in long-fermentation lean dough. As long as the dough stays in bulk (prior to dividing into smaller units), it is still in primary fermentation regardless of how many times it is punched down.

SARAH SAYS: We use this with our Fougasse Bread Tutorial Recipe.

You can hold the bread recipe in fermentation for only so long, requiring the dough to be punched down or degassed, which is a better way to describe the procedure. The degree or severity to which this is done is entirely dependent on the type of bread recipe being made.

Classic White Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread RecipeGenerally, for sandwich bread or dinner rolls, where medium-sized even air holes is desired, it means to simply deflate the risen bread dough with a couple of pushes - not hard punches - with your fist straight down through the dough and then lift straight out without beating, pulling or tearing at the dough. You will hear a "fisss" as the carbon dioxide is released and the dough deflates.
SARAH SAYS: This is done with our Classic White Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe.

Other times the "punch down" is simply the transfer of dough from the bowl to a lightly floured work surface, allowing the gas to gently expellKalamata Olive and Rosemary Boule Recipe from the weght of the dough, but retaining enough to keep a nice, airy gluten network. We do this with the Kalamata Olive and Rosemary Boule Recipen or the Skillet Pizzas Tutorial.

Degassing the bread dough is necessary because there are a number of chemicals naturally present in the dough that will eventually break down the gluten if the fermentation period is not halted. If the feeding yeasts are not interrupted, they would eventually consume all of the available sugar in the dough. The bread dough would overrise during this first fermentation step and then, eventually collapse - sometimes in the oven during the final baking stage - from overstretched and torn gluten strands.

With degassing, you are expelling the carbon dioxide while retaining some air, redistributing the yeast cells for more growth (redistributes the yeast's food source) and relaxing the gluten. This helps to improve both the texture and flavor of the finished bread. It also helps to equalize the temperature throughout the dough - the inside is warmer than the outside - so when shaped in the next step, the dough can rise evenly during its final rise. It also allows the gluten in wheat flour to relax, making the dough easier to shape, plus the dough is softer because of the added moisture (fermentation generates heat, water and alcohol) and the gluten-interrupting bubbles. Degassing also divides the air pockets in the dough, making them smaller and more numerous, ultimately contributing to the fine texture of the finished bread.

QUESTION: My dough has collapsed while rising. What do I do now?
SARAH SAYS: You can recognize it because the dough is fallen - with a flat, wrinkled top. As a result, the bread will be dense and sour tasting, the opposite of what you intended. With over-risen dough, you can gently knead it, let it rise again and do the best from that; it really depends how "over-risen" the dough has become. If the dough collapses during baking, there is nothing that can be done to save the loaf since the gluten strands, which act like rubber bands, have been overstretched or broken. The dough is unable to hold its shape properly.

Sometimes dried fruits, nuts, and seeds are kneaded into the degassed dough or after its first short rest. If added during the mixing stage, the sugar in dried fruit inhibits yeast fermentation by binding up water for their growth. Nuts and seeds act like tiny scissors in the dough, and effectively hamper the gluten networking forming mixing, kneading and fermentation steps.

After degassing the dough after its primary fermentation, stretch the dough delicately with your fingertips, into a thick square - do not press down on the dough while doing so. Sprinkle a large pinch of dried fruits or nuts all over the top surface and then fold the dough in half and knead to incorporate for about 2 minutes. Don't get discouraged as it takes a little more time to mix in. Repeat a couple of times - don't overdo it!

SARAH SAYS: if using dried fruit in a yeast bread recipe, soak it first. If not done, it will absorb a lot of water from the bread's ingredients, which results in a drier loaf. HOW TO.

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