"Punching down" is really quite fun -- and certainly a
coveted job if you're ever making bread with kids. You
do it after the first rising and before shaping. While
bread recipes don't always call for punching down, any
handling of the dough at this point will cause it to deflate.
punch down, simply put your fist in the dough and push
down on it. You only have to do this once; the dough
will deflate instantly. Punching down is a great example
of the art of technique and science working together.
It accomplishes four things that contribute to a fine
loaf of bread:
relieves stress on the gluten (the component that
develops elasticity as you knead the dough), which
keeps the film around each air bubble from overstretching.
divides air pockets in the dough and so increases
the number of gas pockets, which ultimately contributes
to the fine texture of your bread.
redistributes the yeast, exposing it to new sources
of food within the dough since it will have absorbed
most of the food in its immediate vicinity.
evens out temperature and moisture. When yeast ferments,
it generates both heat and moisture. You may be surprised
at how warm the dough is when your fist is immersed
After you've punched down the dough, most recipes tell
you to gather it into a ball and allow it to "proof,"
or rise, again. The second rising usually takes only
half as long as the first.