Many people enjoy making their own bread, as it can have both financial and taste benefits.
There is nothing like biting into a warm, freshly-made loaf of bread, especially if it’s straight out of the oven.
It is simple to make, and you can whip up a batch for your friends and family to enjoy whenever you are entertaining guests – homemade bread is always bound to be a hit.
However, not everyone is in agreement when it comes to the best method to use. Different people swear by different recipes, which can be confusing to bakers who are new to making bread.
One of the points of contention is how many times you should let the dough rise during the process.
Here, we will explain the reasons behind this important step and how often you should repeat it for best results.
Why Is It Important For Dough To Rise?
Once you have mixed your ingredients together, you can’t just put the dough straight into the oven and expect it to turn into delicious bread.
This is because the yeast needs to be able to consume the sugar to produce carbon dioxide. The subsequent carbon dioxide bubbles are what gives the bread volume – otherwise it would just fall flat.
You can make unleavened bread, which is very popular in some cultures, but bread that is supposed to rise will not taste very nice if you don’t let it.
The process of rising your dough consists simply of letting it sit for a period of time without doing anything else.
This usually takes at least an hour, although some sources recommend allowing up to 3 hours for this important step.
You need to knead your dough first, then cover it with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place. Ideally, this will be on a countertop by a window, so that the sunlight can get to it.
If this isn’t possible, keeping it at room temperature should be fine – you shouldn’t put your dough in the fridge to rise unless you are leaving it overnight.
How Does Rising Dough Twice Help?
Most recipes advise you to add a second rise period for your dough – in fact, this has become standard in baking circles.
But surely dough can only rise so much? Or, if you want to give it more time, why not just extend the rising time you give it in the first place?
Well, the reason for having two separate periods is that the second one aids the development of the bread, resulting in a finer, lighter crumb.
When you let your dough rise for the second time, this is known as proofing. Proofing is the last stage before putting the bread in the oven to cook, and is the best way to improve the texture of your final loaf.
After you have let the dough rise for the first time, you will need to knead it – this entails gently folding and pressing it, so that the gas is squeezed out of the dough.
Isn’t the whole point of rising dough to introduce gas into it in the first place?
Well, yes, but it’s not quite that simple: you want the yeast to feed on the energy created by the ingredients and release gas to make the dough rise, but these air bubbles can actually be a hindrance to the yeast.
As they multiply, they get in the way of the yeast, stopping it from accessing its food supply. Therefore, rising can be counterproductive to the progress of the dough.
This is why you can’t just let your dough sit for longer in the first rise, because it will get to a point where the yeast can’t keep working due to too many air bubbles.
By getting rid of the gas in the kneading stage, the yeast can bind with the ingredients again and start to re-inflate the dough.
You aren’t just starting from scratch again, though, since proteins have already been created that will still be there; you are simply allowing the yeast to produce its best work.
What Happens If You Let Dough Rise Three Times?
You need to be careful not to overproof your dough (allow it to rise for longer than it should).
This will cause the gluten to stretch beyond its limit, and then you won’t get the desirable, fluffy texture that you’re aiming for.
At this point, the air bubbles pop and the dough loses its elasticity – it won’t spring back to its original shape when you poke it.
If you notice that your dough has proofed for too long, you will have to remove all the gas from it and repeat the proofing step (only for a shorter time!).
Having three rising periods won’t necessarily spoil your dough, as long as you knead it thoroughly in between each, but it probably won’t make enough of a difference to be worth doing.
If you want your dough to rise three times, you will need to make sure you have enough starch and sugar for the yeast to continue to feed on, and also consider using less yeast to create a suitable balance in that regard.
You are very unlikely to find any recipe that stipulates leaving the dough to rise more than twice – it will only ever be an optional suggestion.
Can You Speed Up The Rising Process?
As we have mentioned, keeping your dough warm will help it to rise better, because this creates optimal conditions for the yeast to work in.
Some people use their microwave or oven to help their dough to rise, but not by actually cooking the dough.
When you preheat your oven, you can place your dough next to the closed door, so that it can absorb some of the warmth.
Alternatively, you can place it in your microwave with a bowl of warm water, and close the door without turning on the power.
Moisture also helps to activate the yeast and get it working properly. This is why many people cover their dough with a damp cloth rather than simply a piece of plastic wrap.
It should be covered with something, but a damp cloth is ideal because it works with the heat to increase the humidity.
Yeast is a fungus, which means that it thrives in humid conditions and can increase more quickly this way.
To answer the initial question posed in the title, yes you can let your bread rise three times without necessarily damaging it.
Whether you should or not is another matter – it is unlikely to improve how your bread turns out and you are in more danger of over-proofing the dough.
While letting your dough rise is a very important step in the bread-making process, there is a limit to how much you can prolong this period before it stops making a difference.
Twice is the ideal number of times for the vast majority of bread, so if in doubt, stick to this rule.