Once your bread has reached that "magic" point of perfect gluten development, it is time to let it start rising.
First off ... the dough must NOT go into a bowl that is GREASED (contrary to many cookbooks' directions). With a perfectly developed gluten, the dough will not stick to your rising pot or bowl. No oil is needed either in the pot, or on the dough itself.
I just use a 4 quart pot for my rising container:
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Once the dough is in the pot, I cover it with its lid.
The dough needs to stay in a relatively warm place for about 2 hours, or until it has doubled in its bulk.
After approximately 2 hours (you can peek along the way to see how it is rising) you need to test and see if the dough has reached the point of doubling in bulk. Rather than doing it by a visual check, follow this method:
Uncover your pot and stick two fingers into the dough:
When you remove your fingers from the dough, if the two indentations remain, the dough has finished its first rising.
If instead, the dough sticks to your fingers, leaving no indentations, the dough needs more rising time. Cover it back up and allow it to rise further.
Once the dough has properly doubled (leaving the two little indentations when you poke it), punch it down.
This is done by plunging your fist into the middle of the dough, and folding all the dough into that center punch, thereby squeezing out all the air. Flip the dough over so its nice smooth side (that was on the bottom) is now on top.
Cover it back up, and allow it to rise a second time, again till double in size. This time however, it will take only about half the time it took for the first rising (45 minutes or so).
Once the second rising is complete, it is time to put it into the bread pan.
Laurel's Bread Book has a wonderful two-page spread of illustrations showing how to shape the dough into a loaf of bread. You could just mash it all down into the bread pan if you wanted (!) but to get a beautifully shaped loaf coming out of the oven (see picture below) spend a few moments shaping the loaf.
Take time to shape the dough
in order to create a
visually appealing fully baked loaf
To shape the dough, place on a smooth counter or table top. DO NOT GREASE OR FLOUR the surface. Instead, moisten the surface with water (I usually wet both hands and just rub them over the counter top ... this provides enough water on the surface of the counter top to prevent the dough from sticking.)
Place the dough on the moistened counter top and with your (wet) hands, flatten it out into a rectangle. If you are standing in front of the dough rectangle, it will be wider horizontally (to your left and right) than it will be vertically (away from you).
Bring the two edges of the dough that are to your left and right in towards the center and mash down slightly.
Then, grab the edge of the dough furthest away from you (the top edge) and begin to roll the dough into a tight roll.
Seal the edge by pinching it.
Place in a well greased bread pan (NOW is the time you DO need to use oil or shortening .... I use PAM spray). Put the seam side down. Spray a little PAM spray over the top of the dough (this keeps the dough from drying out during its final rise). The dough will fill a 8 1/2" by 4" bread pan by slightly more than half.
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Now, allow the dough to rise one last time. This rising will take about 30-45 minutes, depending upon the warmth (or not) of your kitchen. Since the dough has nothing to cover it at this point, it can cool off quite a bit. I often do this last rising in my microwave with the door just barely ajar to allow the light to stay on. The light adds just enough warmth to the interior to keep the dough happy and warm.
Note that I am NOT turning the microwave on ... I'm just using its small confines and its light to create a warm place for the uncovered dough to rise.
Some cookbooks recommend covering the pan with plastic wrap during this final rise in the pan. The problems I've found with this method are that the plastic wrap sticks to the top of the bread once it is all risen, and it also prevents good expansion of the rising dough by confining the bread to the top edge of the pan.
As you can see in the picture above, the dough has risen up over the top of the pan, signally it is time to go into the oven. If you GENTLY (GENTLY!!) press a finger onto the surface of the dough, it would leave a slight impression, and the dough would feel very light under your touch.
Go back to the MIXING PROCESS
Go back to the KNEADING PROCESS
Proceed to the BAKING PROCESS