Dough (Pâte in French, Pasta in Italian) is a paste made out of the flour of any cereal (grain) or leguminous food, moistened and kneaded but not baked. This step is a precursor to its use in cooking in numerous ways such as making bread, pasta, noodles, pastry, cookies and muffins among other uses. Dough differs from batter in having a lower water content.
The elasticity of dough depends on its gluten content. Gluten is a greyish complex of water-insoluble proteins occurring in wheat and other cereals and is composed chiefly of the proteins gliadin and glutenin. The chainlike molecules form an elastic network that traps carbon dioxide from the leavening agent, expanding with it. The gluten content of flour varies from 7% to 15% and is dependant both on variety and on the weather. For bread making, a high gluten content is desirable but for other baked goods, where lightness is a desirable quality, lower gluten doughs are preferred. All-purpose flour attempts to strike a happy medium between the extremes of bread flour and pastry flour through the mixing of different varieties. In some recipes, the gluten content of dough is attenuated through the use of cornstarch or other refined starch products which are gluten free.
To make bread from cereals with low gluten content, some alternative means of providing an elastic structure is necessary. This can be supplied by the protein in eggs or by precooking all or part of the flour to produce a gelatinous mass which can then be leavened and baked afterwards. Alternatively, flour from the low-gluten cereal may be mixed with high gluten wheat flour.
Kneading is the process of working a dough to develop the elasticity of the gluten. This can be done by hand, the traditional method, or with an electric mixer equipped with a dough hook. The way ingredients are mixed affects the final product. The dough must be well mixed to combine the ingredients uniformly, with a uniform texture, as well as effectively developing the gluten and distributing the yeast throughout. If this is not done, the texture and shape of the final product will suffer. The dough should be kneaded until it is smooth and moderately elastic. The presence of one or two bubbles beneath the surface of the dough is a sign that the dough is sufficiently well kneaded. Fat and sugar have a tendency to slow the development of gluten, so rich breads may require longer kneading. Over-kneading may result in a sticky dough but this is rarely a problem except with powerful commercial mixers.
Methods of making yeast dough
Basically, there are two methods for making yeast doughs:
Straight Dough Method
This method consists of simply combining the ingredients and mixing them. The yeast may or may not first be activated by mixing with sugar and warm water. The temperature of the water should not exceed 136 °F (58 °C) or the yeast may be killed. Once the ingredients are mixed, the dough is kneaded until smooth and elastic. Kneading time depends on the type of dough being made.
This method has two stages. First the yeast, liquid and about half the flour are mixed to a batter called a sponge. This is left to rise until it becomes foamy and has increased in volume to double or more. In the second stage, the rest of the flour plus any fat, salt and sugar are added and the dough is kneaded and allowed to rise. This gives the bread a lighter texture and a slightly different flavour. This should not be confused with sourdough bread in which a "starter" is used to make the bread and reserved for later use. The sponge method is particularly useful in improving the texture of heavy doughs like rye.
After the dough has risen, it is sometimes folded and kneaded a second time to redistribute the gas and help relax the gluten more. This is known as punching down the dough.
The dough is now ready to be divided into portions. For loaves the dough is either shaped into an oval and laid flat on a baking sheet. Alternatively, a loaf may be baked in a bread pan. If rolls are to be made, the dough is shaped into a log and then pieces are cut off which are then shaped into rounds or ovals. At this stage the dough is rounded by tucking it under itself to produce a nice round surface which helps it to bake and rise evenly.
The final stage before baking dough is proofing. This is the final rising period and is done at a temperature of between 70°F and 85°F. This can be done in a proof box in which temperature and humidity are controlled. Proofing is complete when the product has doubled in size and springs back slowly when lightly touched. It is a step in the preparation of yeast bread and other bake goods where the dough is allowed to rest and rise a final time before baking.