Bread is simple yet so complex at the same time.
You can easily pick up a loaf of bread at your local bakery, or you can spend hours, if not days, trying to create the best sourdough loaf you’ve ever made.
For something that is made with such simple and natural ingredients, like flour, water and yeast, why can it be so time consuming?
You can spend all morning mixing and kneading until you can’t feel your arms but you still aren’t any step closer to getting your loaf in the oven!
When I first started making bread, I didn’t really understand why I needed to let the dough rest.
I have just spent what feels like hours going elbows deep into this dough, and on top of that I have to let it rest in between?!?!
Making bread by hand is a time consuming process and you need to have a lot of patience – you would never rush art, right?
If you are new to the world of bread making and are sitting there wondering ‘why do I have to let the dough rest’, then you’ve come to the right place!
Why Let Dough Rest?
Letting dough rest is actually a very important step that shouldn’t be missed when making bread.
You can skip it if you don’t have the time, but if you do have time, it’s totally worth just letting the dough rest.
I typically rest my dough twice. One short rest before I let it bulk ferment, and a second longer rest before I shape it and let it prove (rise) for the last time.
Resting dough isn’t just for yeasted doughs. So, even if you are making plain bread with just flour and water, it’s still very important to let the dough rest.
First resting period
I usually knead my dough for around 10 minutes.
Kneading strengthens the gluten and the elasticity, helping it create a strong structure in the dough.
Once I have kneaded the dough, I will let it rest for a couple of minutes (between 2-3)
It might seem like a very unnecessary step, but the dough has been working hard! It needs a rest (and so do I).
Think of it like circuit training. After each circuit there is usually a rest period.
During the rest period you take a breather, drink some water and get your energy back up before you start the next circuit.
It’s the same with letting the dough rest. It’s worked hard creating all that gluten (really, I have worked hard to create the gluten, but for the purposes of this article all credit goes to the dough), and now it needs a rest before it starts the bulk fermentation which is where the dough works the hardest.
During the first rest, I let it rest no longer than 2 to 3 minutes.
And what a difference the two minutes make! The dough looks much smoother and very well relaxed.
Second resting period
Like I mentioned above, I let the dough rest for a second time once it has finished bulk fermenting.
I will tip the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface, shape it into a ball and let it rest for around 10 to 15 minutes.
The principle is the same – resting it to allow the gluten and elasticity to relax. If you’re going to skip any resting step, I would skip the first one.
The second rest is crucial in making it easier for you to shape and manipulate the dough.
If you don’t let the dough rest for 10 minutes or so, you will find that the dough will be quite springy and won’t be as easy to shape. It won’t feel very relaxed.
It’s not absolutely necessary to let dough rest, especially if you’re in a rush to make some bread.
But, if you do have some time, it will make such a great difference to the smoothness of the dough and it will relax the gluten, making it much easier to shape and handle.