Two hands hold dough

How to punch down dough

By BBC Maestro

When making bread, you’ll find that recipes for certain types of bread ask for the dough to be punched down. But what does this mean, exactly – and how do you do it? Here’s everything you need to know about how to punch down dough.

What does punch down dough mean?

Punching down dough, sometimes also called knocking back dough, is a way to degas bread dough, which means removing some of the carbon dioxide that has built up in the mixture. It’s most commonly done when making yeast-based bread.

Once you’ve mixed your ingredients and kneaded your dough, you then leave it to rest in a covered bowl. During this resting period, the dough expands, usually doubling in size.

After this stage, it needs to be punched down before progressing to the proofing stage. When you’re punching down dough, you need to be prepared to get stuck in and get your hands dirty. Punching down dough involves physically manipulating the dough with your hands, pressing your fist into the centre of the dough to squeeze the gas out.

Then, once you’ve punched down the dough, you can shape it into its final form, whether that’s a loaf or rolls, and leave it to proof for the amount of time specified in your recipe.

What types of bread need to be punched down?

You’ll find instructions to punch down dough in recipes for yeast-based bread. That’s because yeast produces carbon dioxide, which causes the dough to rise. By punching the dough down, you can release some of the carbon dioxide and redistribute the yeast, giving you a more even rise and texture.

Some bread types that need to be punched down include:

●      Sandwich bread

●      Rolls

●      Pizza dough

●      Sweet bread like brioche

●      Baguettes

Why do you punch down dough?

Punching down dough serves several purposes. Yeast releases carbon dioxide, which causes the dough to rise and expand. When you punch down the dough, it releases some of the carbon dioxide, preventing it from becoming too airy – which means that it has a tighter texture without any big air pockets.

It also helps to ensure that the yeast, sugars and other ingredients are spread more evenly throughout your dough, so the final loaf has a more consistent rise and flavour. And, finally, punching down the dough helps to strengthen the gluten structure, meaning that your bread is better able to hold its shape during the proofing and baking processes.

What happens if you don’t punch down bread dough?

Punching down dough leads to a more even rise, fewer air pockets, and a stronger gluten structure – so not punching down dough leads to the opposite. If the dough isn’t punched down, the carbon dioxide will continue to be released, which can cause big, uneven air pockets in your bread. 

Additionally, if you don’t knock back the dough, it can lead to a weaker gluten structure, meaning your bread may not maintain the desired shape. So, if you forget to punch down dough when the recipe calls for it, you may open the oven to a collapsed loaf.

Difference between punching and folding dough

Punching down is just one method of degassing dough, and folding dough is another common technique.

Some recipes will ask that you gently fold the edges of the dough over itself rather than punching it down. While punching down the dough creates bread with a tight crumb and few air pockets, folding instead results in bread with an open crumb and lots of air pockets. It’s more commonly used, then, for light and airy breads, like sourdough and ciabatta.

Is it better to punch or fold dough?

Both are valid ways of degassing dough, and the method you choose will largely depend on the type of bread you’re making. 

As you become more experienced as a baker, you may find that you prefer one technique over the other, and you can choose which to use based on your preferences. 

How to punch down dough

So, now you know what knocking back dough means, and why – and when – it should be done, here’s how to deflate dough:

  1. Keep your dough in the bowl it was resting in.
  2. Gently punch down your dough. Either make a fist with your hand or use your knuckles to press down gently into the centre of the dough to deflate the air pockets.
  3. Fold the edges of the dough in towards the centre, to turn the dough into a ball.
  4. Remove the ball of dough from the bowl and place it onto a lightly floured surface.
  5. Knead the bread gently, then shape it into your desired form.
  6. Proof your bread, following the instructions in the recipe.

Remember that although the term ‘punching down’ sounds aggressive, it should actually be a gentle motion. 

It’s a fine balance between being forceful enough to eliminate the gas and careful enough to preserve the dough’s delicate structure – but handling your dough gently will ensure the best results for your final bake.

Ready to get baking?

Punching down dough is just one of the essential steps in making bread. If you want to find out more about what it takes to make delicious bread, Richard Bertinet has you covered. His BBC Maestro course, Bread Making, includes 26 easy-to-follow lessons that will soon have you baking with total confidence.

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