Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; shape into a ball. Fold top of dough toward you. With palms, push with a rolling motion away from you. Turn dough a quarter turn; repeat until dough is smooth and elastic. Add flour to surface only as needed.
Place the dough in a bowl greased with butter, oil or nonstick cooking spray. Turn dough over to grease the top. This prevents the dough from drying out while rising. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap.
Place covered dough in a warm draft-free area (80° to 85°) until dough has doubled. (Place covered bowl on the top rack in a cold oven with a pan of steaming hot water underneath. Or turn your oven to its lowest setting for no longer than 40 to 50 seconds. Turn off and let dough rise in the oven.)
Press two fingers 1/2 in. into the dough. If the dents remain, the dough is doubled in size and ready to punch down.
To punch dough down, make a fist and push it into the center. Gather the dough to the center and shape into a ball. Place on a floured surface.
Divide the dough if the recipe directs; shape into balls. Roll each ball into a 12-in. x 8-in. rectangle. You will hear air bubbles “popping” as you roll the dough.
Dust off any loose flour that might cling to the dough. Beginning at the short end, roll up each rectangle firmly. If it’s too loose, you’ll see air pockets when the bread is cut. If it’s too tight, the bread will crack while baking.
Pinch seam and each end to seal. Place seam side down in a greased pan; cover with a towel and allow to double in size in a warm draft-free area.
When dough has doubled, remove towel; place pans several inches apart in the center of the preheated oven.
When bread is golden brown, test for doneness by carefully removing loaves from pans and tapping the bottom crusts. If it sounds hollow, the bread is done. If the bread is browning too fast and it’s not done, tent with foil and continue baking. Unless recipe directs otherwise, immediately remove breads from pans. Cool completely on a wire rack.
More How to Cook Techniques»