Kneading, Rising and Shaping
After the dough becomes too stiff to mix with a spoon or standard electric mixer, it is turned out onto the counter to knead. This hands-on manipulation further distributes ingredients and develops a fine cellular structure with tiny pockets that trap gases given off by the yeast. These cells determine the appearance of the crumb after baking: the finer and more numerous the pockets, the more velvety the final texture. As it is pushed, folded, and turned again and again, the dough changes dramatically. Within 6 to 10 minutes, it becomes smooth, satiny, elastic, and moderately stiff. Minute bubbles will be barely obvious just below the surface. Sprinkle a little of the remaining flour on the work surface to keep the dough from sticking. Toward the end of kneading, very little extra flour should be necessary.
Rising follows. During the next 45 to 90 minutes, the dough will rest, undisturbed, in a warm place. Yeast cells will multiply at a furious rate, stretching the dough until it almost doubles. For some doughs, a single rise is enough, but most benefit from a second rise. Before the second rise, which is usually shorter because more yeast is at work, the dough is divided and shaped per recipe directions.
The ideal environment for rising is a draft-free 75° to 80° spot. If your kitchen is too cool, you can use either a standard oven or microwave oven: warm an electric oven briefly at the lowest setting, then shut off and set the dough on a rack, or set the dough in a turned-off gas oven with the door ajar. Or, place the dough in a microwave next to a cup of boiling water (close the door, but don’t turn the oven on). If none of these are options, fill a large rectangular baking dish with boiling water, cover it with a wire rack, and place the dough on the rack, covered with plastic wrap and a dish towel.
Set the dough on a lightly floured surface. Knead by folding the dough and pushing it down with the heel of your hand. Rotate a quarter turn after each motion and repeat until the dough is the proper consistency.
Moderately Stiff Dough
When sufficiently kneaded, the dough will change from a rough mass into one that is smooth, satiny, and elastic, with a moderately stiff consistency. The dough will no longer stick to the work surface.
Covering for First Rising
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, rotating the dough to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, then a finely woven tea towel, to protect the dough from drafts and to keep it warm.
Dough Double in Size
The first rising is complete when the dough is almost double its original volume. It is ready if indentations remain when you press 1/2 inch into it with two fingers. If the marks disappear, cover and check again after several more minutes.