Baking homemade bread is a relatively straightforward process, especially if you know a few tricks to help avoid common issues. For almost any type of bread, greasing the entire ball of dough before the first rise is an essential step. It's easy to do and becomes second nature as you bake more loaves of bread.
Why Greasing Bread Dough Is Important
Yeast is most active during the first proofing. Also called bulk fermentation, the yeast works hard eating sugar and creating air bubbles of carbon dioxide during this stage. It's an essential step that causes the dough to rise and develops the finished bread's flavor.
Depending on the type of yeast and the bread recipe, the initial rise may take anywhere from one to two hours. That's a long time to expose the soft, freshly-kneaded dough to air. Too much air dries out the dough and forms a dry crust on top. While it can be kneaded back into the dough without consequence, you can save extra work by greasing or buttering the entire ball of dough.
How to Properly Grease Bread Dough
You will need to gather three things before setting bread dough to rise for the first time: a bowl that is two to three times larger than the amount of dough, oil to grease the bowl, and a clean, lint-free cloth or towel.
The oil can be any number of ingredients that you typically use to grease when baking or cooking. The most common options are butter, shortening, and cooking oil, and olive oil is one of the best options. Oil in a refillable mister or a store-bought spray oil makes quick work of greasing the bowl. The oil's incorporated into the dough during the final kneading, and there's no heat applied at this stage, so you don't need to worry about smoke points; it's perfectly fine to use extra-virgin olive oil.
Grease a large bowl with your oil of choice, ensuring all sides have a nice, light coating. Try to avoid pools of oil at the bottom of the bowl.
Place the bread dough in the bowl.
Slide the dough to one side and turn it upside down so the now-exposed top is greased.
Cover the bowl with a clean cloth to keep out any drafts and set it to rise.
More Tips to Prevent Dry Dough
- Keep the bread dough covered to protect the dough from drying out and keep off dust.
- Place your rising dough in a warm, draft-free place in the kitchen while it's rising. Too much heat will speed up the yeast activity, and too much cold air will slow it down.
- Kitchen temperatures fluctuate with the seasons, and that will affect your rising times. For year-round consistency, many bakers place the rising dough in the oven with the light turned on. Just be sure that you don't turn on the heat and accidentally bake your dough!
- If you need to slow down the rising bread, place it in the refrigerator. Called "retarding," it's a convenient way to split up the baking process. You can allow the bread to rise overnight in the fridge, then bring it to room temperature and shape the loaves to enjoy fresh-baked bread in the morning.
- Once you shape the loaf, prevent the dough from drying out during the second rise by covering it with a clean, lint-free towel. Grease is not needed because this proofing time is typically just 30 minutes or so.
- You can also freeze the dough after the first rise. Many bread bakers like to prepare enough dough to last their family for a few weeks, and it's a great way to save time while enjoying fresh bread. You do need to double the amount of yeast and allow it to rise once before freezing.