How to 'Punch Down' Bread Dough

Fist Punching Down Dough
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Yeast and sourdough bread recipes will often tell you to 'punch down' the dough. What does that mean?

It's a common technique used in bread baking and it is essential to almost every bread you bake. Punching down deflates the dough and releases the air so that you can knead it and form it into loaves.

As you will see, it's very easy to do and there is a very good reason why it's required. You can even choose to punch or fold the dough to create a different texture in your baked loaves.

How to 'Punch Down' Bread Dough

Most bread recipes require two stages of rising (also called 'proofing'). Punching down the dough is done after the first rise and it is a very easy technique. 

Though the name suggests that you might use a full-forced blow, you actually want to be quite gentle with your 'punch.' Yeast is a delicate and living thing, after all, and that is why bread bakers are so concerned about it (and often try to prevent 'killing' it). Be firm, but gentle and you'll have better loaves in the end.

  1. Leave your dough in the bowl it rose in.
  2. Make a fist with your hand and push it gently and firmly into the center of the puffy dough.
  3. Fold the edges of the dough into the center to form the deflated dough into a ball.
  4. Remove the ball from the bowl and place it onto a lightly floured surface.
  5. Knead 2 to 3 times before forming your desired shape or placing it into a bread pan.

Tip: To relax the gluten and make the dough easier to shape, place a cloth or bowl over it and allow it to rest for 10 to 15 minutes after punching. Some bread doughs are more elastic than others and if you find a recipe that is difficult to form into the shape you want, this trick may help.

Why do you need to 'punch down' the dough?

Punching is an extremely important step in making bread. As the dough rises, many tiny air pockets are formed inside. The goal of punching is to reduce and remove these gasses and bring the yeast, sugars, and moisture back into one cohesive form.

Releasing the air has many benefits:

  • The yeast cells are redistributed and form a closer bond with the sugar and moisture to help fermentation and improve the second rise.
  • At the same time, the yeast gets new 'food' to eat during rising and this improves the bread's flavor.
  • The more air pockets you can remove from the dough, the finer the grain (or crumb) will be.

Punch vs. Fold: There is a Difference

For the majority of bread recipes, you will 'punch down' the dough as described above. Within that method is a 'folding' step. However, some bread recipes may ask you to do one or the other and it does make a difference in the final bread.

  • The harder you 'punch' the dough, the finer crumb and texture your bread will have when baked. This is because you are removing more of the air pockets with more force. It works great for sandwich breads, sweet rolls, and any type of bread where a tighter grain is desired.
  • If you only 'fold' the dough, you will leave larger air pockets in the baked loaf. This creates a looser crumb and the bread will rise higher while baking. It is great for making airy rustic breads, fluffy dinner rolls, and bread styles like baguettes in which large holes are desired.

By using a combination of punching and folding, you get a happy medium between the two.

That is why many of your basic bread recipes will suggest both or note a general 'punch down' in the instructions.

As an experiment, bake two identical loaves of basic white bread and use one technique exclusively for each. It's a great way to see for yourself the effects of the punch versus the fold.