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Every dough recipe I have ever seen follows the same paradigm. Mix ingredients, kneed, rest, kneed, roll into a ball and place in a lightly oiled covered bowl, separate and form. Allow to rise again, bake.

I don’t understand the significance of the bowl step. Why the ball? Maximizing surface area? How does the oil help? Is that just to stop it from sticking to the bowl? Why the bowl? Why cover it? Is this to limit oxygen? Bread yeast shouldn’t need anaerobic production should it?

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The bowl is simply to contain the dough. You can use any container you like. Depending on the type of bread you are making, you often need to build gluten strength, this ends with pre-shaping and shaping. Shaping matters at this point. With kneaded bread, the "ball" is simply an artifact of kneading or stretching and folding. Covering reduces the chance of the surface drying out, and helps maintain temperature. Oil in the bowl is not necessary in most situations, and is not part of "every recipe."

  • Interesting. So really the only relevant purpose is to prevent the bread from drying out? I would think covering it with a moist towel on the work surface would achieve the same results. – mreff555 May 5 '20 at 16:51
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    @mreff555, a moist towel is not necessary, but yes that would keep it from drying. However, you need a container, in many cases, to keep the dough from spreading too much. Once a dough has the proper strength, again depending on the formula, a container might not be necessary. For example, my pizza dough, once formed in balls, rests on the counter until I shape it into a pizza. – moscafj May 5 '20 at 16:58
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    Don't discount the statement of maintaining temperature moscafj included. Dry surface is a bad thing, but in many recipes where you are not doing a slow rise you start with warm water to activate the yeast, and you want to maintain that 100-110 F/40-45C temp range somewhat to keep the yeast happy. You do not want it stalling out too soon. Even many slow rise techniques call for this in the initial phase to get the yeast jump started. – dlb May 5 '20 at 21:11
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If a crust forms on the dough while it is rising, the rising will be inhibited. So the outside of the dough should be soft and moist the whole time. Two ways to ensure this are to put it in a bowl with some kind of lid (plastic wrap, damp towel, or a plate or hard lid), and to coat the outside of the dough lightly in oil which prevents it from drying out. So the usual process is to form a ball, roll it around in a small amount of oil to coat it, then put it in the bowl and cover it.

I think that creating some surface tension in the dough also helps, so I form it into a ball by pulling the edges of the ball towards the bottom and pinching them together.

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