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I have read an researched and found out that after each time that you handle your dough the dough/gluten will relax. So why not shape the dough before baking, right after the proofing stage.

I know that when handling the dough and during the shaping you loose some air but is this con bigger then the pro of getting more dough strength right before baking your bread?

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    Try it. Nothing teaches like actual experience. All it costs is a loaf of bread that may not turn out as expected. Then you can self-answer.
    – Ecnerwal
    Dec 29, 2023 at 19:06
  • Can you clarify? Do you mean shape, then immediately place in oven? I think @Ecnerwal is on to something. You need two loaves. One, you immediately shape and bake, the other you shape, allow to rise, then bake. Both under the same conditions (other than time). Compare. After the test, come back and answer your question (answering your own question is certainly allowed here).
    – moscafj
    Dec 29, 2023 at 23:39

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You seem to have the wrong mental model of how gluten works.

When people describe bread flour as "strong", they don't mean strong as in steel. Rather, they mean that it produces a bread dough with the desirable properties which produce a nice bread, making the word almost a value judgement as opposed to a physical description. It's only literally strong in the sense that it resists tearing when stretched - and even for this kind of strength-as-elasticity, you don't want to go as elastic as possible, but just the right amount of elastic.

Gluten starts out as two separate molecules, which, in the presence of water and agitation (kneading) start connecting to each other and building a hairy, spongy mass that becomes the "backbone" of the dough into which all other molecules are embedded. When you bake the bread, the gases expand and form bubbles. The gluten and starch set with the heat, leaving the bubbles at their expanded size (or some significant fraction of it) even after the bread cools after baking.

For this to work, you want several things. First, you want to start with enough gases trapped inside, so they can expand. Second, you want enough elasticity, so the expansion can happen. Third, you want enough soft, squishy stuff in there so the final product will have a nice bite.

If you bake the bread right after kneading, you'll lose all these bubbles produced by the yeast. And that's not a minor thing, it's really significant. Without these bubbles, all the gluten in the world doesn't matter, there's nothing in there to blow it up to the desired size of a bubbly, open crumb.

Second problem: we actually want our gluten to relax. Remember that "hairy" mass? Right after kneading, the gluten is kinda "felted" and quite stiff. The molecules hold strongly to one another, but that's not what we want - we want them to allow expansion of the bubble walls. Just-kneaded dough (or overworked dough, even after some time for relaxing) may be strong in some everyday sense of the word, but it doesn't have the proper relaxed elasticity that lets it rise into a good bread crumb.

Third point (although not directly related to relaxation times, it's related to the assumptions behind your question): we don't want to maximize said elasticity. Too much gluten produces a bread that may have larger bubbles, but feels like rubber when you bite into it. It has a slightly glassy sheen, a bouncy texture, and lacks softness and richness. So, our techniques aren't intended to produce the largest possible amount of gluten, or the gluten with the highest physical strength; they are optimized to make just the right amount of gluten, with just the right alignment and just the right balance between rigidity and elasticity, to produce a bread that's airy, tasty, soft and rich.

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