If I've made some dough and want to bake it later, how long can I store it in the refrigerator? Do I need to do anything special to make that work out? Are there any types of bread it won't work well for?
You can refrigerate all kinds of yeast-bread dough. Right after kneading, before the dough has had a chance to rise, oil the dough lightly, cover with plastic wrap or use a ziplock, and place in the refrigerator. As the dough cools in the refrigerator the action of the yeast will slow down until the dough has reached refrigeration temperature. At that point the yeast is still working, but at a snail's pace. So, during the first few hours in the fridge it may require a punch down or two, as there may still be enough warmth in the dough for the yeast to show active signs of life.
After the dough is completely cool, it may not need anything from you, but still check it at least every 12 hours or so - it may need another punch down. If at any point it grows to close to double it's original size, go ahead and punch it down. Most doughs will be fine if babysat like this for up to 3 or 4 days. When you're ready to bake, punch down the dough again (if necessary), shape, and allow to rise as if it had never taken its little nap in the refrigerator. Of course this rise is going to take longer than non-refrigerated dough as it reaches room temperature, but it should be ready to bake when it looks like a non-refrigerated dough of the same type would look when it's ready to bake. Bake as usual.
I'm sure there are exceptions to the basic rules I've set out, but I've never had a problem doing this with any yeast-bread dough.
It is possible to cold proof for a week or even longer in the refrigerator. I have even frozen dough for a month and then thawed it for a day in the fridge and still had ample spring during baking. Yeast will not die at cold temperatures, it just slows down. That being said the higher the protein and the more sugar the longer the yeast will be able to eat. Do not use tons of yeast if you want to keep the dough cold proofing for a week. The small amount of yeast will continue to eat just fine until all sugars are gone. Cold proof immediately after kneading and forming the initial dough. High hydration dough works significantly better. If not using a ziplock bag then place in a bowl with plastic wrap tightly over the top. If oxygen is exposed to the dough the areas exposed will become hard and cake together not allowing for spring and uniform bread rising. Allow dough to proof for 35 minutes once removed from the fridge. Lightly shape long proofed dough so that it does not de-gas the bread. (DO NOT KNEAD ONCE OUT OF THE FRIDGE). There may be exceptions but those are for experienced bread bakers.
A dough will last approximately three days in the refrigerator; however, it is best to use it within 48 hours. This is the best way to refrigerate your dough. After the dough is kneaded, place in a lightly oiled, large mixing bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.
I have always used high quality 1 quart zip lock bags (ones with zipper).
Fill with dough and let sit in fridge for 24 hours. Then freeze any you will not use in the next week.
They will blow up like little festive dough Balloons, once in a great while a zipper will break and need to be repacked. Otherwise I find the pressure keeps the yeast in check and stores quite nicely.
Typically I make a big batch of dough on Sundays for the week using this method.
I’ve refrigerated and frozen bread dough many times. All of the answers you got were excellent, but if I could add a suggestion: Once you’ve kneaded the dough and packed it (for this trick, you need a zipper bag), get as much air out of the bag as you can, seal it tightly, and place it in an ice water bath for a few minutes before putting it in the fridge. That will retard the rise quickly so you don’t get a big balloon of dough!
I always just stick the dough in the fridge after it rises and take out a bit at a time - I have found it’s totally fine for up to 5 days - after that it has not such a nice additional smell and flavour.