Test Kitchen tips: Resting the dough
If you've ever wondered why your crust shrank as you were baking a pie, or your bread never puffed as it should in the oven, it may be that you didn't give the dough time to "rest" or "relax" before baking.
As you form a dough, proteins in the flour are connected by liquids to form a gluten structure. This gluten structure is what holds the dough together, whether you knead the dough -- as with a bread dough -- or fold or "cut in" the dough -- as with a pastry or pie dough.
After working the dough, it is important to set the dough aside (whether you move the bread dough to a warm place to proof, or chill the pastry dough) to give it a chance to relax, which is why dough-based recipes call for proofing or chilling the dough. Freshly worked (and overworked) dough can be tight and tense; if baked right away, it can shrink or spring back, or bake with a very tight crumb.
Just like us, dough needs a chance to calm down and regroup after a workout. Resting the dough gives the gluten structure a chance to loosen and unwind, and it will give you a better final product.
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-- Noelle Carter
Photo credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times