Originally Posted by ronott1
You do not need to punch down dough. The purpose is to move the yeast around in the dough--I do this when I shape the loaves.
@ronott1 While I usually agree with you 100%, this is contrary to what I have experienced and learned.
The punch down is necessary to allow the bread to develop the proper texture. If you skip the "punch down" and it rises too much, the gluten that you worked so hard to develop with your kneading will be broken and the bread will be dense. I learned this with my first batch of bread up in Wyoming (7200 feet in elevation).
I didn't realize that the dough would rise faster than it did in Wisconsin (800 feet), and I let it go for just over an hour before punching down and doing the second rise. The second rest didn't rise as high before I shaped it and baked it. When I baked it, the texture was off and it didn't rise as much as usual.
I bought a High Altitude Cookbook and it explained that when you are above 5000 feet, the bread needs 3 rises instead of the usual 2. Kneading and resting is all for the dough to form long strands of gluten to enable the bread to rise properly. If you don't punch the dough down and it "over-rises" those long strands of gluten will break and the bread will be dense.
I find that for whole wheat breads, this is especially important. The longer rise time is needed for the whole wheat flour to properly hydrate and soften.