I've been trying to conquer my fear of working with yeast — so far, so good. But one thing I've noticed is that when I punch down the dough after the initial rise, it is so hard to roll it out. It always recoils or springs back a little bit. Does this mean that I need to knead the dough more? It doesn't seem to have any effect on the final product, but I'm just curious.
Liz, it's hard to say without seeing your recipe or process up close. How soon are you rolling the dough out after punching it down or kneading, and what are you rolling it out for? Pizza? Cinnamon rolls? Calzones?
In any case, our guess is that you need to let the dough rest for a little while after handling it. When you handle dough, including when you knead or punch it down, the gluten contracts and seizes up. It gets stiff and needs to relax.
There will always be some springback when you roll out a yeast dough, but if it's well-raised and rested it should roll out quite thin. We notice this especially when making pizza; when we handle the dough rounds too much they get stiff and stubborn. When they relax they stretch out easily.
When you let it sit and relax, the dough becomes much more pliable and stretchy. Try letting your dough rest for 20-30 minutes before trying to roll it out.
(Photo by Faith Hopler)