Dough is a thick, malleable, sometimes elastic paste made from grains or from leguminous or chestnut crops. Dough is typically made by mixing flour with a small amount of water or other liquid and sometimes includes yeast or other leavening agents, as well as ingredients such as fats or flavorings.
Making and shaping dough begins the preparation of a wide variety of foodstuffs, particularly breads and bread-based items, but also including biscuits, cakes, cookies, dumplings, flatbreads, noodles, pasta, pastry, pizza, piecrusts, and similar items. Dough can be made from a wide variety of flour, commonly wheat and rye but also maize, rice, legumes, almonds, and other cereals or crops.
Doughs vary widely depending on ingredients, the desired end product, the leavening agent (particularly whether the dough is based on yeast or not), how the dough is mixed (whether quickly mixed or kneaded and left to rise), and cooking or baking technique. There is no formal definition of what makes dough, though most doughs have viscoelastic properties.
There are several general classes of dough:
Sometimes meringue is considered a dough. The English recipe for "Satan Biscuit" dates to 1677, and earlier recipes are known by different names. Some included flour like a 1604 recipe for "white bisket bread".
Techniques used in dough production depend on the type of dough and final product.
For yeast-based and sponge (such as sourdough) breads, a common production technique is the dough is mixed, kneaded, and then left to rise. Many bread doughs call for a second stage, where the dough is kneaded again, shaped into the final form, and left to rise a final time (or proofed) before baking. Kneading is the process of working a dough to produce a smooth, elastic dough by developing gluten. This process is both temperature and time-dependent; temperatures that are either too hot or too cold will cause the yeast to not develop, and rising times that are either too short or too long will affect the final product.
Pasta is typically made from a dry dough that is kneaded and shaped, either through extrusion, rolling out in a pasta machine, or stretched or shaped by hand (as for gnocchi or dumplings). Pasta may be cooked directly after production (so-called "fresh pasta") or dried, which renders it shelf-stable.
Doughs for biscuits and many flatbreads which are not leavened with yeast are typically mixed but not kneaded or left to rise; these doughs are shaped and cooked directly after mixing.
While breads and other products made from doughs are often baked, some types of dough-based foods are cooked over direct heat, such as tortillas, which are cooked directly on a griddle. Fried dough foods are also common in many cultures.
Pancakes, waffles, some kinds of bar cookies such as brownies, and many cakes and quick breads (including muffins and the like) are often made with a semi-liquid batter of flour and liquid that is poured into the final shape, rather than a solid dough. Unlike bread dough, these batters are not stabilized by the formation of a gluten network.