I find that one of the things that keeps people from baking more yeast breads is the time it takes from start to finish. The active time is not necessarily that great, but because the bread dough must rise at least once to give the yeast a chance to work, there is a lot of down time for dough. This is often not a problem on laid-back weekends or when you’re working in/around the house, but on a weeknight or a weekend when you’re running back and forth to various activities, it can really be a turn off.
Fortunately, there is a way to make the bread-making process much more convenient, although it doesn’t actually speed things up: freeze the dough. Almost all doughs can be made and frozen in advance, then either thawed just before baking or baked for a few extra minutes when you’re ready to eat.
The reason that freezing the dough – and I’m talking about a period of a few days or weeks, not years, although I have frozen things like pizza dough for months without problems – works is that cold temperatures essentially put yeast to sleep. You see, despite the fact that overly high temperatures can kill yeast rapidly, yeast is a resilient organism and can actually “hibernate,” slowing themselves down, for a period at low temperatures. Warmth and moisture (in the case of freeze-dried yeast) will wake them up again. This is why overnight rises in the fridge are called for in some recipes to allow the dough to develop slowly, and why adding warm liquid to yeast will activate it very quickly.
If you are going to freeze dough, do so after the first rise and let it come back to room temperature before shaping and baking it when possible for optimal results. If the recipe you are working from only has one rise and no shaping step, just leave the dough out for about 20 minutes before freezing to give the yeast a chance to start doing their thing. Again, bring the dough to room temperature before baking. I find that a lightly oiled ziplock bag works beautifully for freezing dough, especially since it can be labeled with the date and name of the dough inside.