How long can I keep bread dough in the refrigerator?
You can refrigerate all kinds of yeast-bread dough. Right after kneading, before the dough has had a chance to rise, oil the dough lightly, cover with plastic wrap or use a ziplock, and place in the refrigerator. As the dough cools in the refrigerator the action of the yeast will slow down until the dough has reached refrigeration temperature. At that point the yeast is still working, but at a snail's pace. So, during the first few hours in the fridge it may require a punch down or two, as there may still be enough warmth in the dough for the yeast to show active signs of life.
After the dough is completely cool, it may not need anything from you, but still check it at least every 12 hours or so - it may need another punch down. If at any point it grows to close to double it's original size, go ahead and punch it down. Most doughs will be fine if babysat like this for up to 3 or 4 days. When you're ready to bake, punch down the dough again (if necessary), shape, and allow to rise as if it had never taken its little nap in the refrigerator. Of course this rise is going to take longer than non-refrigerated dough as it reaches room temperature, but it should be ready to bake when it looks like a non-refrigerated dough of the same type would look when it's ready to bake. Bake as usual.
I'm sure there are exceptions to the basic rules I've set out, but I've never had a problem doing this with any yeast-bread dough.
"Punch down" is a commonly used phrase, but it's a bit of a misnomer. Especially in this case where you might need to do it repeatedly, it's best to do it gently. While it's often done with a clenched fist, there should be no hint of violence in the action. You're just looking for deflation. After the dough is deflated, fold it back into a ball.
Just wanted to add that you should definitely do this before the dough gets any rising. Once the yeast really starts to get going, the cold can cause a big die-off, and the byproducts of dead yeast can make your dough very slack and also cause it to taste pretty boozy.
I put my dough in the refrigerator over night and my king cake came out hard. Grrrrr.