Shaping the Dough


  1. Pre-Shaping the Dough:

    • After your dough has completed its bulk fermentation, gently turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Be careful to preserve as much of the gas developed during fermentation as possible.

    • Divide your dough if necessary. If you're making multiple loaves, use a bench scraper or a sharp knife to divide the dough into equal portions.

    • To pre-shape, gently form each portion of dough into a round shape, using a bench scraper or your hands to fold the edges of the dough towards the center. Turn the dough over so the seam side is down and use the bench scraper to push the dough against the work surface, creating surface tension.

    • Cover your pre-shaped dough with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let it rest for about 20-30 minutes. This rest, known as bench rest, allows the gluten to relax, making the final shaping easier.

  2. Shaping the Dough:

    • After the bench rest, it's time for the final shaping. Depending on your preference, you can shape your dough into a round loaf (boule) or an elongated loaf (batard). For both shapes, the goal is to create a tight gluten cloak on the surface of the dough that will hold its shape during the final proof and bake.

    • For a boule, use a similar method to the pre-shaping but aim to create a tighter seal at the bottom. For a batard, stretch the dough out into a rectangle, then fold the two longer sides towards the middle before rolling the dough up from one of the short ends.

    • Place your shaped dough into a well-floured banneton (proofing basket) or a similarly sized bowl lined with a floured cloth, seam side up.

What's Happening during this phase:

Shaping the dough is an art form that requires practice and patience. It's the final opportunity to create a strong gluten network and structure before baking, making it a vital step in the bread-making process.

  1. Surface Tension: When shaping the dough, the goal is to create a smooth, tight "gluten cloak" on the surface of the dough. This surface tension helps the loaf maintain its shape during the final proof and baking stages. It's crucial not to degas the dough completely during shaping - the bubbles inside contribute to the crumb structure and the final volume of the loaf.

  2. Bench Rest: The bench rest between pre-shaping and final shaping allows the gluten in the dough to relax, which makes the dough easier to shape and helps improve the final texture of the bread. If the dough is too elastic and snaps back when you try to shape it, it's a sign that it needs more bench rest.

  3. Gluten Strength: The strength of the gluten network developed during mixing and bulk fermentation affects how well the dough holds its shape during the final proof and bake. A well-developed gluten network provides structure and support to the dough, allowing it to expand upwards (instead of outwards) in the oven.

  4. Proofing Baskets: Bannetons or proofing baskets help maintain the shape of the loaf during the final proof. They are typically made of rattan and leave a beautiful spiral pattern on the crust of the loaf. If you don't have a banneton, a similarly-sized bowl lined with a well-floured cloth works just as well.

  5. Seam Side Up: When placing the dough into the banneton, it's generally recommended to place it seam side up. This allows for a smooth, uninterrupted surface for scoring just before baking.