Basics and Techniques: Shaping the Dough

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Once the dough has been knocked back and the bulk prove is complete, you can begin shaping the loaves. When shaping a loaf you are primarily creating tension, as the development, kneading and mixing of the dough has already occurred. Do not knead the dough excessively as you do not want to knock all the air out of the dough. At Bourke Street Bakery we mostly make round loaves or batards. A batard is an oblong-shaped loaf, similar to a baguette, but generally shorter and wider than a baguette.
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You will need to divide the dough into the required portions as instructed in each recipe. Working with one portion of dough at a time, place it on a clean work surface; do not flour the surface. Surround the dough with your cupped hands, always keeping your hands in contact with the dough. In an anti-clockwise motion, start rolling the dough to create a tight ball with a smooth surface. Once you have achieved this, place the pre-shaped ball of dough on a lightly floured work surface. Repeat with the remaining dough portions — let the balls of dough rest on the flour for 20 minutes, covered with plastic wrap.
When you are ready to do the final shape you will be required to make either a round loaf or a batard. To shape a round loaf, stretch each dough portion out to double its width. Fold a third into itself towards the middle, then fold in the other third to overlap. Use the ball of your hand to press down on the dough and push outwards, using the resistance of the bench — you do not need to use a lot of force at this stage; all you are doing is creating tension and form. If you are tearing the dough you are using too much force. Roll the ball back and forth with one hand and use your other hand to turn the dough into itself — you may use some flour to facilitate this. You should be left with a tight, smooth ball of dough with a noticeable seam where you have forced the dough to converge. To close the seam, take the top of the ball and place it into the palm of your dominant hand. Turn it so the ball is sandwiched between your two hands and use the little finger of the hand that is not cradling the dough to run over the seam and close it.

To shape a batard (see pictures), stretch each dough portion out to double its width. Fold a third into itself towards the middle, then fold in the other third to overlap. Then, as if you are building a paper aeroplane, fold it in to create the nose cone at the end furthest from the edge of the bench. Press this down to prevent any large air pockets forming. With your fingers tensed, press down onto the nose cone and fold inwards keeping the action tight — this is called crimping. Use small movements with your fingers, folding the dough over and pressing down as you work to create tension and form. Crimp halfway into the dough, then with the ball of your dominant hand press down against the seam closing it into the dough. Continue this motion with both hands, folding the dough over to close the seam. Check to see that the seam is straight and closed; if not, pinch the seam to close it.

Positioning the seam is an important aspect of shaping the dough. If it is a round loaf you want the seam in the middle of the bottom of the loaf. If it is a baguette or batard, you want a nice straight seam in the middle. Always lay the dough seam side down on the tray when baking as it does have the potential to open up if laid with the seam facing up.
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