Let me give it to you straight. I SUCK at shaping bread loaves. Chad Robertson provides excellent instructions and photos in Tartine Bread, but handy-ness skipped a generation I’m just bad at it. You know what, though? It’s fine. These loaves are so good, you can be the worst shaper ever (oh, I also suck at scoring, and that also doesn’t matter) and still end up with something that you want to take home to mom and dad. Still, you gotta try, right? So here’s what we’re doing, now that you dough has gone through bulk fermentation and it’s looking smooth as silk, we’re going to divide, shape and let it rise.
Gently pull your dough out onto a large, clean, smooth, unfloured surface (I use a big cutting board). It should pull away from the sides and bottom of the container easily and in 1 large piece. If you have a bench scraper, you can use it to divide your dough blob into two, roughly even halves. If you don’t (I don’t, and it’s fine), use a large, chef’s knife. Just press straight down in one, decisive stroke until the blade hits the board, and hold the knife there with one hand while pulling the other half away, supporting it from the bottom. Pull it apart until you have two, separate dough blobs. Lightly sprinkle the top of the blobs with flour mixture.
Gather one blob up, working quickly and not pulling at it or pushing at, just gently scooping, flip it, so that the floured side is now down on the cutting board. Repeat with the other blob, moving it to the second work area as you flip. Your goal right now is to create the right shape while not mixing any more flour into the dough, so don’t go kneading or working the dough. Take your misshapen dough piece by the cut edge, and tuck that under. You don’t want any of the newly added flour getting in to the dough, if you can avoid it.
1st Shaping: Roberston has great instructions for folding your dough ball under around the edges, using a bench scraper and your hands, to create surface tension and a nice, smooth ball of dough. I just use my hands, and I kind of pull left with my left hand while tucking with my right hand as the dough ball rotates. It gets you to a pretty smooth ball. Once you’ve got a ball, set it aside, sprinkle it with flour mixture and cover it with a clean kitchen towel. Repeat with the other dough ball. Let it rest for a half hour.
Final shaping: when you come back, your dough will have flattened out a bit. The edges should still be rounded. If they’re flat or if the dough is way spread out and shapeless, that may mean you didn’t turn enough during bulk fermentation. In any case, the fix is to reshape it how you just did (pulling with left hand, tucking with right) and letting it sit for another 30 to 40 minutes before moving on.
If it looks right, you’re ready for the final shape. Gather the dough ball in your hands and quickly flip it, so that the flour side is down on your surface. (I like to gather it by getting as much in my hands as possible without actually pulling on it. Then, when I know I’ve got a good handle, I pull it all up at once, so the part touching/slightly sticking to the cutting board and then turn it and lightly place the floured side down.)
For this whole folding process, you want to be gentle. Don’t push too hard because you want to keep the CO2 that was created during fermentation trapped in the dough. Without it, you’ll have some flat loaves.
Picture it as a compass, with South being near your belly. Working quickly, pull the south side towards you, then fold it back up over as if you’re folding a piece of paper into thirds. Hold it there with a finger, then grab the right side of the dough (east on your compass) and fold that over, just as you did with the previous fold. Then do the same with the left side (west) and finally, take the edge furthest from you (north) and fold it almost all the way down to the edge closest to you. Lightly press it in, the flip the whole thing over and cup your hands around the sides of the dough, gently tucking it under to form a ball.
Grab 2 bowls, each big enough to fit a dough ball with a few inches of headspace at the top. Lay a clean kitchen towel tautly across the top and dust it with flour mixture. Brush off any excess and press it into the bowl. Repeat with the other bowl. Invert each loaf into a bowl, smooth side down. Pull the protruding sides of the towel up and gently place them on top of the loaves. Put the bowls in the fridge. Allow it to chill there for 10 to 12 hours. The final rise will happen while you go about your business.
See you tomorrow for the final step: Baking!
Want to start from the starter?
- Get started with Step 1 of Sourdough Starter School
- What your starter will look like after 24 hours of fermentation
- Step 2 (Days 3-7) – Stabilizing Your Starter
- Why You Should Do a “Low-proportion” Sourdough Feeding
- 4 Things to Make with Excess Starter
- Getting Ready to Actually Bake! Equipment and Starter Health Check
- Preparing the Leaven
- Mixing the Dough and Bulk Fermentation
- Dividing, Shaping, Final Rise (You Are Here)
- Baking and Cooling
- Tartine Bread Giveaway