After your loaf has rested from the pre-shape step, it is ready for its final shape before the cold proof in the fridge! A boule, meaning “ball”, is a round shaped loaf. Shaping a boule is very similar to the pre-shaping technique covered in our pre-shaping technique lesson.
Shaping is an important step in the bread making process. Not only does it help you control the final aesthetics of your bake, but it also gives the bread the tension and structure it needs for proper oven spring. The surface tension you create through shaping helps the bread maintain its shape as it expands in the oven. The quality of the final shape helps determine the outcome of the baked loaf, both in terms of structural integrity and crumb.
Start by lightly flouring the top of your pre-shaped and rested dough, then using a bench knife, flip it upside down so the unfloured bottom is now facing up. Starting with the bottom portion of the dough, fold it up into the center, pressing gently to seal. Repeat with the top portion, and then the sides. All edges of your dough should now be folded into the center.
Now, gently flip over your dough. Remember the technique you used for pre-shaping your dough? Great! That is exactly what you are going to do again here. With your bench knife partially underneath the dough and your free hand to guide, push your boule away from you, rotate the bench scraper 90 degrees, and then bring it back towards you. The motion should be like a “U-turn”.
Repeat this motion until your boule is smooth, taut, and rounded. Remember not to over-shape your boule! Tearing and ropeyness are signs that you have gone too far in your shaping. If this happens, allow the dough to bench rest for 20 minutes before resuming.
Once your boule is shaped, sprinkle your banneton with some flour to prevent sticking. Using your bench knife, lift the boule, and invert it into the basket so the seam side is facing up.
If your seam starts opening up, simply pinch it back together to maintain the tension you just worked so hard for.
After your loaf has been loaded into its banneton, it’s time for it to enter the proofing stage, which is the final rise before scoring and baking.