The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Shaping for bulk ferment

phil200's picture

Shaping for bulk ferment


A lot of recipes call for the dough to be shaped into a tight ball before being left to bulk ferment. 

What is the purpose of this shaping and why not just leave the dough in a loose mass ?

Just to be clear, this is not the final shaping just before the final proof.



Laurentius's picture

New to me. Most formulas I've used call for bulk fermentation as mass and shaped for final rise.

LindyD's picture

Hi Phil, like Laurentius, I've not come across a formula that calls for shaping before the bulk.    I primarily mix sourdough and do S&Fs during the bulk, or SD ryes from Hamelman's Bread.

Don't understand why shaping into a tight ball would be required before the bulk, unless it's intended to help the baker judge the fermentation.  Perhaps you could provide the sources for the recipes or tell us a bit about them?

MichaelH's picture

I have Mark Sinclair's videos, he shapes his dough into a ball after every stretch and fold. He makes outstanding loaves.

mcs's picture

Phil, I'm not sure if this is what you're referring to, but I'll explain what Michael is referring to. 

Before a bulk fermentation, even as the dough is initially coming out of the mixing bowl, I try to form it into a boule.  If it is a very sticky dough because of the hydration or something like a sticky rye, then I just wet my hands before I lift it out of the bowl, and tuck the edges under as I'm moving it to the bulk fermentation bin/bowl.

After stretch and folds, I also form it into a boule and make it as tight as I can without tearing it. 

I do this for a couple of reasons:
1.  To provide a final 'stretch' to strengthen the dough as much as I can
2.  To put the seam completely on the bottom, rather than on the bottom and on the sides.  If you can picture what the dough will look like after a stretch and fold is done, the seam will have 'corners' because it's done left to right and front to back.  The dough mass will undoubtedly be tighter where it's been stretched more and loose where it's been stretched less.  By 'bouleing' it, until just before it rips, you'll be evening out the tension, plus any large bubbles from the folding will rise to the surface.  In short, it evens out the dough.

These are my reasons for doing it, I'm not sure if the recipes you're following have the same reasons for suggesting it.



phil200's picture

Hi guys,

Thank you for the feedback.

I buy the arguments regarding judging the ferment (i.e. doubling in size) and also the position of the seam after stretching and folding.

Having checked the various books I own, there is a mix of advice :

The Mill Loaf recipe from Dan Lepards Handmade Loaf book consistently states “shape into a ball” after the brief kneading periods during the bulk ferment. Other recipes in this book repeat this advice.

The basic sourdough recipe from Richard Bertinets Crust book states “form the dough into a for 1 hour....”. Again other recipes in this book repeat this advice.

I'm struggling to find examples from Dan Leaders Local Breads and Jeffrey Hammelmans Bread.



mcs's picture

You'll find that whether it's the way gluten is strengthened during the mix or the way dough is shaped into a boule different bakers emphasize different techniques.
Hamelman may not write about it in his book, but he does it in practice.  If you check out his video on mixing and folding, right before he places the dough in the bin, he tucks the edges under to tighten up the top and 'keep it neat'.  He does it as he's talking and doesn't mention it.  I've never personally worked with him, but I'm guessing that if you didn't do this final step before it went in the bin, he would point it out to you.  It's fairly common and after you've done it a few times, it feels like you're missing something if you don't.

proth5's picture

for sure, but it seems to me that it is mostly a matter of working cleanly and efficiently and being able to handle large quantities of dough without undue strain.

I would speculate that he might point out to someone who didn't do this step that by gathering the dough together neatly you could handle it better.  If you watch the video closely, this isn't a tight ball, like a pre shape, it is just a neat gathering of the folded dough. 

I would also speculate that if he asked you to do folds in the container (as I have heard might also be his practice) this "boule -ing" would not be required as the dough has not left the container and does not need to be transported. But you might be asked to turn the folded dough completely over in the tub to creat a "good side" for subsequent division and pre shaping.

But as I said I have absolutely no way of knowing this for sure - just guessing.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

so there is less irregular drying out of the dough.  Along with other points mentioned, I think an irregular surface has more surface area and tends to react more with the surrounding atmosphere.  A smooth surface limits this contact.  Another reason is to keep track of the "top" of the loaf.  That may be an interesting issue to discuss, those who do keep track of the top and shape before bulk rising have more uniform and consistent loaves.  

A lot can be called a good production habit.  Walking away from the dough, and walking up to another one shaped by someone else with an identical or similar method, it is easier to judge in what stage that dough is in handling, what's been done, what needs to be done.  It's a sort of shorthand and makes it easier to "read" the dough.  It also makes you look good when someone is watching you.   These gestures say you're in command of the dough giving closure to the handling. 

rcbaughn's picture

I think that Mini Oven hit the nail on the head with the surface area comment. The less drying out the less of a skin you get on the dough. 

Personally, I do it to help judge with the bulk fermentation too. It is a lot easier that messing with a blob of unorganized dough. I would imagine it would help with the yeast and bubble distribution. Thinner spots would develop faster than the thicker areas of the dough in the bowl.