The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Advice on making a nice round cob shape

floraposte's picture

Advice on making a nice round cob shape

Hi there,

I recently started making sourdough bread, and though I am very happy with the taste and texture, I can't get the dough to retain a nice round shape during the second prove. I shape it by folding it round and under, so that it is a little ball, but as it rises it slowly flows outwards until it's a fat disc shape. 

I've tried rising it in a bowl rather than on a tray, but the same thing happens as soon as I take it out of the bowl and put it on the tray to bake. As it bakes it spreads out. 

Can anybody tell me how I can get it to stay round?


PS I'm using a strong white bread flour, starter and salt (nothing else); mixing and kneading for 10 minutes, then leaving to prove until doubled; knocking back and shaping, then proving for a further good few hours.

Heath's picture

A few things occur to me from your post. 

I don't think sourdough should be knocked back in the way commercially-yeasted bread can be.  It should be shaped very carefully to avoid knocking out the bubbles created during fermentation.

Maybe your dough needs to be shaped more tightly so that surface tension is created.  Professional bakers shape their dough surprisingly tightly (but carefully).  If you use the search box, you'll find plenty of advice on shaping dough (or look at some videos on youtube).

Is your dough overproofed when baked?

floraposte's picture

Ah, thanks, I will go and have a look at the advice.

I've been making bread with commercial yeast for 12 years but only just started trying sourdough, so it's possible I'm battering the dough too much! I used to knead the sourdough for five minutes before the second prove, as I would a commercial yeast loaf. I've stopped doing that now and just knock it back, but maybe need to be even more careful. 

The book I've been taking advice from advises proving the dough for 10-13 hours in the second, shaped, stage, before baking. I give it less than this as it doubles in size well before then - about 5-6 hours.

The bread has a very open texture usually, with big bubbles of air ( some about 2cm across). Is this an indicator I'm over-proving?

Heath's picture

A very open-textured loaf with big holes is what sourdough bakers dream of, so congratulations!  It sounds like you're not knocking back too much at all. 

You're also doing right to watch the dough and not follow the recipe advice on timings.

davidg618's picture

Large holes are more often an indication of high hydration and good gluten development (= or > 70%). If hydration percentage is a foreign concept to you click on "handbook" in the bar at the top of The Fresh Loaf home page. Go to Section II, "Bread Basics" and read "Baker's Math".

In early days I learned most about shaping by watching Ciril Hitz videos or The Back Home Bakery videos on Youtube or here on TFL.

Lastly, learn the simple "poke test", an easy way to determine proofing progress. Simply poke the proofing loaf with a finger--flour your finger if the dough surface is tacky. If the finger's dent springs back quickly the dough is under-proofed. When the dent rebounds slowly and doesn't refill completely the dough is about 90% proofed and ready, in most cases, for turning out, slashing and baking. If the dent doesn't recover at all your loaf is likely over-proofed.

Happy baking,

David G

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It took me a while to train my thoughts about sourdough after so many recipes using instant yeast.  The pattern of knead, let double, etc is not the same.   You may come out better thinking about the whole rising thing as one rise from start to finish interrupted by corrective shaping folds.  Don't wait until the dough is doubled to start folding.  Do it as soon as you see the dough starting to puff up and run sideways.

As soon as you see rising dough going more sideways than up, flip it out (top down) do a round of stretch and folds (one each from north south east and west) flip back & tuck under the corners to let rise some more.  Depending on the hydration, you may choose just to leave the dough on the bench and cover with a large bowl or damp towel to rise.  45 minutes between folds is average.

floraposte's picture

Wow, thanks David, Mini, Heath. That's really useful feedback. It's given me a fresh perspective on my bread technique.

Can't wait to experiment with those suggestions tomorrow . . .

AllanM's picture

I agree with all of the above. We bake so-called sourdough nearly every week and have experienced similar things. It's especially true that we need to retrain our thinking regarding the rise...especially if you live in a cold climate. First, I'd suggest adding a little gluten to your flour. All "bread flour," even between bags of the same brand, is not the same. Gluten helps a lot in producing structure. Second, when you slash your loaves prior to baking, make sure that your slashes are more-or-less symmetrical. Long cuts that reach at least 12, 3, 6 and 9 o'clock will help the boule poof evenly. That being said, I don't object to a slightly wonky loaf.

Have fun! Experimenting is really the best way to learn how to deal with problems!