The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Getting my dough to hold it's shape

HPoirot's picture

Getting my dough to hold it's shape

Hey all!

First post in a great forum!

So i've baked a few bread now, refining my techniques along the way, and getting rid of a few bricks too!

I've read a few threads on TFL (been lurking since Jan) and i've realised all my bread has one common issue.

Regardless of how much i shape it, it doesn't hold, and just spreads like a ciabatta. At first i assumed it was hydration, but then i saw a link with 80% hydration baguettes and it held it's shape better than mine did.

My recipe:

500g Canadian Strong White Bread flour (what it said on the label)

380g water

7.5g Pink salt

~4g Yeast.

I did a 50% poolish for about 10hrs, mixed it up with my Assistent for about 8 min.

Total bulk fermentation was 1.5hrs, with 3 S&F at half hour intervals. (i would've aimed for longer intervals & fermentation time, but i had time constraints)

Divided into two, preshaped, then benchproofed for about 20mins (time constraints) and baked. 

Bread turned out fine. 

It's important to note that when shaping, i barely floured as i was very afraid of the dough incorporating too much flour.

Any comments on my recipe, and was my dough too wet for shaping? Should i be using more flour when shaping?

I was fairly satisfied with how the bread turned out, but any improvements will be appreciated.





Felila's picture

I don't use flour for shaping at all, but I may be working with a lower hydration recipe. I bake on an old cookie sheet, so whether I get  a loaf or a foccacia depends on the shaping. I start out with a flat layer of dough and pull the edges under and inward, trying to keep the gluten stretched tight. Once I have a seamless stretch over everything save the bottom seam, I put the dough on the sheet (if I want a boule) or stretch it out a little (if I want a batarde). There must be videos on this site that show you how to shape free-form loaves. 

Or, you could use a bread pan of some sort. 

I also retard the dough for a day, shape it, let it rise for two hours (takes a while to warm up from the fridge), and bake. I think I might get more gluten development with my three-day process (biga, dough, bake). 

isand66's picture

Are you using a basket to let the dough rise?  This will help keep its shape. You have a 76% hydration dough which is not too crazy but you can try lowering the water to have a little more manageable dough.  Part of your problem could be your shaping technique.  I suggest doing a search on TFL or Youtube and watch some pros do shaping of different styles of dough.  If you don't form enough surface tension the bread will flatten out especially if you are not using a basket or couche.

amberartisan's picture

1. Was your poolish overaged? Too much proteolysis in a poolish can make the dough too weak.

2. Using a couche REALLY helps dough to  keep its shape. Also, try looking at a video of shaping and couching baguettes.



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

time.  It was most likely over fermented.  Coupled with 76% hydration would be runny.  Try a minimum poolish time (6 hrs) or reduce the water in the recipe or reduce the yeast in the poolish.  The time on the poolish is over a broad time period but most flours will vary greatly within those parameters.  Try a shorter time span first for that amount of yeast.  On another attempt, try a long cool poolish with more yeast (and malt) in the final dough.   The spotty look of the crust bothers me.  

How much yeast was in the poolish?  All 4 g for 250g flour?  

dmsnyder's picture

You mention a "50% poolish." I assume you mean the poolish was 50% hydration, i.e., it had twice as much flour by weight as water. But you don't indicate how much poolish you use in your final dough.

FYI, a poolish is 100% hydration, pretty much by definition. Your pre-ferment might be called a "sponge" or a "biga."

Anyway, to know your dough's real hydration, you need to account for the water and the flour in the pre-ferment.

How much yeast was in the pre-ferment? 10 hours might be okay, if you use just a smidgeon of yeast.

Otherwise, I agree with the above comments, especially regarding providing lateral support to the proofing loaves. Speaking of which, you say you baked after a 20 minute rest after pre-shaping. If accurate, this may indicate inadequate shaping and under-proofing.

Sometimes, when you have "time constraints," the best approach is to arrest the process by refrigerating the dough or loaves at whatever stage and resuming the process later.

Photos of your baked loaves, including crumb photos may help us advise you.


HPoirot's picture

Sorry i wasn't clear in my first post. I meant i set aside 50% the final flour to make a 100% hydration poolish. So my poolish was 250g each of flour and water. 

My initial plan was to let it ripen for 15 - 16 hour, so i only added a small pinch of yeast, can't give a figure there, as my scale can't measure <1g. The remaining 3g was added along with the rest of the ingredients and salt during final mix

So i think it's more likely my poolish was immature instead. Does that change things?

As for sticking it into the fridge for retarding, it's out of the question as i only have a very small window for which to bake. The next chance i get would be Mon, so 3 days later.

It looks to me that my problem seem to be my shaping technique, that i'm not pulling taut the outer layer. 

I would prefer to not reduce the hydration as i see it as giving up. ;)

I suppose i can look into getting a basket, i can just get any basket and line it with heavily floured tea towels right? 

A couche might not be viable, as i make a loaf or two per week (if i get the chance). Or is there a smaller scale couche for home bakers? 

Enough talk, pictures!


Clearly, my scoring needs work. 

dmsnyder's picture

Your list of problems includes: Shaping, scoring, probable under-proofing, inadequate steam and too cool an oven. Too high a percentage of pre-fermented flour - 20 to 25% would be more typical. But the most obvious problem is that your loaves need lateral support. 

For baguettes, especially, the best solution, in my opinion, is a bakers' linen couche. And the best price I've found is through the San Francisco Baking Institute. Here's a link:      Linen canvas (couche)                       

One yard of 18" wide linen should do you, unless you go commercial. That will set you back $8, plus S&H. You might as well get a lame while you are there. A handle and a few blades, and you're set! See:      Blades                       

I also noticed that the sides of your baguettes are pretty pale. Do you bake loaves close together?

I hope you take my list of your "opportunities to improve" in the positive spirit in which it was offered. Baguettes are the most challenging breads to get right, even though they might seem to be the simplest.  But you seem to have the commitment, and you're going to see progress.


HPoirot's picture

No worries, please be as honest as possible! I'm here to learn after all. I didn't create an account to get praises. ;)

I'm curious how you derived those though. Shaping and scoring was obvious. What about the under proofing? Was it from my description or the pictures? 

As for the baking, i can't afford a baking stone, so i baked on a sheet pan that was preheated along with the oven. Loaves were probably 2 inches away from each other. Perhaps i shall try baking one at a time, as my sheet pan is rather small. 

I use a squirt bottle for steam management, baking at 230C. Could i be losing heat from opening the door to squirt? I doubt my oven can go higher than 230.

I have a home made lame, with a stick and razor, but when didn't shape properly, the skin wasn't taut enough for me to run it through. Normally i would take my time and work it through, but by then i was running out of time. 

I checked out the site, but they didn't mention if they shipped international. I'm all the way over here in Singapore. A quick check with Amazon yielded no results either, for merchants that ship international. 

I thank you for taking your time to critique my bread.

dmsnyder's picture

Yes. My mention of under-proofing was based on your procedure description. I thought about it a while. Usually, an under-proofed loaf will have greater oven spring. But if there is not good gluten formation, a good gluten sheath and inadequate steam, those work against oven spring. So, I put it out there.

I like a baking stone, but some good bakers have done experiments which suggest you don't really need it. 

The squirt bottle steaming method has exactly the problem you identified. Note that a baking stone does buffer the oven temperature some with its thermal mass. There are a couple better oven steaming methods. If you can find a heavy cast iron skillet or equivalent and fill it with rocks or scrap steel, for example, nuts and bolts. Then pour water over it to make steam. The second method is to put a couple loaf pans in your oven. To steam the oven, put rolled up kitchen towels in the loaf pans and pour boiling water over them to saturation.

Singapore?! Yikes! I'm sure SFBI ships internationally, but, if I were you, I would look for a French bakery and ask if they would sell you a yard of linen. Or look for a restaurant supply store that caters to European restaurants. Or use well-floured cotton kitchen towels, although the advantage of linen is that it is pretty non-stick, even without flouring.

Good luck!


isand66's picture

Another method of steaming that is very simple is to put a heavy duty sheet pan on the bottom shelf of your oven and pour 1 cup of boiling water right as you put the loaves in the oven.  This method works perfectly for me but I know a lot of people do the towel method and lava rocks method as well.  Also, make sure you set your oven as high as it will go for at least 30 minutes to 60 minutes to give yourself a nice hot oven to work with.  After you put your loaves in you can lower the oven about 2-3 minutes later to around 465 F for baguettes.

I'm sure you can probably find a good source of baking supplies closer than the USA so hopefully you can pick-up some bakers linen soon.

If you can find a quarry that sells tiles and see if they have unglazed tiles you can use that instead of the bakers stone.  You do have to make sure they are not using any chemicals in the tiles that will be dangerous to your health though.

Good luck.


HPoirot's picture

Thank for all the great advice!

Few more questions before my next loaf.

How long should i be proofing my yeasted dough instead? Is there a rule of thumb? Assume room temp, no retardation.

Is 20%-25% poolish only applicable for this bread? How do i decide how much poolish to use?

Do i use the same guidelines with a biga?

dmsnyder's picture

How long to proof depends on how much yeast you used and the ambient temperature. At room temperature, most recipes for yeasted breads call for a 60 minute proof. But use of pre-ferments and how you mix the dough changes the recommendation. The best thing though is to judge by the dough, not the clock. You ask for a "rule of thumb." That's funny, because the best way to judge the proof is called "the poke test." Poke the dough with your index finger about 1/2 inch deep. If it springs back immediately, keep proofing. If it springs back slowly, your proof is complete. If it stays indented, you have over-proofed. 

You will find recipes calling for less  or more than 25% pre-fermented flour. That's a typical amount for sourdoughs. Other pre-ferments, like pâte fermentée, may be used in higher proportions.  Pre-ferments allow you to use less yeast. Mix for a shorter time to develop gluten. Ferment for a shorter time but still get good flavor. The acid strengthens gluten bonds, improves shelf life by retaining moisture and inhibits mold formation. To get an optimal flavor, the pre-ferment must be adequately but not over-fermented.

There are so many variables in developing a formula for a good bread, I would strongly encourage you to find well-tested formulas and bake those breads. You can "play it by ear" after you have accumulated enough experience to make changes with the knowledge of why you are making them and what effect they should have.