The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough and bench handling

LevaiNation's picture

Dough and bench handling

Good evening,

I'm currently doing pretty big batches of sourdough bread. 4K, 8 loaf tubs. Various of them.

My question or curiosity is regarding the different techniques of laying down the mass of dough and splitting, pre-shaping, and shaping. I've tried various and I'm not yet sure what I like better.

My main two approaches are, one, dumping the dough on a flourless bench. Dusting the top of the mass with flour, which then becomes the outside of the loaf, and using the scraper to roll and tighten the cut pieces for the prshape, then let them rest for 10 minutes, tight side up before the final shaping.

Like this:

The other method is just the opposite; flour on the bench, divide the pieces, sticky side up, and then do the 'envelope' tightening and brief rolling process; then resting and shaping. 

More like this:


Both paths take me to a similar final shaping, proofing and some very nice loaves. So I guess i'm here just fishing for perspectives, and experience from seasoned bakers.


On a separate note, can someone recommend a good book, not on baking, but on artisan or small professional bakery secrets since I find myself involved in this business without much knowledge.



DanAyo's picture

Can’t suggest a book for that subject.

But I think it is best to carefully turn out the mass of dough onto a lightly floured bench so that the top in the dough trough is on the bottom of the floured bench. This way the smooth gluten skin is kept in tack as much as possible. The bottom portion of the dough in the tube tends to stick and the gluten is more damaged because of that.

Leaving the sticky side up on the bench also facilitates better adhesion when pre-shaping the dough. It is generally advisable to not flour the sticky top of the dough for that reason.


Mason's picture

You have developed the tension in your dough by S&F before the bulk rise.  It has a top and a bottom.  The pre-shapes should keep the top as the top.

So when you pour it out of the container onto the bench, it's usually upside down.  You want to pre-shape, respecting that the side that is down will become the top of your loaves, developing the tension in the same direction as your original S&F.

This would mean that your first option (the SFBI guy) is doing it upside down, reversing the tension by making the bottom of the fermenting mass become the top of each loaf.  I like Hammelman's (the second) method better.

This is why I pour the mass of dough out onto a very lightly floured counter, divide the dough, and pre-shape by folding it around the sticky upper side (what was the bottom when it was in the container) and then turning it over and rounding so that the side that was on the counter (that was the top of the mass of dough) becomes the top of each rounded pre-shaped loaf.

Edit: for a book oriented to the professional baker, Hammelman's Bread is very good.  I don't think it addresses the business side of baking, but the recipes and techniques are definitely oriented towards a professional, with professional equipment (with notes on how to adapt for home baking).

bikeprof's picture

I learned from Mac at SFBI (guy in the first video), and he actually does it both ways (and you can watch him do it the other way in the SFBI video on shaping baguettes), depending on the type of dough (and that is what I do). 

For really high hydration doughs...I like the first method Mac shows in the video (no flour on bench), and often just use water on my hands and bench knife instead of flour for the divide and pre-shape...then fairly light flour for the final shape.

But for doughs in a more modest hydration range, I flour the top of the dough while it is in the tub (including around the edges) use a plastic scraper around the sides to release them, and then invert the tub.  I then use only enough flour on what is now the top side to take away major tackiness for dividing, since we don't want much flour on the inside of what we are shaping.

I worked in a bakery where the norm was lots of flour on everything...on the bench and proofing boards...drove me nuts, as it made it more difficult to get seams to seal, and required more aggressive dough handling (but they were also all about aggressive mixing and handling, too).  It worked, but it's not the strategy I prefer.

As for keeping track of the top and bottom (or outer skin) of the large dough mass...first, it will depend on how you are doing your folds as to where these are, but second, I personally think this is a theoretical point, and I have yet to find it makes a real practical difference.  I have never seen a loaf that had any signs "this one used the wrong side to divide and preshape."  If there are any differences, I think they are swamped by how you handle the dough in dividing/preshaping/shaping.

bikeprof's picture

as for the last question...I have yet to find a good book on how to run a small artisan bakery (Hammelman has some good info., Suas does too, as does DiMuzio, but much of it is pretty general or geared toward a context that is not mine).

I learned most of the basics in my SFBI courses...SUPER helpful.

I also learn a ton every time I visit another baker, and I make a point of looking up bakeries when I travel and try to get a visit in with the baker.

Finally, join the BBGA and pose these questions on their forum...there are tons of folks with professional experience there (no knocks against TFL). 

LevaiNation's picture

Yes. Still not sure. They both work. Respecting the tubs top side (usually air dried, a tad crusty) does nothing to my boules. Even after generously dusting the bench before turning the dough, it still gets pretty stuck. So I have to scrape it off anyway. I’m talking 74% hidration, 4 kilo batches. 

Can’t pin point pros and cons yet.