The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Recovering from errors at shaping? what to do w/ a tear

JBT's picture

Recovering from errors at shaping? what to do w/ a tear

I'm a new sourdough maker and looking for some advice on how to correct a shaping error. I've looked around and found lots of info on how to improve shaping, and I'm practicing. But what I'm asking now is, if I've made an error, what is the best way to proceed for that loaf?

Last night I shaped a boule and when dragging it across the bench to tighten, the surface tore. What would have been the best way to handle that? Carry on? Rest? Reshape? 

I did my best to tuck the tear under and gently handle the loaf, and when I pulled if from the refrigerator today it seemed ok, but was not evenly round when tipped out.

Beyond this specific problem, what is causing me angst is not knowing how to recover from problems at the shaping stage. Any help or advice appreciated.

(I'll try to update with pics of this loaf when its cooled.)

 ETA: pic of not-quite-round loaf

BreadLee's picture

Bake with jack has a good video about this type of problem.  He shows you what to do.  Hope this helps.

JBT's picture

Thanks. I do pre-shape/rest/shape but not as... we'll say firmly as Jack demonstrates in that video. Something to consider.

Esopus Spitzenburg's picture
Esopus Spitzenburg

And in general, when a boule ends up looking not very boule-like, I like to score the bread with a single line, perpendicular to the shorter axis of the bread. This helps even the boule out with the oven spring.

For example, this loaf (from tonight!) came out of the brotform in a funny way, and was longer vertically than horizontally, so I made a single vertical score, and it mostly evened out in the oven.

JBT's picture

That is a great tip. Thanks. And - that is a lovely loaf!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

to know why it tore.  Most tearing is caused by over stressing the gluten matrix in some way.  Perhaps the dough was too stiff or dry, had not risen or stretched enough from yeast or already worked enough (which causes stiffening) and stretched to its limit or the the matrix is falling apart and degrading.  Sometimes the gluten needs more developing so it can stretch more.  Look carefully at the dough, smell it, taste it, pinch it. Can cut it to look at bubble formation inside the matrix. Take notes.  Ask yourself, "What could be missing?"  "What does it need?"

I made a dough the other day that was too dry, not enough moisture in the dough and so the dough was very tight. A rest, letting the dough degrade a bit helped soften the dough.  But no sooner than I had given it a little folding and rolling around the surface started to tear.  I was fighting with my dough. So because it was so stiff in the first place and it wasn't a sourdough with lots of bacteria to soften it with time, I stuck holes all over the dough much to the screaming of my fingers and set the dough back into the bowl and poured about a cupped handful of water (or two) over the dough, covered it and let it rest half an hour.  Then kneaded it with wet hands to even out the dough.  It was gooey at first but shaped much better and had a chance to loosen up and stretch more.  

Then I let it bulk rise in its own time before deflating and shaping.  Had it torn again, the gluten would still be too tight to rise decently for a final proof and another rest would be in order to relax the gluten before the final shaping. 

The aroma coming off the dough will tell you a lot about the fermentation of the dough.  If the dough is tearing and smells very fermented then chances are good the dough matrix is tearing because it's falling apart.  Then it would be wise to add in some fresh flour that needs little time to hydrate, like an AP flour or combine with some freshly made dough.  Then shape and skip any bulk rise going straight into a final proof.

In your case, it might have been too early to shape before retarding.  When tearing, stop.  Just stop what you're doing, cover the dough with a moist towel and/or bowl to prevent drying and come back in 15 to 30 minutes and reshape.  Can repeat if it tears again.

JBT's picture

So much here I will keep in mind and consider; thank you! 

Your experience with the too-dry dough points to a large part of my trepidation here. With yeasted (non-sourdough) dough I would feel more confident making adjustments, re-kneading and re-shaping. With a sourdough though it's different; I appreciate your pointers on knowing what's going on with the dough.

I believe that my problem with this dough came from several sides. First, I think you are on to something that it was just a bit too early to shape. (It had been cooler in my kitchen than expected that day, but it was late and I had to put it and myself to bed.) Second, I missed some large bubbles when pre-shaping and several ended up at the surface. I think it was one of these that tore open. Finally, this dough was slightly stiffer, and with bigger gas pockets, then what I have been making. I didn't expect much difference as it was only very slightly less hydrated than I have been making (68% v. 71%) but it also had two stage hydration and a number of stretch and folds, so...idk 

If this happens to me again I will follow your advice: "Just stop what you're doing, cover the dough with a moist towel and/or bowl to prevent drying and come back in 15 to 30 minutes and reshape."

David R's picture
David R

3% difference in hydration doesn't sound big, but keep in mind that reasonable hydration levels don't actually go from 0 to 100. Three percentage points actually covers a noticeable chunk of the reasonable range.