The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Shaping dutch oven bread?

Lolakey's picture

Shaping dutch oven bread?

I'm new to dutch ovens and just made my first no knead bread using my Le Creuset this weekend, a sundried tomato and olive loaf with AP flour and durum wheat. It turned out quite nicely, despite some initial confusion, and I'm still not sure if I did it right.

I've been looking at lots of recipes and youtube videos on how to make these breads, and most say to leave the dough to slow proof overnight, and then 2 hours after shaping (like I did). However, some people seem to skip the shaping altogether, merely stretching and folding the dough upon itself once before the final proofing. After it has risen (or should I say spread out) they simply "pour" the rather sticky and sloppy dough with a scraper into the hot DO and bake. It looks a mess, but the breads turn out quite nice, if somewhat rustic looking, despite not being firmed up beforehand.

I normally use the stretch & fold technique and shape all my breads before the 2nd rise. It was much harder to do this now, as the hydration was quite high and the second proofing was done "free standing" on parchment paper (for my sandwich breads I normally proof the second time in a loaf pan, which obviously keeps the shape). The dough spread out quite a bit, and was difficult to transfer. I had to just lift the whole parchment paper with the dough on top and place it into the DO. 

So I guess my question is, how important is the shaping when making no knead bread in a dutch oven? Are there any advantages or disadvantages to just pouring the dough into the DO like I see some people do? Any tips on how to make the dough keep its shape during the second rise and transfer it without making a big mess of it all?

Bread1965's picture

You could easily make a no-knead bread and pour it into a dutch oven, bake, cool and eat. No fuss, no problem and it'll probably taste fine. Your post speaks to the issue of bread being over-fermented ("the dough spread out quite a bit") and of developing structure within the bread to create a more open crumb. There is a great place for no-knead breads. It's easy, approachable and you can make some good tasting bread. If your kitchen/room is too warm when the dough is left out to develop, then you'll get a floppier(?) dough. Make it cooler, or put it in the fridge overnight and you'll get a less floppy result and probably a better rising bread. So that ambient temp is important.

The simpler answer is that there are two different ways to change the result - less time or a cooler kitchen.

How soft your dough becomes by bake time - meaning how much is spreads out when placed onto your bench/paper/board is going to be to a large degree a function of how fermented it is. If it's over fermented - meaning you've let it sit out for the yeast/levain to do it's thing too long in too warm a room it will flop and become soup.  So reducing the time you leave it out to develop will help will reduce it's 'floppiness".

Or you could simply reduce the ambient temperature the dough is in - say by putting it into the fridge - because then you'll be slowing down the yeast from doing it's thing and your dough won't be necessarily over fermented. Of course if you leave the dough in the fridge long enough, eventually it will flop just the same. But an overnight dough in the fridge will be fine. 

But the question you should ask is "why fold and shape at all"? The real point is to develop gluten AND structure. The point of no-knead is that you don't have to develop the gluten through folding because time (letting it do it's thing overnight for you) will help create gluten.

What about structure? Ever see one of those beautiful loaves cut in half that seem to show nothing but perfectly even sized holes throughout? That's the result of properly folding the dough in a pattern and form that creates lots of little pockets that will expand when the dough is baked. But that's a longer discussion for another day..

So assuming you're using a basic unbleached bread flour, and a simple 123 bread recipe, focus on how long and at what temp you're developing the dough, and then think about your folding and shaping technique as a way of building structure. Play with these concepts long enough and it will all make sense as you see how your bakes evolve when making small changes from one to the next.

Good luck..

BobBoule's picture

Just keep going, the high hydration No Knead recipes are all like this.

You do not need to fuss with the dough, the creator of No Knead, Jim Lahey, stated that while the dough is sitting overnight it is developing its structure (and flavor) very slowly. When people want to rush the development then they have to jump through hoops with kneading, standing, and all the other phases they have to do.

No Knead eliminates all that by trading off time. Jim Lahey only does one set of folds, once the dough is ready but that is only to get it to be a little bit smaller so that it can be "poured" into the screaming hot dutch oven a little bit easier. You can skip this step and simply pour the loose dough into the dutch oven.

The high hydration is what causes the dough to be so loose as to be pourable, this is normal and does not need to be fixed. I simply choose a dutch oven that is not too big and the loaf comes out just fine.

BreadLee's picture

I started out like you, using the no knead method. But I do like to shorten the bulk ferment by using warm water.  4+ hours works a treat.  Then shape it up with cornmeal dusting.  2 hour proof afterward.. or whenever the poke  test looks good.  It's nice to shape up a nice looking loaf,  tightening up that outer skin a bit.  

Just practice it in ways you feel comfy with and getting good results.  

Lolakey's picture

Thank you so much for all of your advice! I guess it's just practice practice practice. 

I do think my kitchen tends to be quite warm, so I might try cold fermentation or just reducing the amount of yeast.