The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Shaping practice for an amature?

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cdnDough's picture
cdnDough

Shaping practice for an amature?

Does anyone know of ways to practice shaping loafs that are suitable for amatures?  I seem to struggle with shaping more than anything else at the moment and I'm looking for ways to practice.  I only consume about 3 loafs per week in my house which seriously limits my time handling dough.  I imagine that it would be must easier to learn the techniques to shape baggettes, battards, and boules if you were shaping loafs for a few hours each day.  My total shaping time is more like 30 minutes/week.  I've watched all the youtube videos I can find but I just don't seem to be getting it yet.  My battards tend to be too flat and too long with an inconsistent overall shape (typically thin in the middle and fatter on the ends).  My first attempts at a boule usually result in a circular loaf, albeit a rather flat one.

mcs's picture
mcs

One way to practice is with a kitchen towel.  Fold it into fourths so it's a thicker square, then watch my shaping video or the kalamata herb video (or both).  Try doing it like the video (I tell my wife that and it makes her REALLY happy), then watch the video again.  Repeat a bunch of times with a few towels so you can see what it feels like with different textures.  You can do this for loaves or even boules. 
Once you get that down, make yourself a sacrificial batch of white dough, about the hydration of your normal loaf.  If you can, make enough for 3 or 4 loaves.  Go through the regular mixing, folding, and then do the shaping you practiced.  Place them seams down on your counter, then cover them with plastic/trash bag for 1/2 hour.   Don't add any flour.   At this point, they'll be mushy, so flatten them out and reshape them like you did the towels.  Repeat until you can't stand it anymore.  Maybe lengthen the proofing time as it gets tougher to an hour.  You should be able to get at least 5 rounds of this in, so start early.  That'll be a month's practice for you in 1 day.
Maybe also watch clips of the videos in between too or try different shapes to vary it a bit.  Remember, a boule is formed the same as a loaf, but just with a couple of small turns.

-Mark

http://thebackhomebakery.com

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Mark's suggestion above is a good one. For what it will cost to make a sacrificial batch to experiment with knowing you will toss it later anyway, you will learn a lot about shaping and handling.

What Mark didn't say is that his shaping video's on his web site are absolutely the best available in my opinion. You don't need to try and guess what he is doing, every step is closely shown so you get the feel of it. Check it out at the link below his post under Tutorials. Have fun!

Eric 

cdnDough's picture
cdnDough

Many thanks for the advice, I'll give that a try next weekend.  What I've noticed is that both Leader's breads that made (pain au levain & levain complet) have resulted in a rather wet/slack/sticky dough.  Even after fermentation, the dough still feels slack and somewhat fragile.  Perhaps it is just my imagination, but in your video the dough seems to hold its shape much better than mine.  Even when you first take it out of your pot, you can still see the fold lines... my pain au levain looks more like a settled mass of dough at the bottom of my bowl.  Thus far, I've resisted the temptation to adjust the dough hydration and use the weights as listed.

mcs's picture
mcs

 I don't know what the hydration level is on Leader's recipes, but most artisnal type breads fall somewhere around the 68% level, which is what the Kalamata video addresses.  The stretching and folding either as a French fold technique or through the folding in these videos creates a dough that, despite its higher hydration, will hold itself together and shape well.  Often the first fold will require a little bit of flour on the table and subsequent fold will not.  Even if it looks like a settled mass, if it has strength, it'll stil shape well.

-Mark

http://thebackhomebakery.com

cdnDough's picture
cdnDough

Thanks again and great videos by the way!  I've never tried doing more than one fold.  The dough hydration is 70% which is pretty close to the 68% you're using.  It calls for slight degassing (i.e. "pat it into a 6''x8'' rectangle") and fold after 1hr of fermentation. This is followed by another 2-3hrs of fermentation.  The total rise after fermentation is only about 25%.  I have noticed that I end up with a different dough consistency depending on whether I machine or hand knead.  With the latter, I tend to have a more firm dough but I'm guilty of flowering my hands periodically and wonder if I haven't decreased the hydration slightly.  With the machine, I tend to measure by weight and let the KA mixer do the kneading.  I scrape the dough hook down, but otherwise leave it be.  While both yield dough which passes a windowpane test, the machine kneeded dough seems more sticky to handle and doesn't seem to have the strength to stay formed into a ball after fermentation.

mcs's picture
mcs

Glad you like the videos.  With a 70% hydration dough of white flour, you should definitely be able to form a shape that holds until it is in the oven.
I think you're probably right about the added flour with the hand kneading having an effect on the hydration, also the machine is going to warm up your dough quite a bit, creating a stickier dough. 
Perhaps try this with your recipe:
1.mix your dough by hand or with a mixer
2.form it into a boule as best you can, then set aside covered for 1 hour (in a oiled bowl)
3.stretch and fold like the kalamata video
4. do the same as step 2, then step 3 again also
5.at this point, after 2 folds your dough should be ready for shaping, then go to...

After your final shape, place it seam down on parchment paper on a baking pan.  Shorten your final proof to 45 minutes or so and bake it then.  Sometimes waiting for too much rise on the final proof results in a flatter loaf even if it passes the 'finger pressing over-proof test'.
Good luck and let us all know how it comes out.

-Mark

http://thebackhomebakery.com

Pablo's picture
Pablo

These are all great comments by experienced bakers, and I'd like to add one thing more to the mix.  The protein content of your flour will make a big difference in the dough resulting from a specific hydration.  That is, a flour with a 10% protein content will be much slacker than a dough with a 12% protein content at the same hydration level.  Also, unfortunately, the numbers on the sides of the bags don't help a whole lot since they round to the nearest gram.  A flour that says it has 3 grams of protein per 30 grams of flour can have anywhere from 2.5 grams of protein to 3.4 grams of protein per 30 grams of flour.  In other words, 8.3% protein to 11.3% protein, although, naively, you'd think 3 in 30 would be 10%.  So I think you should feel free to adjust the hydration levels based on the performance of your flour - how it feels to you and how it functions in your recipes.  What I have done, by the way, is to call the manufacturer to get an accurate protein percentage for my flours.

Good luck and have fun!

:-Paul

cdnDough's picture
cdnDough

I've yet to make another battard, but I did manage to shape a reasonable boule with a 70% hydration sourdough using the tips from your video Mark.  I kneaded by machine but finished by hand.  Even without flour, my dough definitely feels better after a few minutes of kneading by hand.  The second fold did seem to help as well.