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Shaping a boule: a tutorial in pictures.

dmsnyder's picture

Shaping a boule: a tutorial in pictures.

I have read so many bread baking books and viewed so many videos on shaping boules, but I didn't really "get it" until I saw our instructor, Miyuki, do it in the SFBI Artisan I workshop I attended a couple weeks ago.

I will attempt to show what I learned in still photos with descriptions. I hope that viewing these and then reviewing some of the excellent videos available might help others who are struggling with this technique.

Mis en place

You will need:

1. a batch of fully-fermented dough

2. a lightly floured "board" on which to work.

3. a scale, if you are dividing the dough.

4. a bench knife or other cutting implement, if you are dividing the dough

5. prepared bannetons or a couche on which to rest the formed boules for proofing





1. Weigh your dough

2. Divide it into equal pieces.

3. Pre-shape each piece gently, incorporating any small pieces of dough on the inside. 

4. Rest the pre-shaped pieces, seam side down and covered with plastic or a towel  on the board for 20-30 minutes.

5. Prepare your bannetons or couche for receiving the shaped boules.


6. After the pre-shaped pieces have rested, shape each as follows:

* Pick up the piece and turn it smooth side down.

* Gently fold the long ends together under the piece.

* Rotate the piece 90º in your hands, and fold the other two sides together.

* Place the piece on an un-floured board, smooth side up.



* Cup your hands around the piece, and gently drag it 3 inches or so towards you in such a way that the edge closest to you sticks to the board and is dragged under the dough, thus stretching the top of the piece into a tight sheath containing the dough.


Note the position of the markers before stretching

After the stretching, the marker at the apex of the boule is unmoved, but the one that was at about 40º North, is now about at the equator.

* Rotate the dough 90º and repeat. Do this 3-4 times until the bottom of the boule is relatively smooth and the whole boule has an unbroken, smooth sheath.

Note that there are no visible seams on what will be the bottom of the boule, after the procedure described.


* Place the boules in bannetons, smooth side down, spray with oil and place each banneton in a food-grade plastic bag to proof. (Alternatively, place the boules seam side down on a couch and cover with a fold of the couche, plasti-crap or a towel.)



Well, there it is. For me, being able to visualize the stretching of the "skin" of the boule between a fixed North Pole and a point on the side, using the board to "grab" the bottom of the boule as I dragged it towards me was the "aha moment." I hope it makes sense to others.

The goal (to form a tight gluten sheath) in forming other shapes is fundamentally the same, but the method is entirely different.

Comments and questions are welcome.

Happy baking!








whw's picture

Thanks for the reply and keep the postings coming.


golgi70's picture

Those onions looked great and I love a balsamic reduction.  I'm gonna give that a go some time soon.  I'll use our sourdough and see how it works out maybe multi grain we'll see.  Gotta wait a bit longer so the good apples are about.  But Thanks for the recipe.  They look good enough to eat solo.    

amauer's picture


For my sourdough tomorrow.

Your recipe reminded me of a dish my son made me. He made a fish dish for me two weeks ago that was Italian (Southern?). Basically lots of onions and dates or raisins (he used Raisins) cooked in red wine vinegar. Serve this over cod on a garlic spinach bed. The onions were red like yours too. Very flavorful and naturally served with a nice bread!

rozeboosje's picture

Tried the ideas presented in the photographs and it worked a treat. I just created a couple of lovely (well, lovely for a beginner anyway) looking ... er .... "boules"? .... and they rose about 4 inches straight from a flat surface. I'm stoked.

Casey_Powers's picture

Thank you for posting the tutorial.  I visualized the toothpicks while I shaped my first boule.  this was a bit intimidating for me.  I do not know how to post the pic.  However, I am pleased.  Thank you for being so considerate and helpful!

warm Regards,