How to shape the dough bread

How to shape the dough bread

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Shape the dough

Once your dough ball is ready to be shaped, you must consider what you will bake in your oven.

The recipes vary, so you may already have an idea. There are so many options for shaping bread. With just a few shaping techniques tips and some examples of fun designs, you will be on your way to making expert-level bread in no time!

Variations in shaping the dough

People like the various shapes they can achieve in shaping and baking their bread in the oven.

Shape dough into your favourite rolls. Suggestions follow.

Traditional sandwich loaf

Traditional sandwich loafYou could take your dough ball, stretch it into a traditional bread pan (Pullman Pan), and bake that in the oven if you want the classic loaf shape you get at a grocery store.

Prepare a loaf pan by spraying it generously with pan spray or coating it with oil.

Once you have folded the bread dough, flip the dough over so that the seam is on the bottom and tuck the layered sides underneath so the entire exposed surface of the dough is smooth.

Place the dough into the prepared pan. Gently pull it towards the edges of the pan to create a taut skin. The dough does not need to fill the entire bottom of the pan because it will expand to fill the pan as it rises.

Bread pan size

Deciding the size of the loaf pan you want to use is crucial to the result.

Don’t go any smaller than noted in the recipe. Too small, and your bread will rise out of the pan. Or you can use a smaller pan, pull out some of the dough and make rolls with it instead.

Too large, and your bread will appear squatty or like it wasn’t allowed to rise long enough. You may go a little bigger; however, pay attention and don’t let your bread rise more than double its original size.

Note: The pans come in various sizes and names depending on what a manufacturer decides to offer.

If you don’t have a larger pan, consider baking part of the dough in your smaller pan (enough for the unrisen dough to fill the pan 1/2 to 2/3 full) and making rolls from the rest.

How do I know what size pan to choose?

As a rule of thumb, the pan should be enough for the unrisen dough to fill the pan 1/2 to 2/3 full.

The loaf pan is at its limit if the unrisen dough fills the pan 2/3 full.

Cups of flour Pan size Pan size name Dough weight
1 ½
(or slightly less)
12 cm x 6 cm
4.5” x 2.5”
Miniature 6 oz (170 g)
1 ½ – 2 15 cm x 10 cm
5-3/4” x 3-3/4”
Small 8 oz (227 g)
2 – 3 19 cm x 9 cm
7.5” x 3.5”
Medium 1 lb (454 g)
3 – 3 3/4 21 cm by 11 cm or
23 x 10 cm
8.5″ x 4.5″ or 9 x 4
Standard/Large 1.5 lb (680 g)
3 ¾ – 4 23 cm by 13 cm
9″ x 5″
Quick Bread 2 lb (907 g)
4-5 25 cm x 13 cm
10″ x 5″
Jumbo 2.5 lb (1134 g)

The round breadThe round

This larger version of the roll is the simplest and most common pre-shape for a whole loaf of bread.

After you have folded the bread dough, fold it until the round has a taut, smooth surface and can hold its shape on its own.

Round Dinner rolls

Round Dinner rollsWhen making dinner rolls, this is the only shaping that’s necessary!

Divide dough into the desired portions; 60-85g/2-3 ounce pieces are great for many single-serving applications.

When portioning, cut with a bench knife rather than pulling or tearing. You’ve worked hard to build that gluten strength – don’t break all the strands now.

Try to portion with as few cuts as possible. Again, you want to maintain the network of gluten strands that you have created. Additionally, it is harder to shape a roll made up of many small pieces. It is much easier to work with a single piece.

Fold your dough in half with small pieces folded into the centre to have a smooth surface on the top. A well-shaped piece will hold its rounded shape as it sits on the counter.

Another option is: Cup your hand so that your fingers create a cage. Roll it against the table, passing it around the outer edge of your palm and place it in greased muffin cups.

Cover, let rise and bake as directed.

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Hamburger buns

Hamburger bunsYou can use the same approach with more dough to make hamburger buns.

You’ll want to cut off a piece of dough and shape it into a bun. You do this by folding the dough under itself until you have a dough resembling a bun.

You can top the buns with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or other toppings.

Remember, it will rise to 2 or 3 times its size.

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The snake

This method works well if you want to work your bread dough into a knot or twist.

Divide your dough into the desired portions to cut long, thin pieces. The gluten won’t want to stretch too far in any one direction, so longer pieces to start will allow more flexibility in your end length.

Flatten the rectangular piece into a long rectangle, so the longer edge is parallel to your body. Fold the far horizontal edge towards you, and press the edge into the centre of the rectangle.

Continue rolling and pressing until you’ve formed a tight log. Roll against the table under your palms until it reaches the desired length.

If your dough begins to spring back as you roll, let it rest for five minutes to allow the gluten to relax. Because you are stretching the gluten strands in just one direction, they are bound to get a bit upset – they prefer to stretch equally in every direction. After a short rest, they should become more cooperative.


Knots/ braid breadAfter the pre-shaped snake has rested for ten minutes, tie it into a knot or braid.

Take the right end and pull it under the left to create a loop. Then pull it up, over, and through the centre hole. Tuck both ends underneath the bottom of the knot.

Place onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat, sprayed with pan spray, or lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal.

This works nicely with a hearty dough, like a lean (meaning without butter or eggs) whole wheat, brushed with honey and sprinkled with sea salt.


Once your pre-shaped snake has rested, fold it in half. Holding onto the creased side in one hand and the two ends in the other, gently tap the dough against the counter to lengthen.

Twist the pieces together, then wrap the ends toward one another, and press them together into a ring. This shape works nicely with lean dough in sweeter applications.


SwirlsMaking a “swirl” is a fancy way to shape your bread. It works best for fillings that can endure some heat since part of it will be exposed to the oven hit and for fillings that don’t contain too big pieces.

Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Divide dough into equal pieces.

Using your hand, roll each piece into a pencil-like strand about 25cm/10 inches long on a lightly floured surface.

Beginning at one end of the strand, continue wrapping each piece around the centre to form a swirl.

Place rolls 2 to 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.

Cover, let rise and bake as directed.

French breadFrench bread

French bread is traditionally long and thin.

Roll the dough ball with two hands into a tube shape, pull it into shape with the dough distributed as evenly as possible across the loaf, and let rise.

Or, for a perfect French bread:

Divide it out into even pieces

Note: Weigh the dough by cutting it (do not tear it). You can also eyeball this if you do not have a scale.

  • For a flûte or Parisienne – about 560g (19.75oz) of dough for a 400g (14 oz) baked bread.
  • For a baguette – about 350g (12.3 oz) of dough for 250g (8.8 oz) of baked bread.
  • For a ficelle or breadstick (thinner and skinny baguette) or demi-baguette or half-baguette (20cm/8″) – about 175g (6.2 oz) of dough for a 125g (4.4 oz) baked bread.
  • For a small French sandwich bread – about 70g (2.4 oz) of dough for a 50g (1.75 oz) baked bread.

Pre-shape and rest the dough

Note: The point of this process is to start creating tension in the dough to rise up instead of spreading out.

Pat the dough into a rectangle and then pull out on the short sides. Bring the short sides into the centre and press with your fingertips to seal. Then bring the long ends into the centre and press to seal.

Cover with an oiled plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 10 minutes to allow the gluten to relax before the final shaping.

Shaping the dough

After the dough has rested, stretch each rectangle slightly by folding it down on the long sides into a cylinder, sealing the seams and pulling it into a tight log form.

Gently stretch out the ends again and, using your fingertips, press them together into a point, forming the baguette shape.

Using your hands, with the seam side down, roll the cylinders into a tube shape, gently stretching them to the desired length, roughly about 4 cm/1.5” in diameter.

Taper the ends of the log slightly to create the baguette’s typical “pointy” end. Use your hands and the back-and-forth rolling motion to gently taper the ends. Pinch seams and ends to seal.

Note: Keep your fingers damp to prevent the dough from sticking. Or sprinkle each rectangle with a little bit of flour, a very light dusting, so your hands don’t stick.

Note: See tips for shaping baguettes at https://youtu.be/ba2DHI299PU

Place each loaf on a lightly floured couche

Note: Once you’ve finished your final shape, let the dough proof before baking.

Transfer the shaped loaves to a lightly floured (sprinkled with cornmeal or all-purpose flour) lint-free cloth, large tea towel, or baker’s couche to rest.

Pull the cloth up around each loaf to create folds, a ridge between each baguette (think taco stand). This will help the dough maintain its shape while you let them rest for the final time.


You can top any with sesame seeds, poppy seeds or other toppings such as cheese or grilled onions.

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When ready to be shaped, roll each dough ball into a 18X22.5cm (7″X9″) rectangle.

Use a sharp knife or a pizza cutter to cut the dough into thin strips. Slice each rectangle into 8 sticks of about 2.5 cm (1″) width.

Or you can make these any size you want, from thin to larger. Just adjust the cooking time.

Twist each stick if desired.

Place on a greased baking sheet (or parchment paper) with the dough distributed as evenly as possible, about 12 mm (1/2 inch) apart.

Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let rise for 20 minutes to 1 hour. Just let it rise until it doubles in size.

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Decide whether you’d like to make your bread into small or bigger log loaves.

Pull the dough into a log shape and again fold it under itself until it resembles a long bun shape.

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Log with diagonal scores

Shape it into a log.

With a blade or a sharp knife, make diagonal (at a 10 to 30-degree angle) cuts 6-12 mm (¼- ½ inch) deep across the top of each loaf, leaving about 2.5 cm/1″ uncut on each end. Never cut it entirely across the top of the loaf.

Attention: The scoring process is done just before the loaf is put into the oven. Don’t try to change its shape or rise once the cuts are made.

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Dinner rolls

Roll each ball out on a silicone mat (or flat, floured surface) until it’s about 13 mm/½ inch thick. Fold it in half and gently seal.

Cut into 16 even size squares and place them on two cookie sheets with parchment paper (or lightly greased).

Note: use a pizza cutter for quick, easy cutting without tearing the dough, which a knife would do.

Keep all the rolls with about a 5 cm/2” distance between them.

Cover them and let them rise for 40–50 minutes at a warm place (25-30°C/80-85°F) until doubled in size.

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Butterhorns (croissant)

Butterhorns (croissant)Butterhorns or crescent-shaped bread have been made since the Renaissance. The French version was named croissant and has become an identifiable shape worldwide.

Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.

Roll dough into a 30 cm/12-inch circle on a lightly floured surface.

Brush dough with melted butter.

Cut into wedges.

To shape rolls, begin at the wide end of the wedge and turn rolling towards the point.

Place rolls point side down, 5-8 cm/2-3 inches apart, on a prepared baking sheet. Cover, let rise and bake as directed.

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