Making bread by hand – how to shape the dough

How to shape the dough bread

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When you’re ready to shape your dough, think about what you want to bake in your oven. There are many different shapes you can make with your bread, depending on what recipe you’re using. With some tips and examples of cool designs, you can make your bread look like a pro!

Variations in shaping the dough

Most people enjoy making different bread shapes when they bake them in the oven. You can shape the dough into your preferred type of bread rolls. Here are some ideas for you to try.

Traditional sandwich loaf

Traditional sandwich loaf

To make a classic-shaped bread, put the dough in a rectangular pan (Pullman Pan) and bake it. First, coat the pan with oil. Once you fold the dough, put it in the pan with the seam on the bottom and tuck the sides in. Then, carefully stretch the dough so it covers the whole pan. The dough will expand as it bakes, so it doesn’t need to fill the pan.

Bread pan size

Choosing the right size of loaf pan is essential for baking good bread. Use the size recommended in the recipe or slightly bigger. If the pan is too small, the bread will rise out of the pan, while a too large pan will make the bread look short. So be careful while selecting the pan size to bake perfect bread.
If you don’t have a larger pan, you can bake part of the dough in a smaller pan and use the extra dough for rolls.
Don’t let your bread rise too much; double is okay.
Pans come in different sizes and shapes depending on the manufacturer.

How do I know what size pan to choose?

As a rule of thumb, ensure the dough fills 1/2 to 2/3 of the pan before it rises. If the dough reaches 2/3 of the pan before rising in a loaf pan, the pan is already full.

Cups of flourPan sizePan size nameDough weight
1 ½
(or slightly less)
12 cm x 6 cm
4.5” x 2.5”
Miniature6 oz (170 g)
1 ½ – 215 cm x 10 cm
5-3/4” x 3-3/4”
Small8 oz (227 g)
2 – 319 cm x 9 cm
7.5” x 3.5”
Medium1 lb (454 g)
3 – 3 3/421 cm by 11 cm or
23 x 10 cm
8.5″ x 4.5″ or 9 x 4
Standard/Large1.5 lb (680 g)
3 ¾ – 423 cm by 13 cm
9″ x 5″
Quick Bread2 lb (907 g)
4-525 cm x 13 cm
10″ x 5″
Jumbo2.5 lb (1134 g)

The round

This big roll is the easiest shape for a whole loaf of bread. When you fold the dough, keep going until the round shape looks tight and smooth and can stay in place without help.

The round bread

Round Dinner rolls

Dinner roll

Cut the dough into desired portions of 2-3 ounces (60-85g) to make dinner rolls. Use a bench knife to avoid tearing the dough and maintain gluten strength. Cut the dough into as few pieces as possible for easy shaping. Fold the dough in half with small pieces in the centre for a smooth surface. Alternatively, create a cage with your hand, roll the dough against the table to shape it, and place it in greased muffin cups. Let the dough rise and bake it as directed.

Hamburger buns

Hamburger buns

You can make hamburger buns by using more dough. Cut off a piece of dough and shape it into a bun by folding it under until it looks like a bun. You can put sesame, poppy seeds or other toppings on it. The dough will rise to 2 or 3 times its size.

The snake

This method of making bread dough works well for turning it into knots or twists. Cut the dough into thin pieces. If you start with longer pieces, you will have more flexibility. Flatten the dough into a long rectangle, then fold one end towards you. Keep rolling and pressing until you have a tight dough log at your desired length. If the dough starts to spring back, let it rest for five minutes to allow the gluten to relax. Your dough might get upset because you are stretching it in one direction, but it should become easier to work with after a rest.

Knots / Braid

Knots/braid

First, let the snake shape rest for 10 minutes. After that, tie it into either a knot or a braid.
To knot, pull the right end under the left to make a loop. Bring it up, over, and through the centre hole, then tuck both ends underneath the knot’s bottom. Finally, place it on a baking sheet covered with a silicone mat, sprayed with pan spray or parchment paper lined with cornmeal.
This will work well with hearty dough, like whole wheat, without butter or eggs. After baking, brush it with honey and sprinkle it with sea salt for added flavour.

Twists / Ring

Twist/Ring

First, let the snake-shaped dough rest. Then, fold it in half and hold the creased side in one hand and the two ends in the other. Tap it gently against the counter to make it longer. Twist the two pieces together and shape them into a ring by wrapping the ends towards each other and pressing them together. This shape is excellent for sweet dough.

Swirls

Swirl

Shaping bread into a swirl is a fancy way to make it look nice. It works best for fillings that can handle the heat of the oven. Start by greasing a baking sheet. Then, divide the dough into even pieces. Use your hands to roll each piece into a long strand, about 25cm/10 inches. Starting at one end, wrap each strand around the centre to make a swirl. Put the rolls on the baking sheet, spaced 2 to 3 inches apart. Cover them and let them rise, then bake as directed.

French bread

French bread

French bread is typically long and thin. Roll a dough ball with two hands into a tube shape and evenly distribute the dough. Let it sit before dividing it into equal pieces. There are different sizes, depending on how big you want your bread. 

  • 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.

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

Once you’ve decided on the size, you should 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 taper the ends gently. 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.

Toppings

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

Breadsticks

First, roll each dough ball into a rectangle that’s 18X22.5cm (7″X9″). Then, cut the dough into thin strips about 2.5 cm (1″) wide with a knife or pizza cutter. You can make the sticks thicker or thinner if you want. Just be sure to adjust the cooking time. If desired, you can also twist each stick.

Breadsticks

Next, place the sticks on a greased baking sheet, silicone mat, or parchment paper, spacing them about 12 mm (half an inch) apart. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel and let it rise for 20 minutes to an hour until it doubles in size.

Log / Hot dog buns

Hot dog buns

Choose the size of your bread: small or big. Pull the dough into a log shape, then fold it until it looks like a long bun shape.

Log with diagonal scores

Fast2eat Swiss bread

Make the dough into a log shape. Cut diagonal lines with a blade or knife that’s at a 10 to 30-degree angle. Cut the lines 6-12 mm (¼- ½ inch) deep across the top of each loaf, but don’t cut it entirely. Leave about 2.5 cm/1″ uncut on each end. Remember to do the cutting just before baking because it can’t be changed once it’s done.

Dinner rolls

Flatten each ball with a rolling pin on a flat surface until it’s 13 mm (half an inch) thick. Fold it in half and press the edges lightly. Cut it into 16 squares of the same size and put them on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper, silicone mat, or lightly greased.

Dinner rolls

To cut the squares easily, use a pizza cutter instead of a knife to prevent the dough from tearing.
Keep the squares 5 cm/2 inches apart, cover them and let them rise in a warm place (25-30°C/80-85°F) for 40-50 minutes or until they double in size.

Butterhorns (croissant)

Butterhorns

Crescent-shaped bread, known as Butterhorns, has been made since the Renaissance. The French croissant version is recognized worldwide.
To make them, begin by greasing a baking sheet and then rolling the dough into a 30cm/12-inch circle. Brush the dough with butter and cut it into wedges. To shape the rolls, start at the wide end of the wedge and roll towards the point. Place the rolls point side down, 5-8cm/2-3 inches apart, on a baking sheet. Cover it and let it rise. Then bake it as directed.

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This article is part of “How to bake awesome bread

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I hope my easy tips will give you the confidence to step into the kitchen and prepare delicious meals to eat with a handful of close friends.

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