‘If I make a cake, I just pour the batter into the tin and bake it. So why can’t I do the same with bread dough? Why does that need shaping?’

This was a fantastic question from a student in a recent bread making class. Have you ever baked a loaf that turned out flatter and more dense than you expected? Or perhaps your loaf split as it baked and you’d like to know why?

Watch the video to find out why you need to shape your dough and how better shaping will help you bake a well-risen loaf. Or read on to find out more.

What happens as your dough is rising

There are various common steps to all bread making. You’ll need to mix your ingredients and then, usually, knead them to a smooth dough. Then you’ll leave that dough to rise, or prove.

So after you let your dough rise once, why do you need to properly shape your dough and let it rise again before you bake it?

As your dough proves, the yeast in the mixture get to work producing gas, and your dough rises. And it makes sense that, in order to get your dough to rise, you need to keep that gas inside the dough and not let it escape.

The Epsom Bakehouse how to knead bread dough

So what does shaping your dough have to do with it?

Once your dough has risen once, why can’t you just pour or push it into a tin, or place it onto a baking tray? Surely it will rise again and soon be ready to bake?

Let’s go back to your dough as it rises. I mentioned that the yeast are producing gas, which is being trapped within the dough. The gluten strands within your dough act as a support network to contain the gas. Once your dough has risen once, tip it out of the bowl – you should see lots of little air pockets within the dough.

At this stage, most doughs need shaping before a second rise. Why? Because shaping allows you to stretch the gluten strands tight across the top of your chosen dough shape. This creates a ‘skin’ which holds the dough shape in place and which will contain the gas produced by the yeast.

The Epsom Bakehouse why shape bread dough well risen loaf

What would happen if you didn’t shape the dough?

Some breads don’t need this shaping stage. But most, including my popular sandwich loaf dough, do. If the dough isn’t shaped, much of the gas produced by the yeast will escape from the dough. You won’t see the dough rise properly and it’s possible that your final loaf will turn out flatter than you expected. You might also find that the loaf bursts or splits at random places during baking.

So not shaping your dough enough, or at all, might be one reason why your loaf turned out flatter than you expected.

Watch the video above to see more about shaping your dough. Or you can see how I shape dough for a loaf tin by clicking this link.

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, or have any further breadmaking questions, do let me know in the comments. Or why not check out more breadmaking recipes, hints and tips on the blog.

You can also join my supportive community of home bread bakers over on Facebook. From sharing great bakes and recipes to asking and answering key breadmaking questions, there’s plenty to learn and join in with.

Want to learn more about baking your own great bread at home?

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