ChewsWise Blog

ChewsWise Blog

Thanksgiving Clinic: How to shape a loaf of bread

Maybe you've got that favorite artisan bread loaf you're making for Thanksgiving but are a bit concerned about what it will look like. You've shaped bread before but it hasn't turned out quite right. And this is Thanksgiving. You want it to look good.

So what to do? This is a difficult problem, because shaping is one of the most demanding skills of a baker. It takes a lot of reptition to get it right. You have to learn the feel of the dough, how to stretch the outside skin of the loaf taught, without compressing the interior and destroying the bubbles inside. You also need to tighten the skin without ripping it, which will disfigure the crust. 

Every bread book seems to have a slightly different method, which is not surprising. Every baker I've worked with has shaped loaves somewhat differently. There is no universal technique. Many work well.

That said, it really helps to see how others do it. I posted an earlier video on shaping baguettes, but Jeffrey Hamelman, the head baker at King Arthur Flour, has a video on shaping as well that's I've posted below. It's part of a series that's worth looking at if you're serious about bread baking, and the tips here are invaluable. 

So give it a shot. While I strongly advise against making baguettes for the first time for your Thanksgiving dinner, a simple sourdough boule would be a good goal. Mix the dough Wednesday evening, and let it rise a bit before putting it in the refrigerator overnight. I would then shape the dough around 7 in the morning and bake the loaf around 9. It will be done in 45 minutes or so, depending on the size of the loaf -- ample time for your turkey to get in the oven. (Another way to go is to use the no-knead recipe, but that dough is generally too slack for the shaping methods shown in this video). You can also find a lot of recipes that home bakers have tried at The Fresh Loaf.

As for me, I'm making several breads for Thanksgiving: a rye loaf, a wheat/rye bread and the Norwich sourdough I've linked to above (a fantastic loaf if you've got sourdough starter on hand).