Einkorn Miche via @theperfectloaf

Shaping a Boule

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A boule is a loaf of bread shaped as a round. It's usually the first shape a baker learns, making it a staple in any baker's toolset and one I return to often for certain types of bread.

As with most things in bread making, there are many ways to shape a boule. Some styles are more intensive and impart more structure to the dough, while others are very gentle and just barely gather it up before placing it into a proofing basket.

In this guide to shaping a boule, we'll look at my preferred approach to shaping round loaves.

Be sure to read all the way to the end of this post for a [su_highlight background=”#ffffdc” color=”#444444″]boule shaping video.[/su_highlight]

Shaping a Boule via @theperfectloaf

What is a boule?

Boule is a French term meaning bread in a round shape. I tend to shape certain types of bread as boules:

Due to the nature of shaping dough this way, I tend to find the interior of boules are more closed than shaping bread dough as a bâtard. But this is not bad; it's simply a different approach to shaping with a different end goal in mind.

Boule proofing baskets

I like to use round proofing baskets, either cane or wicker. These 10″ baskets can hold anywhere from 700g to 1,100g. If you're baking in a closed pot like a Dutch oven, I'd recommend a dough weight of 700-900g.

Shaping a boule step by step

To begin shaping a boule, start with a rested and preshaped round. Flip the round over onto your work surface and spread it out gently.

Shaping a Boule via @theperfectloaf
  1. Pull the two sides at the bottom away from each other, making two “wings” (top-right, above)
  2. Fold the right side over to the middle and the left to the middle over the right (bottom-left, above)
  3. Using both hands, pull the top of the “envelope” up and away from your body just a bit, then fold it over and down to the middle, sealing it against the dough (bottom right, above)
  4. Using both hands, grab the bottom and pull up and over to the top (top-left, bottom)
  5. With both hands, tuck and drag the dough down towards your body to create tension on the outside of the dough. After each drag, spin the dough on the work surface and continue dragging until the dough is uniform in shape and the outside of the loaf is smooth with no tears or bulges (top-right and bottom-left, below).
  6. Using your bench knife, flip the dough and place it in the proofing basket with the seam side up
Shaping a Boule via @theperfectloaf

Add structure by pinching a weak dough

If your dough is excessively slack and weak after shaping, you can add a little structure to the dough by pinching the top. After you transfer your dough to the proofing basket, let it rest for a few minutes while you clean up.

Shaping a Boule via @theperfectloaf

Then, use wet or floured hands to grab the dough's very outside edge and fold it over to the middle. To create a little package, do this at four sides, where each “flap” is opposite another one.

Shaped

After the four folds, you'll have an even tighter round. This last-minute pinching will create quite a bit of tension in the dough, adding strength to a boule that might otherwise spread significantly in the oven.

Shaping a boule video

What's next?

To learn how to shape an oval bâtard, baguettes, pan loaves, or even buns and rolls, see my guide to shaping bread dough.

The perfect recipe to try this shaping method on is my Beginner's Sourdough Bread recipe. That dough is relatively low hydration and just wonderful to work with; it springs up with a beautiful, craggy crust when shaped as a boule.

Happy baking!

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9 Responses

  1. Hi Maurizio!
    Is it okay to weigh the dough after bench rest, then cut into two, and then cut off pieces to ensure equal weight between two loaves. Will chopping off a piece from one loaf and adding it to the other affect the structure or rise?

    1. Sure, you could do that. It’s more common to weigh as your dividing, though, so you only have one point where the dough is handled (potentially more aggressively) in that way before shaping.

      1. Yep. That’s basically what I was doing. For some reason I seem to “miss” cutting the dough evenly into two equal weight loaves. Then I end up with one big one and one smaller one. Instinctually I didn’t want to over handle. So I weighed the total dough, cut in what looked like half then weighed one of the halves and adjusted by cutting off a little from the bigger one to even out. Then shape and bench rest. Just wasn’t sure if I was damaging my rise by piecing in some dough to even out the weight.

        1. It’s actually quite challenging to divide by eye directly in half! Invariably, one part of the dough elongates coming out of the container and dividing becomes misleading. It’s ok, though, just get it as close as you can. If you have to scale each piece that is absolutely okay, too. When I’m dividing 4kg+ of dough, that’s what has to be done!

  2. Hi Maurizio,
    My last few attempts at baking have produced wonderful bread, but they’re all misshapen, with obvious folds on the bottom and strange shapes bursting out of the top!!! What am I doing wrong with the shaping? The last few times the dough felt a bit dry, and no matter how much I dragged it to erase the seams on the bottom, it didn’t work. Help! And thank you!

    1. Hey there! It sounds like maybe your dough needed more water to make it more workable, although that might not have been the case. Shaping really does take practice! Just keep at it, and you’ll find yourself improving. I have a few videos posted around the site that should help, too!

  3. Please help! When I make my sourdough if I use a very vigorous Slap & Fold technique, my boule holds its shape well but still comes out rather dense when baked. If I make them using stretch & folds, my boule spreads on slashing just before being placed into the DO but gets good oven spring and comes out with a light and airy crumb.
    Where am I going wrong in being unable to achieve the boule holdiing its shape?

    1. Hey, Lorraine! It sounds like perhaps you’re not shaping your dough tightly enough. If you have sufficient dough strength from kneading and stretch and folds during bulk, you should have correctly set the stage for shaping. But it still is important to shape the dough tightly enough so it holds its shape on the counter after you’ve shaped. I’d suggest trying to shape the dough tighter to see if that helps it keep itself together when you go to bake.

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