Baking skills pt. 4: Divide and Shape

This is the fourth in a series of posts intended to make some of the more complex parts of bread making simpler for the home baker. The previous posts were on the autolyse stage, kneading, and bulk fermentation.

After the bulk ferment the dough must be divided into the necessary portions. Of you have made enough for one loaf then obviously this step can be skipped. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and using a dough cutter or large kitchen knife cut the dough into the required amounts. If you were planning on selling the bread then you would have to scale (weigh) the dough to ensure even portions, but at home I usually just judge this by eye.

A dough cutter is more versatile than a knife for dividing dough.

After dividing, shape each portion into a round and rest for 5 minutes. This allows the gluten to relax and makes the next stage of shaping easier, with less chance of the dough springing back out of shape.

Shaping is crucial to the final loaf, having an enormous impact on the texture, size, uniformity, and look of the finished bread.

An exploded loaf, due partly to poor shaping: the bread will rise most at its weakest point, in this case the seam.

It can be simple, such as adding the final couple of folds to a ciabatta, or much more complex like the round couronne,  or a plaited or braided loaf. For this lesson, I have stuck to the shapes I use most often: the round, the bâtard, the loaf, the baton and the stick or baguette. All of these shapes begin with the round formed after division.

Instructions on shaping at the back of my recipe book.


  1. Using the blades of both hands, lightly cup the dough on an unfloured work surface.
  2. Stretching the dough downwards evenly, gently begin rotating the dough.
  3. Perform this motion several times until the surface tension of the dough is even and the dough is round.
  4. Place seam side up into an oiled bowl or floured banneton, or seam side down on a floured baking tray for free form baking.


  1. Start as for round. Whilst stretching the dough, gently ease it into an oval shape like a rugby ball.
  2. Rock the dough back, exposing the seam. Using the side of one hand pinch the seam closed.
  3. Place seam side up into a bâtard shaped banneton or seam side down on a floured baking tray for free form baking.


  1. Gently stretch the round into a rectangle, being careful not to squash all of the air out of the dough.
  2. Roll the rectangle like a swiss roll, maintaining an even pressure.
  3. Pinch the seams together and place seam side down into a floured out oiled loaf tin.

Baton (Dan Lepard’s method)

  1. Gently press the dough into a flattened oval, seam side up.
  2. Take the top two “corners” of the oval and fold in towards the centre.
  3. Take the new point of the top of the dough and fold that in towards the centre.
  4. Rotate the dough 180 degrees and repeat.
  5. Fold the dough in half towards you, and seal the seam with the side of your hand.
  6. Place the dough, seam side down, onto a floured baking tray.


  1. Begin with as shaping for a bâtard, up to step 2.
  2. Rest the dough for 5 minutes. This helps to further relax the dough which is necessary for stretching.
  3. Gently stretch the dough from each end, pulling it into a stick or baguette shape.
  4. Roll the dough back and forth to create an even surface tension



13 thoughts on “Baking skills pt. 4: Divide and Shape

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