How to shape dough?

So you’ve overcome your fear of yeast, you know all about flour, you’ve fallen in love with the science behind gluten, and you are an expert at kneading dough.

The finished locked braid, filled with gorgonzola and butternut squash puree, roasted vegetables, and grated pecorino.

Now you are just a few steps away from creating an endless array of beautiful homemade breads! And best of all, these last few strides will let you stretch your creative muscles and tune into your artistic side.

There are so many options for shaping breads: from the tight crumb of sandwich loaves to the small rounds of rolls, locked-in fillings, knots, braids, and twists.

With just a few shaping technique tips and some examples of fun designs, you will be on your way to making expert-level breads in no time!

Check the internal temperature of your loaf with an instant-read thermometer.

Step 1: The Pre-Shape

Once your dough has finished its bulk fermentation – a fancy name for the primary rise – it’s time to do a pre-shape.

I like to think of the pre-shape as a way of slowly nudging the gluten into its desired position. Your pre-shape will be determined by the final shape that you want your bread to have.

Here, I will explain three simple pre-shapes to prepare a wide variety of final designs, two for single-serving breads, and one for a full loaf.

A freshly baked roll with butter, hot out of the oven.

1. The Roll

This is the most basic shape for single-serving breads. It can be flattened out into pita (like in our recipes for sour barley pita or einkorn flour pita), molded into hand-pies, fried into donuts, and so much more.

When making dinner rolls, this is actually the only shaping that’s necessary!

First, divide your dough into the desired portions – 2- to 3-ounce pieces are a good size for many single-serving applications.

When portioning, make sure to cut with a bench knife rather than pulling or tearing. You’ve worked so hard to build that gluten strength – don’t break all the strands now!

Try to portion with as few cuts as possible. Again, you want to maintain the network of gluten strands that you have created.

Additionally, it is harder to shape a roll that’s made up of lot of small pieces. It is much easier to work with a single piece.

Fold the dough in half.

Fold your dough in half with any small pieces folded into the center, so that you have a smooth surface on the top.

Cup your hand so that your fingers create a cage. Roll it against the table, passing it around the outer edge of your palm.

It is tempting to roll the whole piece like a ball. Unfortunately, this accomplishes nothing!

Create a cage with your hand over the dough.

Instead, imagine that the top of the dough must stay in place. As you shape, you are pulling the sides underneath, so as to create tension on the outside.

A well-shaped piece will hold its rounded shape as it sits on the counter.

2. The Snake

This method works well if you want to work your bread dough into a knot or twist. It reminds me of playing with Play-Doh as a child. I would work the vibrant putty into snakes, and watch with fascination as they elongated under my palms.

Divide your dough into the desired portions, aiming to cut long, thin pieces. The gluten won’t want to stretch too far in any one direction, so longer pieces to start will allow more flexibility in your end length.

Flatten the rectangular piece into a long rectangle, so that the longer edge is parallel to your body. Fold the far horizontal edge towards you, and press the edge into the center of the rectangle.

Continue rolling and pressing until you’ve formed a tight log. Roll against the table under your palms until it reaches the desired length.

If your dough begins to spring back as you roll, let it rest for five minutes to allow the gluten to relax.

Because you are stretching the gluten strands in just one direction, they are bound to get a bit upset – they prefer to stretch equally in every direction. After a short rest, they should become more cooperative.

3. The Round

This larger version of the roll is the simplest and most common pre-shape for a full loaf of bread.

Divide your dough into the desired portions. Fold it in half to create a smooth surface on the top.

Pull it towards you to create surface tension on the sides, rotate 90°, and pull again.

Repeat this motion until the round has a taut, smooth surface and can hold its shape on its own.

Step 2: The Final Shape

After you’ve finished your pre-shape, it is time for the bench rest. During this rest, the gluten relaxes a bit from its long workout.

The bench rest is quick – you don’t want to give the yeast too much fermentation time, you just want the gluten to have a quick nap before the final shape and proof. About ten minutes will suffice.

Here is where you have lots of creative freedom.

Bread shaping as an art form has a long history, particularly in France. Shaping allows different bakers to distinguish themselves as artists, and also allows them to create myriad breads using just a few types of dough – saving both time and money in their bakeshops.

In some apprenticeship programs, aspiring bakers were required to invent a new bread shape of their own before being dubbed “master bakers.” You can join their tradition by experimenting and creating your own masterpieces.

Some types of dough lend themselves well to particular shapes. For instance, a high-fat mixture like a brioche can be handled more like clay, while a sticky, lean variety is better suited to the simplicity of the sandwich loaf.

I will note suggestions for every design, but don’t let these hold you back!

Once you’ve finished your final shape, you must let the dough proof at room temperature before baking. Cover lightly with plastic wrap to avoid allowing a skin to form on the outside.

Proofing times will vary depending on the size of your bread, the temperature of your kitchen, and the type of dough that you use. This could range from 30 minutes for a small roll up to an hour and a half for a sandwich loaf.

You’ll know the shapes have finished proofing and are ready for baking when you can gently press the top and the indentation slowly releases back into place.

From The Roll:

Dinner Rolls

When making dinner rolls, your pre-shape also serves as your final shape.

Once you’ve rounded off your pieces, you can set them on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat, sprayed with pan spray, or lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal.

Shaped pieces to bake into rolls.

This shape works well with myriad types of dough, but it is particularly tasty when you use an enriched, or high-fat, mixture, like a brioche.

When the rolls have finished proofing, brush them with an egg wash and bake at 350°F for 20-30 minutes, until they are nicely browned on top.

Hand Pies

To make a simple hand pie, assemble immediately before baking. Follow the directions above for dinner rolls, all the way through the proofing stage.

Once the bread shows the signs that it’s ready for baking, press the center down with your fingertips and fill with your preferred filling.

The finished hand pie, filled with goat cheese, berries, and honey.

Try goat cheese, berries, and honey; or caramelized onions and bacon. The variations are endless.

Bake at 350° for 20-30 minutes, until the edges are browned.

From the Snake:


After the pre-shaped snake has rested for ten minutes, tie it into a knot.

Take the right end and pull it under the left to create a loop. Then pull it up, over, and through the center hole. Tuck both ends underneath the bottom of the knot.

Place onto a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat, sprayed with pan spray, or lined with parchment and sprinkled with cornmeal.

These knots are ready to bake, brushed with honey and topped with a sprinkle of sea salt.

This works nicely with a hearty dough, like a lean (meaning without butter or eggs) whole wheat, brushed with honey and sprinkled with sea salt.

Alternatively, try using Chelsea’s Roasted Garlic recipe to make tasty garlic knots!

Proof until ready for baking, and bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes.


Once your pre-shaped snake has rested, fold it in half. Holding onto the creased side in ione hand and the two ends in the other, tap the dough against the counter gently to lengthen.

Twist the pieces together, then wrap the ends toward one another, and press together into a ring.

The finished twist. I sprinkled mine with cinnamon sugar and cardamom before baking.

This shape works nicely with a lean dough in sweeter applications. Try using the white dough from our Cinnamon and Cardamom Bread.

Cinnamon and Cardamom Bread – Get the Recipe Now!
Once the twist is shaped, brush it with honey, sprinkle with cinnamon and cardamom, then proof.

Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes, until the outside has formed a crust.

From the Round:

Sandwich Loaf

Once you’ve pre-shaped your round, prepare a loaf pan by spraying it generously with pan spray.

Flip the round upside down on a lightly floured counter so that the smooth side is facing down.

Fold in the top, bottom, left, and right sides of the dough towards the center.

Starting at the edge furthest from you, pull up and into the center of the round. Repeat with the bottom edge, then the right and the left edges.

Returning to the starting edge, fold the dough in half and flip so that the smooth side is now facing up, and the seam is on the bottom. Gently pull it towards you to create a taught skin before placing into the loaf pan.

Fold the dough in half, flip it over, then pull it towards yourself to tighten.

For a rich sandwich bread, this works nicely with a brioche. For a leaner option, try a long-fermented dough, like the Mark Bittman’s no-knead recipe.

Let proof until the loaf shows signs that it’s prepared for baking, about an hour and a half. Bake at 400°F for 45-55 minutes, until a thermometer inserted into the center of the bread reads between 180°F and 200°F.

Locked Braid

This bread is perfect for brunch. Flip your rested round onto a lightly floured counter so that the smooth side is facing down.

Lightly flour what is now the top of the dough, and gently roll into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle so that the longer side is parallel to your body.

Cut 8 4×1-inch slices on both the left and right sides of the rectangle, starting at the outer edge so that you have 4 inches free in the center.

Cut the dough into strips of equal length on both sides, then spread your filling down the middle.

Place the filling of your choice in this center third of the dough. my preference is for goat cheese, caramelized onions, and roasted garlic – I’ve even been known to include some scrambled eggs, softly set at 145°F, when serving this bread at brunch!

Starting on the left side, take turns stretching and crossing each strip diagonally down to the strip below, creating a braid that holds the filling in place. Pull the final strip across the bottom, locking the filling inside.

Fold the side pieces in toward the center diagonally, alternating left and right to create a braid.

This bread works nicely with a sweet and tender enriched dough, like a challah or brioche.

Allow the loaf to proof until it shows the aforementioned signs it is ready for baking, about 30-45 minutes. Brush with an egg wash and bake for 30 minutes at 350°F.

What Shapes Will You Create?

You are now equipped with six different ways to shape breads! Let these suggestions serve as a starting point to launch your own creativity.

Photo by Nina-Kristin Isensee

Chocolate Banana Yeast Bread – Get the Recipe Now!
Jump off into the world of bread shaping by giving our sourdough, enriched dough, brioche, and even pain paillasse recipe articles a try.

Test these shapes with your favorite bread dough recipes, mix up the fillings, and finish with a variety of spices or salts. Whip out your favorite bread knife and you’re set for a great meal or an awesome snack.

What is your favorite way to shape dough? Will you try changing up the usual shape with your go-to dough recipe? Let us know in the comments!

Photos by Kendall Vanderslice unless otherwise noted, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details.

About Kendall Vanderslice

Kendall’s love of food has taken her around the world. From baking muffins on a ship in West Africa and milking cows with Tanzanian Maasai, to hunting down the finest apfelstrudel in Austria, she continually seeks to understand the global impact of food. Kendall holds a BA in Anthropology from Wheaton College and an MLA in Gastronomy from Boston University, and has worked in the pastry departments of many of Boston’s top kitchens. Based in Somerville, Massachusetts, Kendall helps to run a small community supported bread bakery and writes about the intersection of food, faith, and culture on her personal blog, A Vanderslice of the Sweet Life.


How to shape dough for a tin loaf

Before you can bake your dough, you’ll need to shape it into whatever loaf you want to bake. Watch this video, or read on, for tips on how to shape dough for a tin loaf.

Watch the shaping video here

Why shape bread dough before baking?

Firstly, shaping builds structure within your dough. Gluten strands in the dough act like stretchy elastic bands. By shaping, you will pull these bands tight across the top of your dough, creating tension that holds the dough in place as it rises again, filling out with gas produced by the yeast. Imagine it’s like a balloon being inflated and shaping creates the outer skin of the balloon.

Secondly, shaping can help create a consistent crumb, or inside, to your finished loaf, if that’s what you want.

How to shape dough for a tin loaf

At the start of my bread making classes, most people often think that the kneading will be the hardest part of making their loaves of bread by hand. However, shaping can also be tricky, and is crucial to getting a well-rise loaf. Using a tin to bake your loaf is great if you’re just starting out, as it will help contain your efforts and stop the dough splitting and spreading during baking.

Traditional loaf tins often come in 1lb (450 – 500g) or 2lb (800g) sizes. The weight measurement refers to the weight of dough shaped and placed in the tin. You might want to weigh out pieces of dough before shaping, so that you don’t under or over-fill the tin. Always grease a tin before using, and line with baking paper if making a very wet dough such as focaccia.

One thing you’ll notice in the video is that I don’t flour the surface before I start. Try to avoid using flour if you can as you’ll just incorporate dry flour into your loaf. However, if it’s really sticking, put a little flour in a pile to one side and use it to occasionally dust your hands and the dough as you work.

Here are my basic steps on shaping a tin loaf. Or watch the video to see more.

  1. Flatten the dough slightly. Pinch out one side of the dough, stretch it out and fold it back into the middle. Continue until you’ve worked all the way around the dough. Then flip the dough over, cup your hands and rotate the dough on the surface to form a loose ball. Cover with the bowl and leave the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
  2. Flatten the rested dough into a rectangle roughly the length of the tin you’re going to use. Pinch each corner in turn, stretching them out and folding into the middle. Your dough should now resemble the shape of a cross.
  3. Pinch the top and bottom of the cross shape together, stretch them out and fold into the middle. Repeat for the two sides of the cross.
  4. Your dough should now be tightly folded up. The last stage is to roll up the dough into a sausage. Start at the side nearest to you and roll as if rolling up a piece of paper into a tight roll. Tuck the sides in as you go.
  5. Place the rolled dough, seam side down, into your greased tin, cover and leave to rise.

Want more bread making tips? Find out more about how to knead bread dough here, or more about how yeast rises your bread here.

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.

Now to get the loaf ready for the oven.

  1. Place the loaf in a bread pan that has been buttered (shortening or spray cooking oil will work as well) and covered in cornmeal.
  2. Cover the loaf with a clean towel, and let it rise until it has doubled in size (typically 30 minutes).
  3. Bake per the recipe instructions.

Scattering a little cornmeal in the pan before placing the loaf in it is optional. It can help when removing the baked bread from the pan. Experiment with this as every pan, oven, and oil combination is different. You may find that your set-up doesn’t require cornmeal.

If You Don’t Use a Bread Pan

Not every baker relies on bread pans, and your bread will taste just as good if you do not use one. The typical loaf pan will create a taller loaf that is similar in shape to the loaves you buy at the store. This is because the sides of the pan force the dough to keep its shape while baking.

If you don’t have a bread pan, press the two ends closer together, and place the loaf on a greased baking sheet. When baking, the loaf will spread out a bit and create a more oval-shaped loaf. It will have the look of artisan bread or a classic French bread.

While the slices are smaller and not the typical rectangle, they are still great for a dinner side and make nice little sandwiches. They’re also useful for a dish like a bruschetta.

5 Ways to Shape Bread Rolls

Working with bread dough is one of my favorite things in the world. It used to intimidate me, but once I learned some basics I now find it to be so satisfying and relaxing.

Basics like understanding that dough recipes are really a set a guidelines. You have to adapt any yeast bread to work in your kitchen environment.

If it’s a cold day, your dough may take longer to rise. If it’s been a humid summer, you may need to add extra flour because of that extra moisture in the air. To me, that’s the beauty of working with yeast-raised dough!

Last year I partnered up with Red Star Yeast to create my Ultimate Simple Dough Recipe. That recipe was a huge hit! You can use it to make just about anything your heart desires:

  • Pizza
  • Cinnamon Rolls
  • Sandwich Bread
  • Bread Rolls

The list could go on and on. This dough isn’t only versatile; it’s super fun to work with. Tons of you guys got creative experimenting with this recipe when we did a baking challenge on it last year.

. This recipe is the dough I use in the video below to shape and demonstrate these bread roll designs.

You don’t even need a stand mixer to make this dough. See my instructions for kneading dough by hand here.

Check out the video below to learn these 5 ways to shape bread rolls. I also give some tips and tricks for forming beautiful rolls, no matter what shape you choose.

One trick is to use a kitchen scale to portion out your pieces of dough perfectly. This will give you completely uniform rolls that look totally professional.

However, no worries if you don’t have a scale. You can simply take your ball of dough and cut it in half, then cut each half in halves. Then cut each piece down to three pieces, for a total of twelve. That’ll work wonderfully for the Ultimate Simple Dough Recipe.

These pretty roll shapes are perfect for any special family dinner, holiday, or any time you want feel like creating something with your hands.

The shaped rolls would actually be particularly perfect for Easter, which is coming up so soon!

By the way, be sure to take advantage of this BOGO coupon from Red Star Yeast so you can stock up on your bread baking supplies. I just love their platinum yeast because it yields rolls and loaves that are ultra fluffy, tall, and beautiful.

So what do you think? Which shape is your favorite? Let me know!

Dough for breads with large internal holes such as ciabatta or focaccia needs to be handled very gently so as not to deflate the air bubbles, which create the holes. For flat breads such as focaccia and ciabatta, dimpling the dough with your fingertips pushes the air bubbles together to create the characteristic large, irregular holes. These doughs are poured or scraped onto a baking sheet that’s been coated lightly with nonstick vegetable-oil spray or vegetable oil.

While breads like ciabatta and focaccia are only gently handled before baking, others, such as rolls or sandwich loaves, are given a more definite shape. When shaping loaves or rolls, pinching the seam at the bottom helps to form a tight outer “skin” and results in a higher rise and better form.

There are two surfaces to rising dough—the lower surface that is touching the bottom of the bowl or dough-rising container, which is usually bumpy, and the upper surface, which is not pressing against any surface and so is usually smooth. You want the smooth surface to become the outside or top of the loaf, so when shaping, place it against the work surface. As you shape the dough, the smooth surface will grip the work surface slightly, helping to create a better final shape.

By the time the loaf is ready for the oven, the dough will have risen to double volume.

Photo by The Final Rise

Once dough is shaped, it needs to rise (be proofed) for a final time. It should be transferred to the pan it will be baked in or on (most often a loaf pan or baking sheet) first. As with previous rises, cover dough with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let it rise in a warm, moist environment. Alternatively, the final rise can take place in the refrigerator overnight, though be sure to bring the dough to room temperature before proceeding.

Let shaped dough rise until it has almost doubled in size and a finger gently pressed against the side creates an impression that slowly fills in. Note that this differs from the test for the initial proofing, when you are looking for the impression to hold. During the final rise, you don’t want the dough to rise completely because it will continue to rise in the oven.

If the dough has overrisen and keeps the impression, it will not continue to rise much if at all when placed in the oven. If it is underrisen, it will rise too rapidly when placed in the oven and the crust will burst unevenly.

Congrats, you’re finished with the hardwork that makes the sourdough work. Now . TK LINK