We’ve already discussed how to mix bread dough, remembering to allow enough time for your yeast to work its magic and getting your dough just right. Now it’s time to go over how to form a bread loaf.

In this article, we will discuss how to form the perfect bread loaf by hand, whether it’s free-standing or going into a bread pan.

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Basics of Forming a Bread Loaf

Forming a bread loaf doesn’t have to be as hard as we often make it out to be. In fact, it’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it, and you’ll be getting picture-perfect loaves every time.

The first step to forming a bread loaf, once the dough has had a chance to properly rise, is to form a cylinder with the dough. Pull the edges of the dough around the center and tucking them into the bottom. Imagine that your dough has a ball or a small can in the center of it, and use the outer layer of the dough to cover it up.

By doing this, you will create a taut surface for the bread loaf, effectively covering up the uneven and bubbly parts of the dough.

Next, you will need to tuck the seams into the bottom. To do this, you will need to pinch them tightly together, so your dough will keep its shape as it rises. If you have too much flour on your dough, it will be harder to get the seams to actually stick, but it’s important that they do or else your they will pop right back out like a jack in the box.

Place your dough seam side down onto a prepared loaf pan, pressing the dough into the corners of the pan to keep the bread loaf uniform. We will discuss other options for this later.

Lastly, cover your bread loaf and set it aside to let it rise for about an hour, depending on the temperature of the room.

Our favorite way to do this is using a proofing bag. It is by far the best thing ever invented for making bread. By concealing your dough in a proofing bag, you create a mini greenhouse for the dough that makes the temperature easy to control, traps in the moisture, and doesn’t put any added pressure on the dough to keep it from rising.

Your bread loaf should double in size, about three inches over the pan. After your dough has had sufficient time to rise, it’s ready for the oven.

Forming a Free-standing Bread Loaf

The process for forming a free-standing loaf is very similar to forming a basic bread loaf in a loaf pan. Instead of forming a cylinder with your dough and then pressing the dough into the corners of the pan, you will prepare the loaf to sit on a baking sheet with no corners to force it into shape.

Rather than a cylinder, imagine that you have a ball in the center of your dough, and pull the edges of the dough to wrap it around the center. Pinch the seams tightly together on the bottom, and place the loaf seam-side down onto a greased baking sheet to rise.

Some of the more common free-standing loaves are artisan breads, like brioche, with a thicker, chewier crust than your basic loaf. You can check out this article for instructions.

Forming Bread Rolls

To form bread rolls, you work the dough very similarly to forming a free-standing bread loaf but at a much smaller size. Rather than starting out with pulling the dough taut, you will cut the dough into egg-sized chunks.

To make uniform rolls, we like to weigh the dough pieces to make them all the same size. To do this, we simply weigh the entire ball of dough on a kitchen scale, decide how many rolls we want to make based on the size of the pan we’re using, and divide the total weight by that number. That’s how much each dough piece should weigh.

Once you have your dough pieces, you can then pull the dough taut over the center as if you have a marble inside of it, just as you would with any other bread loaf. Pinch the seam on the bottom, and place them seam side down onto a greased pan and set it aside to rise. One bread machine mix should make a dozen rolls.

For more information on how to make the perfect dinner rolls or burger buns, you can read this article.

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