Lesson 4: How to Make a Boule

After the dough for Sourdough Wheat and Rye Bread rises on the counter top, you’ll need to shape it and transfer it to a bowl or banneton for longer fermentation in the refrigerator. The shape artisans use for loaves like the one we’re baking is called a boule. The purpose of the boule is to form tight surface tension that will maintain the integrity of your loaf, encouraging it to rise upward rather than spread outward.

To form a boule, begin by lifting the ball of dough and holding it  in the palms of your cupped hands. Then shape the loaf by applying gentle pressure, from the top of the dough downward, stretching the surface and, in effect, bringing the thin top “layer” of dough to the bottom of the boule and into your hands; the dough should rest in your hands seam-side down.

If you are working with an especially wet dough, you might prefer to form the boule by placing the dough on a counter top instead of in your hands, rotating it as you bring the thin top layer to the bottom of the boule.

Either way, repeat the process several times until you have a relatively tight, smooth surface to the dough. The goal is to remove air bubbles from the outer layer, while avoiding overworking the dough and pressing gas out of the interior of the loaf. It took me years of practice to get this right, but rest assured that “good enough” also works.

Gently transfer the dough to the counter top, cover it with an inverted bowl, and let it sit for 20-30 minutes until the bottom seams close. Then turn the dough over so it is seam-side-up, pinch together any bottom creases that remain opened, and transfer the boule into a floured banneton or a bowl lined with a smooth, floured cloth.

Next Up: Troubleshooting for Sourdough Wheat and Rye Bread

Copyright 2014, Ellen Arian, Ellen’s Food & Soul