High Hydration dough Shaping
The goal of the baker while pre-shaping and shaping is to achieve tension in the dough without damaging the fragile structure obtained from gentle mixing and a long fermentation. This video demonstrates techniques for handling higher hydration doughs without introducing excess flour. A 6-8” bench knife works well for this job.
A higher hydration dough can be any bread flour dough over ~73% hydration and any whole grain wheat dough approaching or exceeding 100% hydration. These doughs can present a challenge to handle because they are very soft and sticky.The first response is to add extra dusting flour, which can cause other problems by incorporating more and more flour into the dough. The primary flaw is to have a streak of dusting flour trace through a baked loaf. Another problem would be eventually overworking the dough, resulting in a reduced volume after baking.
Once the dough is showing signs of proper strength and gas development it’s time to divide. There is certainly an art to making this call. Look for some rounding of the edges along the sides of the tub. The dough should exhibit some elasticity and have some gas inside. Start by gently depositing the dough onto a clean work table without any flour. Then a very light amount of dusting flour can be applied to the top surface. With more practice a hand periodically dipped into a flour container will provide just enough buffer between you and the dough. Divide the dough by cutting and scraping the portion away from the mass trying for an organized ‘round’-ish piece to transfer to the scale sticky side down. Get the desired weight and scrape the mass off the scale and onto the clean table. Now, using the same motion as with your hands, begin introducing tension as seen in the video. After a few rounds the dough should be standing up some. The scraping motion should be exaggerated enough to force the dough into an oblong shape then rotate 90 degrees and repeat. Clues when to stop are a lightened color compared to the mass and some tackiness on the surface. Going too far and rupturing the thin gluten membrane created will result in diminished volume in the final product and a tighter interior.
For final shaping, the same cautions should be taken not to introduce too much flour to the dough. With proper fermentation and dough handling, the preshaped loaves should have developed enough strength and surface tension by this point. Be careful not to overwork the dough, which can cause tearing of the skin, making the dough sticky again and difficult to handle.
High Hydration Dough Shaping Video