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The next step after Primary Fermentation and Punching Down, is dividing the dough into the weights of the final loaves or portions, if called for in the recipe. This is done to make two loaves, "x" number of bread rolls or portions for making braided bread strands, etc. Sometimes the dough is not divided at all.
SARAH SAYS: We divide the dough in the Fluffy, Buttery Cinnamon Rolls or Buns Recipe.
When dividing dough into individual portions, it is important to use a bench scraper, meat clever or sharp knife (not serrated), and to cut straight down through the dough. You can use sharp kitchen scissors to cut small pieces. Do not use a sawing motion and don't pull the dough apart; you want to avoid tearing the lengthy gluten strands or at the gluten network. You can eyeball each piece, but it is best to weigh (scale) the resulting pieces. If one is larger than the other, to fix, cut a chunk of dough off the larger piece and simply set it onto the smaller piece; do not knead it in. During shaping it will become integrated and reconnected into the dough’s structure. Make as few cuts as possible because every time you do, weak spots are created in the dough because you break the interconnected gluten strand network.
ROUNDING AND BENCHING
The next pre-shaping step, called rounding, is optional; that is, for example, to round or roll each dough portion(s) into the basic shape of the final loaf or loaves. This considered a preliminary step towards shaping – making it easier to shape the dough in the next step. Rounding also serves to build strength into the dough.
SARAH SAYS: For example, a piece of dough that will become a sourdough boule will be rounded into a sphere by pulling the edges up to the top. If the finished dough is to have large irregular air holes, such as French Bread, the rounding should be gentle, with minimal degassing. If your dough is very wet, lightly moisten your hands, which help keep the dough from sticking and use a bench scraper to help you move the dough.
But, rounding also means to make a round shape out of the dough while creating surface tension. We use this technique in the Naan, Indian Flatbread Tutorial.
Before shaping, the pre-shaped loaves are benched or rested, or then rested on a lightly floured countertop and covered loosely with an oiled side down piece of plastic wrap. This takes place anywhere from ten minutes to an hour at room temperature to overnight, if placed in the refrigerator to help retard the bread's rise. During this time, the gluten strands in the dough will relax, helping make the dough more extensible or be able stretch more easily without tearing, when the bread loaf goes through its final shaping. We use this technique in the Naan, Indian Flatbread Tutorial. The pre-shaped balls of dough are rested for 20 minutes before they go through their final flat shaping.
SARAH SAYS: Dough can be benched as many times necessary, even for short periods of time, if you are having trouble shaping the dough. Make sure you cover it each time loosely with an oiled side down piece of plastic wrap, so a thin, dried-out outer crust does not form, which helps prevent the dough from rising during the Second Fermentation Period.