After the dough has been punched down, kneaded, and then has rested briefly, it is ready to be shaped. (It is important to remember that some breads may require two or more cycles of rising and punching before the dough is shaped and allowed to rise for the final time, so always follow the recipe instructions.) There are numerous varieties of bread shapes baked in containers or on a flat surface (see "Bread Shapes"). When shaping the dough, it is important to handle it carefully and not overwork the dough. Shape and work the dough on a floured surface and after shaping, allow it to rise a final time.
Some breads are slashed, which not only creates a decorative effect, but provides a means for some of the carbon dioxide gas to escape resulting in a loaf that retains an even shape. Slashing also prevents the bread from splitting and cracking while baking. To ensure proper results, always follow the instructions on the particular bread recipe for the exact requirements for shaping and slashing the dough and for the correct time for the final rising (proofing) period.