Want to take your yeast bread to the next level, appearance-wise?
Sure you do. You bake a really tasty loaf of bread, right? Delicious bread, bread you sometimes want to share with friends. Or the lady at the post office who always smiles.
Or maybe the neighbor who roto-tilled your garden, after he saw you struggling to turn over those muddy clods with a spade. Here at King Arthur Flour, Bake for Good is a concept we embrace with hands as well as hearts.
When you're thinking "presentation" bread – a loaf that's going to be a gift, part of a potluck, maybe end up on the bake sale table – it's neat to go the extra mile, and make the bread look as special as it tastes.
Enter the bread stencil, an ideal way to dress up your bread without a lot of fussy braiding, shaping, or snipping of decorations.
Let's go through the simple process of stenciling bread with a pretty design.
First, the recipe. You can use any recipe for a free-standing round or oval loaf, or for a loaf baked in a loaf pan.
The very first ingredient listed, cracked wheat, isn't in my pantry.
Hmmm... what do I have that might step in for cracked wheat?
Grapenuts! I always keep them on hand for Grapenut Pudding. We'll give them a try.
I prepare the dough, shape it into a log, and nestle it into an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan.
Add a clear plastic shower cap for protection, and let the dough rise.
OK, let's forge ahead and see what happens.
First, I spritz the loaf's top surface with warm water.
Then, I gently lay the stencil on top, and sift flour heavily over the stencil. Since the very tips of the wheat stalk aren't lying flat against the loaf, I carefully press them down, and flour some more.
Looking for a dark rather than light design? Sift cocoa over the stencil.
I place the loaf in the oven to bake, as directed.
And about 40 minutes after popping it into the oven...
Lesson learned: apply flour more heavily. But for a first attempt, I think this is pretty nifty. (And by using that expression, I know I'm dating myself – Boomer and proud of it!)
Another lesson learned: don't pick the bread up – don't sling it around and slice it and otherwise lay hands on it – until it's cool. When warm, the design is easy to mess up. Once cool, the flour tends to adhere much better.
So, next time you're baking bread, and looking for lovely as well as luscious – try stenciling, the simple way to add professional polish to your favorite loaf.