Ever since I learned how to make challah, I’ve had this child-like propensity for playing with flour and testing my not-so-nimble fingers to make different bread shapes, taking my arthritic imagination to task. It was snowing heavily one day in early February and this kind of weather would have most kids rushing out to build a snowman and hurling balls of snow. I’m not a kid, I dislike snow, so I stayed indoors. Yet I was in a playful mood and wanted to shape something aimlessly – certainly not a good thing when you’re trying to save your ingredients because they’re suddenly expensive these days. My ingredients did not really go to waste, as you can see:
Swirls, twists, the letter S, a collar, a baseball bat or a rabbit – there are several shapes you can experiment with. These shapes were produced using a pizza recipe from Peter Reinhart, but you can take your own favorite pizza or bread recipe and create these shapes. My “collar” bread on the left came out the way I imagined it, but I was slightly disappointed with my “S” breads. What I did wrong is that I did not roll out the strands thinly enough. Because this pizza recipe has yeast, I should have made the shapes ultra-thin because they rise once they’re snuggled in a hot oven. I lost the “S” there so my breads came out looking more like uneven body parts. What I mean by body parts…er…
For this “collar”, I divided my dough into two and rolled out each one into a strand thinly – to a length of about 16 inches. Then alternating the strands, I cross them over, somewhat like making a hair braid, but only with two strands. Braid them tightly, not loosey-goosey style, because once in the oven, they’ll balloon up!
If you look closely, my strands are not even – they become smaller at the ends (see left side). That’s what happens when I get impatient rolling out dough into strands. When the dough is difficult to handle, it’s hard to stretch them evenly. I have good days though when dough can work like a charm – it’ll go wherever you want to take it. A lot depends on various factors – the room temperature, the kneading, the combination of ingredients, etc. On those days when dough acts like a temperamental child, I should take more time to evenly distribute the dough’s thickness from one end to another. For this bread I was happy, even if I could not get the strand to be uniformly sized from one end to the other.
For the S bread on the right, this is a shape I got from Peter Reinhart’s book. Again you divide your dough into strands, the number of which depends on how many “S” breads you want to make. Roll them out very thinly – and evenly. A 12-inch strand is good, but in this case, I should have rolled it out longer. Working both ends simultaneously, you take the end of each strand and roll it as you would do for cinnamon rolls or a jelly roll; one end going outwards (away from you) and one end going inwards (towards you).
I tried looking for a YouTube demo. There were some on other shapes but nothing for this S-shaped bread. Here’s a CRUDE drawing I did using Word’s drawing tools.
I did say it was crude so forgive me!
Keep the knots or curls as close together as possible. Some bakers coil it around only once – you can do that too. In fact, the picture above shows that there’s only one coil, but it started out with many coils like my drawing on the left.
I find bread sculpting relaxing…you would too if you like rolling up your sleeves and working your hands into dough! It reminds me of the days I used to play with clay. Now, if we could only have bread in as many colors as clay. With food coloring products, that’s not impossible to achieve!