Bread Play! February 25, 2010

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:

bread pizza2                                              bread pizza3

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…

bread pizza

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.

bread pizza 4  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.

s shape drawing

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!


Variation on King Arthur Recipe for Cheese Rolls November 8, 2009

Filed under: Breads — sotsil @ 9:30 am
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Last summer, I blogged about trying a King Arthur Flour recipe that uses Vermont cheese powder.  Since I had no intention of driving to Vermont to buy the cheese powder, I decided to try the cheese packet in Kraft’s macaroni and cheese.

It worked beautifully.  Even Molly from King Arthur said that using this powder from the macaroni and cheese box was certainly a clever substitute.  This was the blog I posted back in July  King Arthur said to make burger buns, but I was in a playful mood so I twisted them and came out with these.

king arthur rolls

The July blog had larger photos.  These were cropped just to show you how they came out. 

Two weeks ago, I wanted to do a more ambitious shape.  I was a little nervous, but earlier in the day, I had played the motions in my mind over and over again to make sure I wouldn’t end up with a dough fiasco. 

Pardon the vulgar expression but I managed to come up with an “artsy fartsy” shape  that almost made me want NOT to slice the bread.  I wanted to throw cement over it so I could preserve it and hang it in my kitchen.  Who cares about a Cordon Bleu diploma when you’ve got the proof right there sticking out from the wall?

Using the same King Arthur Flour recipe (, I made a “boule” then took out a piece of dough to create two braids.  I laid them over the ball in crisscross fashion. 

This is how it came out:

boule1   boule2

If you’re into shaping bread and have created nice shapes that you endlessly stare at, do you sometimes think of turning them into pieces of sculpture?  Crazy thought, but since yeast breads are a tricky (and moody) lot, it would be nice to preserve those shapes that remain intact from start to finish, without collapsing or exploding in the oven. 

I get this funny feeling that shaping bread is like playing golf.  You get good days and bad days.  Just when you think you’ve got it down pat, the dough either gets runny or feels like rock.

Sorry, can’t help it, but here’s one more shot:


Peter Reinhart has written books on bread (Crust & Crumb, Bread Baker’s Apprentice and others) and devotes pages to shaping bread with step by step instructions.  I have his Bread Baker’s Apprentice and flip through the photos for inspiration.

When it comes to shaping bread, there’s no end to your creativity.  When you get tired of shaping, you can venture into creating two-tone or three-tone breads, another fun activity that puts my concentration on overdrive hours before baking.  From comments on The Fresh Loaf, I learned that artificial coloring is still the failsafe method; Shiao-Ping, a talented and much admired “fresh loafer” said that natural coloring (e.g. beets for purple color) changes during the baking process.  She said that natural beet color makes the dough look nice and purple before baking, but you end up with a dark brown color after baking, possibly due to oxidation.

If you browse online, you’ll be surprised at how many new products there are to delight the bread shaper or coloring artist in you!


Testing my Baker’s Scissors July 17, 2009


pain d'epi

The first time I was smitten with bread making (my “dough odyssey” started early this winter), I didn’t want to go all out for baking gadgets because I was afraid it might be just another passing fancy.  Baking one loaf alone takes about 3 to 4 hours so I wasn’t sure my new bread hobby would stick.

One of the first baking tools I spent money on was a good pair of baker’s scissors. The shape of the pain d’epi (wheat stalk bread), which requires the use of scissors, seemed like a challenge especially for a bread novice.

The pair of scissors was rather expensive, but I thought it was a good idea to invest in good quality tools if I wanted to create acceptable bread shapes.

pain d'epi1

Now my confession:  the first picture you see isn’t a real pain d’epiPain d’epi, like the baguette, is a crust bread.  What I used to practice my “cutting skill” was a regular recipe for bread rolls.  Like I said in an earlier blog, I have not yet ventured into crumbs, crusts, rye and sourdough.  I like to make plain white loaves, rolls and sweet breads. I’m sure there’ll be another time for learning how to achieve excellent crust breads.

If you want to try a genuine pain d’epi recipe and want clear instructions on how to shape it, go to this link:  The owners of this web site wrote Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day which I enjoyed.  Their pain d’epi looks a lot more attractive and authentic than mine does.  You can certainly see the huge difference.  Their pain is a lot thinner with a much better crust (and bite). 

As far as shaping the bread is concerned, though, I was pleased with the outcome, considering it was my first attempt.  For the pain d’epi cut, remember to:

  • hold your scissors at a 45 degree angle
  • gently hold one end of the dough as you make a swift and precise cut on the dough, without boring your scissors all the way through.  The recommendation on the web site is to leave a 1/4 inch space from the cutting board
  • after the first cut, gently manipulate it over to one side (that is, away from the dough roll, as if making a leaf)
  • then make another cut at a distance of half an inch from the first cut and gently manipulate over to the other side (if you laid your first cut to the right, the second cut should be to the left)
  • repeat the cutting method until you’ve reached the end of the dough

Here’s a close-up of one cut:

pain d'epi2

If the prospect of spending 3-1/2 to 4 hours to make bread discourages you, I recommend Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day.  It refutes some of the generally accepted methods of bread making with surprising results that prove the authors know what they’re talking about!  In the link I provided, there is a step-by-step on the cutting procedure with crystal clear photographs.  And, they have very good recipes for no-knead bread.  Yes, no-knead!