For most people just making great bread is a challenge. But once you have mastered making bread many bakers take it to the next level by making their bread into works of art.
To take your bread to the next level, you will need to learn and master a few techniques: Stenciling, Scoring, Brading and making a Lattice or a weave.
Yael Levi is a self-taught baker, a one-woman factory that creates, simply put, a bread which is a work of art. Not only do these bread look amazing but they have wonderful textures and flavors as well. For all of these reasons, she made it to our best bakeries in America list. Based in Ohio, she currently features her bread in pop-up sales or catering to individuals and events (check out how you can order on her website).
We have collaborated with Yael from Baby’s Bread – A master of bread decorating, to bring you this wonderful article showcasing some of her great works of art and we hope to inspire you to try and come up with your own designs.
Without further ado here is Yael Levi’s insight on decorating bread
Yael Levi – Baby’s Bread
Things that are aesthetically pleasing have great appeal and that includes bread. A loaf with stenciled art or intricate scoring is often the centerpiece of the table for celebrations and gatherings.
Some loaves’ beauty is not so obvious by their outward appearance – only after slicing into the bread is its beauty revealed. Plaiting, shapes, and toppings make other bread visually appealing.
There are 3 main ways to go about decorating your bread:
- Scoring the bread with a design of your choice
- Using a stencil
- Three dimensions decorating like wrapping a batard with lattice, braiding strands of dough, or weaving strands of dough.
When stenciling or scoring your bread make sure to keep your dough hydration around 60- 65% so you will be able to score a design that would remain beautiful and intact once the dough was baked.
When decorating your bread, you should think of your dough as a medium, a canvas if you will, to display your skills and artistic expression. The decoration is often only limited by the imagination…and the hydration of the dough.
How To Score Your Bread With Beautifull Design
When scoring your bread for art reason, you should target your hydration level at around 60- 65 %. The reason being that high hydration doughs (anything between 80-100% ) are not conducive to these more refined and detailed bread. With lower hydration, the dough is firmer, easier to handle, and easier to score.
Which Tools Are The Best For Art Scoring Your Bread?
To score, you should use a double edge stainless steel razor, either held between your fingers or in your curved-mount or straight-mount lame.
It is possible, on occasion, to use scissors or even a serrated knife. The straight-mount lame produces perpendicular slashes, perfect for the details of scoring a leaf design. Whereas the curved-mount
lame slash the dough at an angle that produces a flap which allows the dough to expand in a way that produces that coveted “ear” we are all looking for in our bread.
Inspiration When Scoring Your Dough
The best time to score your bread is after the dough is chilled from proofing in the fridge.
My recommendation and the way I go about this is to score freely after taking into consideration the shape of the bread and the patterns left on the dough from the banneton or the tea towel I used.
Don’t look for exact precision or symmetry, it will only bring you down, and in my personal opinion; being asymmetric will only do good to bring out the rustic and natural-looking images of your bread.
You can get inspired by everything around you and of course, online. People are doing beautiful bread out there and you can find great inspiration on the net.
How To Decorate Your Bread With a Stencil?
Stenciling designs onto the bread is another way to make beautiful bread. Stencil art seems to be easy enough, however, a rocky mistake ( which I did as well back in the day) is simply to sprinkle flour over a stencil lying on the bread and pulling off the stencilץ
True, the designs look beautiful and looked even more fabulous once baked but I found that this method is misleading as once the baked bread was handled the designs rubbed off and I was left with a great loaf of bread but zero design.
Tip: Lightly misting the dough with water before dusting it using a simple spray bottle makes the design stay firm on the dough even after it’s baked.
Stencils can be anything that you can lay over your dough. It can be a leaf, a key, a lace doily, or a pre-cut stencil. Precut stencils can be bought at local craft stores or online or can even be cut out of paper or mylar with your own custom design. Again, no limit to the imagination!
Which Ingredients Can Be Used To Dust Over a Stencil?
Different ingredients can be used to dust over a stencil – flour, cocoa, dehydrated vegetable or fruit powder, roasted barley powder – each with its own distinct color. I most often use roasted barley powder which I make by grinding roasted barley. The dark image left on the bread is very distinct, even rustic looking.
3D Bread Decorating
Whereas scoring and stenciling are more two-dimensional, wrapping a batard with lattice, braiding strands of dough or weaving strands of dough takes bread to the 3rd dimension.
How To Make Lattice Decoration For Bread
The meaning of lattice according to the Webster dictionary is:
a: a framework or structure of crossed wood or metal strips
b: a window, door, or gate having a lattice
c: a network or design resembling a lattice
Now that we got that out of the way, we can carry on.
The easiest way to make a lattice is to use a pastry lattice roller, which cuts evenly spaced little slits in the dough.
Once cut, gently pull and stretch the dough to open up the slits…and voilá, you have a lattice that is perfectly cut to wrap bread.
Sounds easy enough right? Well… there are many ways this can still go wrong so I gathered my best tips to do it right and ensure success:
My Top Tips For a Perfect Lattice Wrapped Bread:
- The dough must not be too thick or the roller will not be able to cut through the dough completely. If this happens, take a sharp-pointed knife and recut the slits that were not cut through.
- Place the shaped bread, seam side up, on the lattice and then bring the lattice up and around the dough. To make a lattice bread more visually appealing, you can use two different colored doughs – one for the main bread and one for the lattice. Cocoa is an easy addition to the dough to make a brown dough.
Plating Your Bread as a Decoration
Plaiting offers another method of making 3-dimensional bread. Braids can be made with anywhere from two strands of dough to almost infinite numbers of strands – admittedly, the maximum strands I have used is eight. In essence, braiding is a form of weaving the strands together, following a pattern that is repeated.
Tricks That Will Help You Follow The Pattern When Braiding Bread
Here are a few tricks that I have found to be useful to help me remember the pattern I am following.
Repeat to yourself the pattern. For example, when braiding 6-strand challah, I say “bring one down from the top and the 2 nd one goes up to replace it.”
Another useful tip when braiding is to coat each strand with flour before braiding – this helps with keeping the definition of the strands. If making sourdough bread, as opposed to a traditional enriched challah dough, lightly dust the braided bread with flour before baking – this too helps make the strands distinct.
On the other hand, if making an enriched dough braid, glaze the braided dough with a beaten egg that has a pinch of salt and a spoonful or two of water.
Shaping Your Braided Bread
The beauty of braided bread is that it can stand alone or can easily be twisted and repositioned to make a shaped bread. Oftentimes, I coat strands in sesame seeds or poppy seeds before braiding to add further visual appeal both on the outside and on the inside. A bread that I like to make using the braided dough for special occasions, like an engagement or just to say “I love you,” is a heart. But really, you can go all out and use your imagination to think of any shape you like.
Making Bread Lattice With Weaving – Easier Than You Think
My latest endeavor in decorative bread making was to make a lattice with weaving. My intention was to make a simple lattice to wrap around a batard. What actually resulted though was an intricate woven “fabric” which was beautiful but too large and heavy to wrap around a batard.
Instead, I molded the “fabric” around a conical mold that I constructed using heavy aluminum foil wrapped in a silicon sheet. The end result was a cornucopia that I filled with a variety of sourdough bread rolls, which I used as a centerpiece at a celebratory family gathering.
How to go about it?
Like when braiding, coat each strand thoroughly in order to prevent the strands from sticking together, therefore maintaining the distinction of the strands. Like making a lattice with a roller, using different colored doughs brings further visual interest to the baked bread.
Making such bread is less complicated that one thinks. The necessary tools to produce such bread are easily found in most kitchens or homes (or online).
As a self-taught baker, I am continuously learning and evolving in my craft. Regardless of the current trends, my goal is always to produce healthy and delicious bread which are visually appealing. It is always satisfying to hear, “that’s too pretty to eat” and then to hear “now this is real bread” after finally agreeing to cut into the bread and take a bite, or two.
Making such appealing bread is only limited by one’s imagination and willingness to explore the magic of the dough.