Introduction: Decorative Bread

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I've found myself getting into a bread rut recently. This doesn't sound like a bad thing (and it's not!!) but I am always looking for new ways to break out and try something new by adding flavors or trying to make a new shape! I always keep this in mind while making bread but rarely follow through with the fear that it won't turn out and I'd have wasted flour and yeast on my hands.

As you might have guessed, though, I overcame and made 4 batches of bread all at once. Warning: not recommended for the faint of heart. Just kidding, it was tons of fun! By making so many batches all at once I discovered that my fear of messing up went away, because there was a mountain of dough behind me that could take the place of whatever didn't work out. Spoiler alert: it all worked out and I had four lovely and delicious batches of bread, about the equivalent of 8 baguettes!! A quick pro tip from an amateur baker: this is a surefire way to make your roommates and friends all very happy, just don't try to eat it all in one sitting (though it is tempting).

In this instructable I'll be detailing all of the steps to first make your dough and then shape two braided baguettes, two flavored boules, two heart loaves, and the showstopping Couronne Bordelaise!

Step 1: Make Your Dough

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The following recipe makes 1 batch of bread (2 baguettes OR 2 boules OR 1 Couronne Bordelaise)

To get started grab the following:

  • 3.5 to 4 cups of flour plus some extra for dusting
  • 1.5 tbs yeast: I used instant yeast but an equal amount of active dry can also be used instead. This recipe is slightly different if you use active dry, so you can follow the dough making steps of my pain d'epi recipe here and come back to shape
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1.5 cups warm ~90F water (it should be very warm but not burning to the touch)
  • 2 tbs honey (2tbs sugar can be substituted for this)
  • olive oil spray (or olive oil)

You will also need a large bowl, flat clean working surface, and clean hands.

Begin by mixing the first three ingredients in a large bowl with a fork (omit the yeast for now if you are using active dry yeast). Once the yeast and salt have been thoroughly mixed together make a medium sized divot in the dry mixture, pushing the flour up the sides of the bowl.

Separately mix the warm water and the honey until the honey is completely dissolved. Gently add this to the divot in the dry mixture and begin slowly incorporating the flour into the water until everything has almost come together. Once this point has been reached, lightly flour your work surface and dump the bowl out. Usually what comes out for me is this nice gooey dough and then a bunch of flakey flour. Begin to knead your dough, taking care to slowly add more and more of the flour until it has become a ball that is elastic and springy (this will take about 5-6 minutes). You can test that it is correct by gently poking it. The dough should spring back into place in a couple of seconds.

Clean out your bowl (or grab a different one) and very lightly grease it with olive oil. Put your dough in the bowl and cover it with plastic wrap and a towel. This is where your dough will rise for the next 30 minutes or until it has doubled.

Go ahead and sit back and relax until this next step. Alternatively, if you are me go ahead and make another three batches of dough and add them to various large containers throughout the apartment.

After your dough has doubles, it's time to punch it down. You did hear me correctly! Make a fist and gently press down on your dough to ensure that any large air bubbles have been released and flip your dough over. Let it rise until doubled one more time (about 30 minutes).

After this step you're ready to start shaping!

Step 2: Braided Baguettes

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To make your braided baguettes, begin by taking one batch of dough you made and using a sharp clean knife cut it in half. Place one half aside (preferably covered to keep from drying out) and cut the other half into thirds.

Take one piece and begin by pressing a groove lengthwise into the middle of the dough and fold it in half using the groove as a guideline. Flatten this a bit (to add some length to your piece) and continue this process a few more times until your dough has grown in length. Then using both hands, gently roll the dough back and forth while moving your hands apart to create an even and long strip of dough.

Once it has reached about 20" in length set it aside (and cover it with a clean dish cloth) and repeat the process on the other two pieces. Let them rest for a little bit and begin the braiding process by first pinching the ends of the strips together. Take one of the outside strips and bring it over the adjacent strip into the center. Then take the opposite outside strip and bring it the other way into the center. Repeat this process until you reach the other end of the loaf and pinch the ends together. (The pictures help a lot with this process!)

Repeat this on the other half of the batch and you'll get two amazing looking braided loaves! You can brush some melted butter on top (I did out of curiosity) or leave it as is. The melted butter creates a softer crust and nothing makes a nice and crunchy crust.

Position the racks in your oven so that there is one in the middle and another at the lowest. Set a metal/non glass dish in the oven on the bottom rack (I use a loaf pan), and heat your oven to 450F. When your oven is nice and hot grab a friend and a few ice cubes. QUICKLY place the bread on the middle rack in the oven, and toss those ice cubes in the pan on the bottom rack. Close the door (don't accidentally shut it on any arms or fingers) and let the ice create a nice steamy oven for your bread to bake in!

Your bread will bake at 450 for roughly 15 minutes until golden brown.

Step 3: Flavored Boules

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Boules are a fun and simple shape to make bread in. It's just a circular loaf! I wanted to try making flavored breads so I chose garlic and rosemary. This is completely up to you though, the sky is the limit!

Take another batch of dough and cut it in half (one for each flavor). Slightly flatten the dough and add your flavors! I used 2 minced cloves of garlic and about 2 tablespoons of chopped rosemary. Gently knead your dough while evenly distribute your flavorings. Try to do this efficiently and to not overwork your dough. Then you're going to work it into a ball.

To shape your dough into balls:

I find that the best way to get a nice round shape is to take the initial dough and slightly flatten it. Gently hit it with the heel of your hand to release any large air pockets (the dough will spring back up eventually, don't worry!). Take 2 opposite edges of your flattened dough and fold them into the center, pressing gently to get them to stick. Then repeat the same process with the other adjacent edges. You'll have a slightly square dough shape and that is okay! Take all four of the corners and gently fold them into the center. Flip your almost ball over and gently tuck more and more of the dough underneath itself until you have a beautiful and smooth outside! You can roll the ball around to try and get rid of any residual fold lines.

Once you are satisfied, take a sheet pan and line it with parchment paper. Then lightly sprinkle some flour onto your parchment paper and place one boule on the tray. Prepare your second boule and place it next to the first (with some room in between to rise). lightly cover your bread with cling wrap and a towel and allow it to rise and rest for about 30 minutes. While this is happening preheat your oven to 450 with the same oven rack orientation as stated before (this is also used in the other two batches so just keep them like this). Just before placing in the oven, grab a sharp knife and using quick sharp (ha!) motions, score your bread. I did mine in slightly different patterns so that I would be able to tell the loaves apart after baking.

Put your bread and ice cubes in the oven (as described in the previous step) and let them bake for about 35 minutes, or until a dark golden brown.

Step 4: Heart Loaves

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This was a fun and simple way to work on my boule making! Each batch of dough makes two heart boules.

Start with half of your batch of dough (a single boule) and roll it into a ball. Press the heels of your hands together (and into the dough) and form a slight corner on the ball. Then slightly flatten the opposite edge with your hands. Take a pair of sharp kitchen scissors and on that flattened edge (opposite the corner) make a cut 2-3" deep. gently smooth out these edges to form the top bumps of the heart, and let the dough rest for 30 minutes (Covered with a cloth to keep some heat in).

Preheat your oven to 450 with the same oven rack orientation as stated before. Before putting your loaves in the oven, score your bread. I chose to do a light criss cross pattern but rest assured next time I'm going to try to make a heart in the middle.

Put your bread in the oven, ice cubes in the pan, and let them bake for about 35 minutes or until a deep and beautiful golden brown.

Step 5: Couronne Bordelaise

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This is the real show stopping bread right here. This is a really impressive loaf whose name means "the crown of Bordeaux" (kind of).

Grab a full batch of dough=and split it into half. Take one of the halves and cut it into four equal portions. Take the other half and cut it in half and set aside one of the halves and cut the other in half again. This sounds confusing but all you need is 6 equal sized portions of dough and 1 larger sized portion (this will be twice the size of the other parts. On a lightly floured surface, roll all of these portions into balls using the same technique as detailed on the previous step. Let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes. Take the largest ball and roll it out into a large flat circle. Mine was about 1/4" thick and 8-10" in diameter.

Grab a baking pan and line it with parchment paper. Lightly sprinkle some flour onto the parchment paper. Place your rolled out dough in the center of the pan.

Place two balls of dough just along the edge of your rolled out dough opposite each other. Continue to place each ball spaced out evenly until all 6 are in place. Using a sharp knife make a cut that starts in between two pieces of dough and goes right through the center of the flat piece. Be sure to start and end your cut before the ends of the flat piece (don't cut it into separate pieces). Repeat this until you've made 3 cuts and the dough is split into 6 triangles with their tips in the center.

Gently pick up the edge of one of the triangles from the center and fold it back over the dough directly behind it. Press the end of the triangle firmly into your dough "roll". Continue to do this for the rest of the triangles, folding them over and pressing them into the dough ball behind them.

Lightly cover your dough with plastic wrap and a clean dish cloth. Let it rest and rise for about 30 minutes, or until the indents from your fingers when pressing are almost gone. You will also notice that the dough balls have risen and will puff into each other. This is perfect! The triangles should stay in place and not fall back down into the center. Lightly sprinkle 1-2 tbs flour on top of the dough.

Preheat your oven to 450 (with the same rack/pan setup as before). After the bread has risen it's final time place your dough in the oven and let it bake for 40-45 minutes, or until it is a dark golden brown and looks like it has formed a nice and firm crust all over.

(I apologize for the lack of picture of the inside of this bread, I brought it to work and it was gone before I could take one!)

Step 6: That's All!

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I'm so glad that I decided to try all of these different shapes, because in the past I only ever made one batch of dough at a time. I never wanted to mess up, so I would only do baguettes or pain d'epi (see my instructable here!) While these were delicious I had fallen into a rut that was so nice to get out of. Plus who doesn't love their kitchen smelling like fresh bread all day long? Let me know how these turned out for you and other creative shapes that you like to make!

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Bio: Ashley hails from beautiful, sunny, Idaho--what am I saying? Ashley is actually a potato that has experienced intense genetic modificaiton. Idaho does not exist. I ... More »
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