Artisan Bread Stenciling: Five Simple Steps for Beautiful Designs

Walking into a fancy bakery can take your breath away. Forget elegant pastries and carefully piped frostings, bread can often be the most beautiful element of a bakery’s display case. Using the simple technique of artisan bread stenciling, bakers become artists, and a loaf of bread becomes a blank canvas in their capable hands.

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

If you’ve swooned over gorgeously decorated loaves and assumed you couldn’t replicate the look at home, think again! We turned to King Arthur Flour’s head bread baker, Martin Philip, for details on how to master the technique of stenciling bread.

Martin has a serious resume: He’s competed in the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie (the bread-baking equivalent of the Olympics) and he runs the bread-baking operation at our Vermont bakery, where he’s worked for over 10 years. His artistry is evident in his gorgeous loaves: He’s fallen in love with the craft of stenciling, and taught himself to make his own through trial and error.

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Martin will tell you that it’s his passion for baking that creates such beautiful results; any one of us with a love for baking can do the same at home with practice and guidance. On that note, let’s get started!

Artisan bread stenciling is the technique of dusting a pattern onto the surface of bread in flour (or cocoa) using a stencil. You can buy pre-cut stencils, or you can make your own. Making your own allows you to give your bread a personal touch — a signature of sorts — that adds a level of craftsmanship and care to your baking.

Martin makes his own stencils out of a heavy plastic, since he’ll use them over and over again in the bakery. If you want to create a quick, single-use design, you can just draw and cut your pattern out of parchment paper. Or, you can follow his steps for a sturdier stencil. Here’s how to do it.

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Step 1: Draw a design

Think of the design you want to create. Keep in mind that more elaborate designs will be less likely to show up well; simpler designs without too many flourishes are best when you’re starting out.

Martin loves to create designs that speak to the bread itself: a bee for a honey wheat bread, a sunflower for seeded bread, a grain sheaf for rye bread, and so on. You can stencil your name, the word “homemade,” or even just a pretty swirl.

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Draw your design on paper (heavy card stock works nicely here). If you want a sturdier version, trace the design using a marker onto a piece of heavy plastic (you can find thick Mylar plastic for this purpose at most craft stores).

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Step 2: Cut out your bread stenciling design

Using an X-ACTO knife, razor, or other sharp blade, cut out the design. Cut out the parts of the design that you want to show up: The negative, empty spaces will be dusted in with flour.

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Once you’ve cut out the edges of the design itself, cut around the stencil so you can easily place it onto your loaf (if it’s too big, it’ll be unwieldy and difficult to use).

Step 3: Make your bread

Prepare your recipe as directed. For beginners just learning how to stencil, a round loaf (like this Simple, Rustic Loaf or this No-Knead Rye Bread) is the easiest to practice on. Once you get the hang of stenciling, you can do it on just about any kind of bread, from a long, thin baguette to miniature dinner rolls.

Step 4: Stencil away!

Let the dough rise. Right before you’re ready to bake, use the stencil.

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Carefully place the stencil on the surface of the loaf. Using a sifter or sieve, liberally dust flour over the stencil in an even, fairly thick layer. If you’re baking a dark loaf (such as a rye bread), white flour will show up nicely. If you prefer a dark pattern, you can use cocoa instead of flour as Martin did here on his freshly milled wheat loaf.

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Very gently lift the stencil off the surface of the dough, taking care not to disturb the design you’ve just made.

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Depending on your recipe, you may need to slash the surface of your bread with a lame. If this is required, do so carefully. As Martin demonstrates here, the slashing can add to the decorative nature of your bread. He slashes in a diagonal pattern around the stencil, creating a border for his design.

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Step 5: Bake your bread

Bake your bread according to your recipe. When it’s ready, you’ll see the beautifully stenciled pattern baked onto the surface of your loaf.

As with all aspects of baking, practice is the best method. Martin points out that stenciling is an art that requires trial and error: Some designs will show up better than others. Some breads look better with a flour stencil, others with cocoa.

Martin says he could create endless designs, and is constantly coming up with new ideas based on flavors and seasons. Take a look at some of his more whimsical stencils here, and get inspired!

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

Artisan bread stenciling via @kingarthurflour

The best way to learn is to try it yourself! Once you make your own stencil once, you’ll be hooked.

comments

  1. Sherjh

    When I was a kid (a very, very long time ago). I had a beautiful set of German cake stencils made out of stencil paper (heavy duty because you reused them) and a book with pictures of them. I kept the till they finally fell apart.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Unfortunately we don’t have a photo of the finished sun stencil bread, but you can bet it turned out beautifully! If you decide to give it a try at home, feel free to post your photos on our Facebook page or #kingarthurflour on Instagram. We’d love to see the result! Kye@KAF

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      This just in! We do have a photo of the sun stenciled bread to share with you that was passed along to us by Martin himself. We’re not able to post it in the comment section here, but we’d be happy to send it your way if you send an email to our Customer Support Team to attention: Kye, we’ll send it your way. Kye@KAF

  2. Oscar Broodryk

    There nothing that can discribe a true craftsmen at work than the beauty created by his own love and Passion he creats with his/her hands.
    Beauty that you can eat.
    Oscar.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Janean, it would add only a tiny amount of flavor to the overall loaf.
      Bryanna@KAF

  3. Sandy M.

    What a clever touch. I plan to experiment! The more I see on your site, the more I want to try….& the more I want to learn.

    Reply
  4. sandy

    I am in the process of trying this. I decided to start with something simple – a simple “s” for our last name. I printed a copy from my computer software in a font I like in several sizes. I selected the size I think best and traced it onto kitchen acetate and cut the design out. Then I practiced dusting the design with flour on the kitchen counter several times. I found that was a good idea. I didn’t want my first try to be on bread. Picking up the stencil after dusting is the hardest part for me.
    But I do have a couple of questions. Should the bread surface be misted with a bit of water before stenciling to help the flour stick? Also, I bake my bread in a iron dutch oven with the cover on for the first part of the bake. Anything I need to do differently here?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Sandy,
      Thanks for your patience while we checked with Martin to see if there were any tricks of the trade behind making the design stick. It seems like the most minimally hydrated powders work best to create lasting designs, so you won’t want to spray the loaf with water. Trying this stenciling technique on a few loaves will help you get the feel for creating a lasting design. No need to make any adjustments if baking in a Dutch oven. Just be sure to shape the loaf and place it in the pan before using the stencil. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

    2. Jim

      How about using food color sprays that are used on cakes? Spray it on after the bake. What do y’all think?

    3. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s an interesting thought, Jim. We haven’t tried using that product on loaves of bread before, but you’re welcome to give it a shot. We think that soft, white sandwich loaves might work best, as the colors might run in the crevasses of a crispy crust. If it works out, be sure to let us know! Kye@KAF

  5. Liz

    Blonde question. How durable is this after it’s baked? I’ve never had the privilege of seeing this in person. Would you still be able to wrap the loaf or bag it? Or would this work best on a hearty loaf that can stand being left out? I’m asking because if I’m going to take the time to use the stencils, it means I’m probably planning to give away some of the bread. 😉 So I’m wondering how best to transport the finished product!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Stencils will definitely smudge! I don’t have any magic tricks but, you might try painting the stencil rather than dusting. Use coffee powder which is minimally hydrated (so, a thick, smooth consistency) and dab it on using a paint brush before baking. I’m making this up, let us know how it goes (especially if it’s good!).
      Happy baking,
      Martin

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      No dumb questions, Lola. The whole loaf is dusted with flour, which makes it all white, then the stencil is added and the dough is slashed. The darker areas of the crust are the areas that have been slashed, where internal dough (that wasn’t dusted with flour) has been exposed. Hope this helps to explain! Mollie@KAF

  6. Ivy Fasko

    Thanks for the super post on stenciling! I’ve only tried it a couple of times but I don’t that the stencil tends to brush off pretty easily. Do you have any suggestions for helping the stencils stay on the finished loaf?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You ask a great question, Ivy. Martin suggests using a clean paint brush or a small pastry brush to brush on the design rather than dusting to help it stick. Also, feel free to experiment the ingredient you use to create the design (flour, cocoa powder, coffee powder, etc). Some ingredients tend to stick better than others. Good luck! Kye@KAF

  7. Ruth

    I am going to try this technique. It has given me some great ideas. What a great presentation it would make on my holiday table.

    Reply
  8. Margaret Williams

    Would imagine if you didn’t have access to mylar sheets (or if you need/want to save a little money) the side of a plastic gallon milk or juice jug would work well – that’s what it looks like they used for the last stencil…

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Margaret, you could use almost anything in a pinch. Cardboard, plastic, even a stiff paper would do the trick if you didn’t have access to the mylar sheets. Bryanna@KAF

  9. Peter Niepel

    Great article. Just one thing I’d like to add. It is important to use as little flour as possible. The more flour you use the more the risk your artwork will get fuzzy. If you use too much flour it heaps up and when you move the bread those heaps collapse and make your design flurry.
    I get the stencils done by a company who does water jet cutting.The stencils are in stainless steel.
    Cheers
    Peter
    Flour Power Bakery, New Zealand

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Peter, thank you so much for your useful feedback! We, too, believe in the power of good flour. Thanks for sharing and happy baking.
      Bryanna@KAF

    2. sandy

      Peter
      Thank you so much for this info. I had sent a question off to KAF asking if I needed to spray a bit of water on my bread before using the stencil and if I could bake in my sat iron kettle with the lid on. When I got no response, I had to move forward (how long does dough really want to wait?) I dusted and baked. I learned that I did not need to spray water and that baking in the kettle was fine. I also learned that you are correct. I put my flour on too think and it caked up and got fuzzy. Thanks.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Christie,
      Send us an email using our contact form requesting to see a photo of the sunflower stenciled bread; we’ll send one your way! Kye@KAF

  10. Margot Mustich

    I’m having trouble finding the sturdy flat plastic/Mylar sheets needed to create reusable stencils for my cakes and breads. It would be great if King Arthur Flour would sell them. Any chance of that happening?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for sharing this request with us, Margot. We think there are lots of other bakers who may also enjoy adding this technique to their bread baking. I’ve passed along your suggestion to the appropriate team to consider in future discussions about expanding our line of bread tools. Kye@KAF

    2. Cathy from Portland

      Try the quilting section of your local fabric store. These sheets are used for making quilting stencils.

    3. Anna C.

      I also use the large lids from coffee cans and crisco cans…easy to come by and they are very resilient.

  11. Marybeth

    quilting shops would offer a fountain stencils! You can get them precut as well or the supplies to design them yourself.

    Reply
    1. Posie Harwood, post author

      I wouldn’t recommend trying confectioners’ sugar! You could however give it a shot with our non-melting sugar which is similar but shouldn’t melt the way other sugars will. -Posie

  12. Carol Doeringer

    I have been stenciling bread for several years, and I use a small brush to paint the stencil openings with a thin egg wash before dusting with flour or cocoa powder. If doing several loaves with the same stencil, I do need to wipe the stencil clean every few usages. The egg wash holds the stencil beautifully, for wrapping and gifting or freezing. For the mylar, I use overhead transparencies that are available in office-supply stores. I’m a seminar instructor and I have a big supply of these left from the era when we used overhead projectors instead of LCD projectors, but I’m pretty sure the product is still available. One advantage of using the transparencies is that you can feed them into a printer or photocopier (buy the type meant for your type of printer) to transfer designs on the transparencies.

    Reply
  13. Meade

    Hobby Lobby and other fabric stores sell vinyl in varying thicknesses. I haven’t tried it yet, but I have some, and I’m going to see if I can cut a stencil in it. It’s very inexpensive, and can also be used as an alternative for screen protectors.

    Reply
  14. Lisa L Gutterman

    Can you stencil on an already baked dollar roll? I am trying to put paw prints on top of little Hawaiian buns

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You can try that, Lisa, but raw flour doesn’t taste very good. You might want to consider using something else to make your paw prints, like black cocoa powder or black and white sesame seeds might be nice too. Try a few different toppings until you get the taste and look you’re going for. Kye@KAF

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