Quick tip: how to use a bread stencil

Want to take your yeast bread to the next level, appearance-wise?

Sure you do. You bake a really tasty loaf of bread, right? Delicious bread, bread you sometimes want to share with friends. Or the lady at the post office who always smiles.

Or maybe the neighbor who roto-tilled your garden, after he saw you struggling to turn over those muddy clods with a spade. Here at King Arthur Flour, Bake for Good is a concept we embrace with hands as well as hearts.

When you’re thinking “presentation” bread – a loaf that’s going to be a gift, part of a potluck, maybe end up on the bake sale table – it’s neat to go the extra mile, and make the bread look as special as it tastes.

IMG_6503Enter the bread stencil, an ideal way to dress up your bread without a lot of fussy braiding, shaping, or snipping of decorations.

Let’s go through the simple process of stenciling bread with a pretty design.

First, the recipe. You can use any recipe for a free-standing round or oval loaf, or for a loaf baked in a loaf pan.

IMG_6530Let’s see how the recipe that comes with the stencil works. Click on the image to enlarge and make the recipe more readable.

The very first ingredient listed, cracked wheat, isn’t in my pantry.

Hmmm… what do I have that might step in for cracked wheat?

IMG_6496Grapenuts! I always keep them on hand for Grapenut Pudding. We’ll give them a try.

stencil1I prepare the dough, shape it into a log, and nestle it into an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan.

Add a clear plastic shower cap for protection, and let the dough rise.

IMG_6504Man, that’s one vigorous loaf! It rises much more quickly than expected, so it’s towering about 2″ over the rim of the pan, rather than the desired 1″.

OK, let’s forge ahead and see what happens.

First, I spritz the loaf’s top surface with warm water.

stencil2Then, I gently lay the stencil on top, and sift flour heavily over the stencil. Since the very tips of the wheat stalk aren’t lying flat against the loaf, I carefully press them down, and flour some more.

Looking for a dark rather than light design? Sift cocoa over the stencil.

IMG_6510Then I oh-so-carefully lift the stencil off, not disturbing the floury pattern.

I place the loaf in the oven to bake, as directed.

IMG_6511I shake the excess flour off the stencil, rinse it off, and put it back in its plastic sleeve for safekeeping.

And about 40 minutes after popping it into the oven…

IMG_6513…out comes my lovely loaf!

Lesson learned: apply flour more heavily. But for a first attempt, I think this is pretty nifty. (And by using that expression, I know I’m dating myself – Boomer and proud of it!)

IMG_6526Another lesson learned: don’t pick the bread up – don’t sling it around and slice it and otherwise lay hands on it – until it’s cool. When warm, the design is easy to mess up. Once cool, the flour tends to adhere much better.

So, next time you’re baking bread, and looking for lovely as well as luscious – try stenciling, the simple way to add professional polish to your favorite loaf.

PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!


    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sure would, Paul – bulgur is basically cracked wheat. Good suggestion, thanks – PJH

  1. Brenda Haramis

    Lovely idea! Thanx so much. If you use a loaf pan, might it be wise to use a parchment paper sling so that when the loaf is taken out of the pan, the top isn’t disturbed?

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      That’s definitely a good idea, Brenda – I was having to do some pretty tricky juggling trying to get it out without disturbing the pattern. Thanks! PJH

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      I couldn’t in a million years cut anything so intricate myself, so I’d be willing to pay. But to each his own, Dawn, right? PJH

    2. Jeni

      Hmmm. If one wanted to trace a pattern onto a thin piece of flexible plastic, lay the plastic on a piece of scrap plywood (or a work bench), and cut out the pattern with an exacto knife, one could create all sorts of patterns.

      Personally, I’d probably cut myself, so I’d be better off purchasing it, but those better coordinated than I might have a lot of fun!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Use the same amounts as listed in the recipe – 1/4 cup cracked wheat or 1/4 cup grapenut cereal. You’ll also use the full amount of water listed in the recipe (1 1/4 cup), soaking the grapenuts as if they were the cracked wheat, but not enough to turn the cereal to mush! Happy Baking! Irene@KAF

  2. diananc

    PJ—might the stencil pattern adhere better if it was lightly spritzed with water after the flour is placed, and before the stencil is lifted off the bread, prior to baking? Seems like it’d make the flour “firmer”.
    Looked beautiful ! And I love the idea of Grape-nuts !

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Not sure, Diana, but it seems like it would be worth a try, doesn’t it? I’d suggest a VERY light mist, lightly applied; would love to hear how it goes if you try it. Thanks – PJ

    1. PJ Hamel, post author

      Sorry, the recipe isn’t online, just on the accompanying recipe card – but let me ask and see if it can be put online. In the meantime, you realize that clicking on the picture of the recipe enlarges it, right? PJH

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We have been tucked in the lovely state of Vermont! I’m happy to hear that you found us, hopefully you can visit sometime. Jon@KAF

  3. Kathy

    Would the Bake Sheen spray used to adhere seeds to top of a loaf be useful for making the flour stick to the stencil cut-out?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Kathy, I don’t believe we have tested that application here but I certainly think it sounds like a good idea to me. You should give it a try and let us know how it goes! Happy Baking! Jocelyn@KAF

  4. sandy

    I really think adding the wheat pattern to the top of the bread is so special. I think it makes the bread look very professional. Question — will this technique work on bread that I bake in my KAF long clay covered baker? Also, I see that the stencil is out of stock. Will it come back? It is very pretty.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      It is a beautiful technique, but we feel that the steam generated in the long covered baker would wash the flour away. You could try it after you take the top off to brown the loaf instead. As for the stencil, i don’t know if it will be in stock again, but use your creativity and create your own stencil with a piece of plastic and an Exacto knife,, or you can lay lightweight, graphic objects on the top, dust with flour, then carefully remove the objects- think of things like spoons, round lids, or a potato masher. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  5. Ann

    I think Millet would b fun to try. I enjoy making the 5 min Artisan Breads. Could do this with seed on top also. Such as poppy etc. Great Idea…

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s a great question, Anne. The no-knead dough tends to be quite sticky, so if you give it a shot, just be sure to liberally sprinkle on the flour or cocoa powder. There’s no harm in trying! Kye@KAF

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