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. The Baker's Hotline

      We’d love to assist you, Denise! The most common reason for very dense, hard loaves is too much flour. We recommend measuring your flour by weight or using the fluff, sprinkle, scrape method for best results. Another cause for dense bread is if it was over-proofed before baking, causing it to collapse in the oven. If it seems like neither of these reasons seem to match up with your loaf, please call our free and friendly Baker’s Hotline is available at 855-371-BAKE (2253) and they’ll be happy to get some additional details to help troubleshoot. Let’s make that next loaf a hit! Annabelle@KAF

  1. Guest

    Is the stensil paper under the heavy card stock when he has the petals as to before sprinkling/shifting cocoa powder over the petals!! Does the stensil gets lifted up with the heavy card stock after shifting on top of the bread? How long does it take him to make the stensils on the paper? Should he decide while the dough is rising after combining the dough & letting it sit?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there fellow baker, it sounds like you might be looking at the photo that shows a piece of cardstock underneath the Mylar plastic (the sun design). This is to illustrate how to make a sturdier stencil. It’s not necessary to use both cardstock and Mylar plastic at the same time — as the author here mentioned, the stencil can become unwieldy if it’s too large or thick. For most home-baking purposes, using cardstock alone should be just fine. In either case, lift the stencil up carefully after dusting the stencil and dough with flour or cocoa powder. We can’t say for sure how long it takes Martin to makes his stencils; it varies drastically based on the complexity of the design. Often times we know what a design will be before we even start making the recipe. It’s nice to give a hint as to what sort of ingredients are in the dough, so this can give you inspiration ahead of time. You can also wait until the dough is rising and make the stencil during that time to keep yourself busy. Your choice! Kye@KAF

  2. sandy

    This is a technique I love. I made a stencil for our breads with the first letter of our last name, but also made a couple for our friends that I often make bread for and deliver as gifts. They are always so pleased to see the bread with their monogram on top. The only effort is making the stencil … using it is easy and so impressive.

    Reply
  3. Tim

    What kind of plastic or stenciling material is best for making your own stencils? I’ve tried parchment paper with no luck. Recently, I made a custom stencil with parchment, and it stuck to the dough, ruining it, and I had to throw away the dough, which really stinks when you go through all that work.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Tim, it sounds like you might be looking for something a bit sturdier to make your stencil, like acetate. Acetate is flexible but will hold the shape/design better than a flimsy piece of parchment. You can also spray the underside of your acetate with non-stick spray to ensure it won’t stick to the dough while you’re dusting it with flour. You can find sheets of acetate at specialty stores, craft stores, and through online retailers (like Amazon). We hope this is just what you’re looking for. Good luck, and happy baking! Kye@KAF

  4. Peter Sisario

    Problem with stenciling – can anyone help? This was my first attempt at stenciling. I made a loaf of white bread and used cocoa to make a stencil on the bread just before putting it in the oven. When I took the bread out there was some white flour on the stencil; I blew it gently to get it off and some of the cocoa blew off too! Is there some step I missed, is there a trick to keeping a stencil from falling off, is this also a problem with flour, etc.?

    Reply
    1. Susan Reid

      Peter, if you lightly spritz the dough with water before stenciling you’ll likely have better luck. Some flying powder is inevitable after baking, though. Next time you need to correct some flour or cocoa in the wrong place, reach for a small artist’s paintbrush to remove it. Susan

  5. 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

  6. 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

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