The experienced baker's guide to better bread

From fancy glazes to cool new shapes, these bread-making tips can make your baking even more memorable.

The experienced baker's guide to better bread

Beyond rectangular: shaping bread

  • Once basic bread-making has been mastered, a natural­ step is to begin molding the dough into a range of attractive shapes.
  • Braids, snails, twists, knots, crowns, rings and crescents are some traditional shapes, but dough can be sculpted to resemble almost anything the baker desires.
  • The process isn't difficult, but it does call for some basic knowledge of folding and braiding techniques. You'll also need some patience.
  • The secret to handling the dough is to keep it sufficiently pliant so that it will not break when shaped.
  • Prepare the dough in the usual way, but use very little flour, both on your hands and on the work surface, when you are shaping it. Too much flour will make the dough dry and stiff.

Tips for topping and ­glazing

  • Before baking, sprinkle poppy or sesame seeds on the tops of rolls to enhance their flavour and appearance.
  • Glaze plain doughs before baking with a mixture of one egg beaten with 15 millilitres (one tablespoon) of milk.
  • Glaze sweet rolls with a sugar syrup after baking.

How to make a braided loaf

  1. Divide a large piece of dough into three equal parts.
  2. Using the palm of your hand, roll out each piece of dough into strands that are the same length. Taper the ends slightly. All strands should look roughly identical.
  3. Starting at the centre and working towards one end, overlap­ the strands to form a braid.
  4. Gently stretch out the strands of dough as you work so that the taper is accentuated. The loaf should be thickest­ in the centre.
  5. Turn the loaf around and braid the other half in the same manner.
  6. Finish off by pinching the ends of the strands together under the loaf. The braided loaf is now ready for the oven.

Once you've got the basics down, bread can get a lot more interesting. Be patient, just like when you were learning to bake, and you'll be able to master more advanced bread-making techniques.

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