Stencilled beer cob

image1 (1)Although this contains my recipe for a delicious beer bread, this post is more about the creation and application of a stencil for the top of the loaf.

I’ve designed a two-part stencil of a mediæval sun face and included it here as two separate PDFs so you can print it out and choose to use the stencil in either one or two colours (as I have done on this loaf). For a first try at stencilling on bread, I’d recommend just going with the mono stencil of the sun image. the second part of the stencil is the orange halo – which is by far much easier to cut out, but of course you do have to negotiate using two stencils.

This stencil is also useful for cakes! It would make a great cake centrepiece, either painted or piped/flooded on, and you could alternate the colours of the rays and give a different colour to the face. To do this in icing, have your covered plain cake ready and use a large needle to trace inside the outline of the stencils which you can then edge pipe and flood in.

Please note: I have no problem anyone using this stencil for as long as they’re not a commercial baker etc: it’s just a freebie for home bakers. There are no restrictions on printing it out for home use and please do go ahead and share the page link with others. If any commercial baker wants to use this, please get in touch for permission.

sun2colours

Download the colour two part stencil here

sunmono

Download the single, mono stencil

Cutting out the stencils

  1. Print on normal printer paper – it’s thin and easy to cut out. You can use thicker card or a plastic sheet if you want the stencil to last, but these are harder/trickier to cut out from
  2. Place on a completely flat surface, and protect that surface from the knife – so use a cutting mat ideally, or if you don’t have one a layer of cardboard or piece of MDF is useful
  3. Use a sharp, point-end craft knife – a blunt blade will drag the paper and cause tears
  4. When cutting arcs and curves, keep the knife still and rotate the paper, not the other way round
  5. If you make a mistake and cut a bit off that you didn’t want to, use sticky tape to tape the piece back on and re-cut
  6. Cut out the stencils in advance, or you can do them while your loaf is proving

Using the stencils

  • The stencils are positioned in exactly the right spot on an A4 sheet, so you can use the top edge and corners to match up the stencils, placing the images in the right position

Beer bread recipe and stencilling the loaf

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Scraper
  • Linen tea towel
  • [Circular banneton – not necessary but you can use if you have one]
  • Two large baking trays, or one + a baking stone/pot
  • Sharp craft knife
  • Print out of the three stencils
  • Fine sieve

Ingredients

  • Strong white flour – 600g
  • Fast action dried yeast – 7g / 1 teaspoon
  • Water  – 140g
  • Beer (at room temperature – not from the fridge!) – 280g (I used an English Pale Ale)
  • Fine salt – 1½ teaspoons
  • Black pepper – several turns
  • Honey – 1½ tablespoons
  • A little oil for the bowl

Also…. for the stencilling you need two powders of different colours. One can be a white flour, and then you can use anything else edible you can find in your kitchen, such as cocoa powder, freeze-dried fruit powders, edible-grade charcoal, ground spices like turmeric or chilli powder. I have used turmeric for the halo and normal bread flour for the face.

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl – I prefer to use a dough whisk for this process, though you may like to use fingers, a flexible dough scraper, a table knife or a dough hook on your machine. It will form a very rough-looking sticky mess
  2. Leave for ten minutes
  3. Tip out on to a clean surface and use your dough scraper to get all of the residue out. Have your flour and scraper handy
  4. Knead the dough until the surface becomes silky and smooth – this will be about 10 – 12 minutes
  5. If – and only if – the dough is far to sticky to work with, dust a little flour on to the table. Otherwise you should persevere with kneading the dough without adding any more flour (this actually will change the ratio of flour to liquid and other ingredients so it’s best not to dust if you can). It should eventually start to come together without the flour and you can use your scraper from time to time to ensure all the dough is getting kneaded by scraping along the surface
  6. When the dough starts to come together, oil the bowl to prevent it sticking (if you have not managed to take the dough out without leaving a lot behind, you may want to use a clean bowl)
  7. Roll the dough up into a dome and place in the floured bowl
  8. Cover the bowl either with the tea towel/cloth or cling film (or if you have one a cheapo shower cap is ace for this)
  9. Leave to rise somewhere that isn’t cold until the dough looks like it’s about twice the height it was before. (This could be anywhere from 50 minutes to three hours depending on how cold a space you have)
  10. Lightly flour the counter you’re working on and the baking tray or peel
  11. Tip out the risen dough gently into the middle of the flour on the counter and press down gently with your finger tips all over to knock back the dough. Don’t be too vigorous – a lot of issues with bread are when the knocking back is too fierce
  12. Fold the dough over on itself from one side then the other and then fold the ends in
  13. Pinch the loose edges together to get them to ‘stick’
  14. You’re aiming to make the dome of the loaf tense and smooth without tearing it. By folding over towards the centre you create a tension in the surface of the loaf – it should look smooth and taut, and as circular as possible (but don’t fret too much about this)
  15. Liberally flour your tea towel/couch (or prepare your banneton with enough flour)
  16. Place the shaped dough with the seam side down in the middle of the cloth. Push the sides of the cloth up to gather it at the sides of the bread in order to support the shape and stop the bread spreading (though if you have successfully given the surface of the loaf enough tension it should hold, but this will still help)
  17. [If using a banneton,  place with the seam side facing upwards and cover]
  18. Leave for the second prove – roughly an hour depending on the temperature. It will be ready when and it springs back into shape if you press it gently with the pad of a finger
  19. Just before your loaf looks ready, start to heat your oven to 220 ºC fan / 230 ºC conventional and put in the baking tray or stone
  20. When the bread and the oven are ready, carefully scoop up the loaf and remove the cloth that’s been supporting it, lightly flour the tray and place the dough back down  on it [or tip out from the banneton to this sheet]
  21. Now it’s time to use your stencil(s)
  22. Using a soft pastry brush, sweep away any flour from the top of the loaf
    1. Using just the sun face/mono stencil? Position it in the middle of your loaf – using a sieve dust the stencil thoroughly but not too thickly and then gently lift off the stencil. Don’t peel or angle the stencil as you may tip the excess flour/powder onto the areas you don’t want it
    2. Using two stencils? Then use the background, orange halo first on your bread. Using a little sieve, dust the stencil lightly with turmeric as I have here, or either cocoa powder, edible charcoal or a freeze-dried fruit powder, without building up too thick a layer. Remove the first stencil and position the sun face stencil correctly over the first image, and dust with your second colour
  23. Irrespective whether you’ve used one or two stencils you do need to slash the loaf around the outside of the image, to ensure that the bread does not crack across your lovely hard work and ruin it!
  24. I’d suggest four quick slashes making a box shape as a ‘frame’ for the stencil
  25. Transfer the tray with the loaf on into the oven and onto the baking stone/tray (doing this ensures that you are working on a cool tray but the loaf benefits from instant heat from the bottom when placed on a hot tray)
  26. Spray the oven or pour a little water into a small tray at the bottom of the oven
  27. Shut the door and set the timer for 10 minutes
  28. After 10 minutes, turn the temperature down to 180C fan/190C conventional and bake for another 25 -30 minutes
  29. The bread should be nicely dark (though not burnt) where the slashes or cracks have occurred
  30. Test the loaf’s ‘doneness’ by tapping the bottom of it – it should sound hollow
  31. Leave to cool on a wire rack or something else that will allow airflow to the bottom of the loaf or the evaporated moisture that comes off a new loaf will gather and cause a soggy bottom (yes, this problem isn’t just confined to pastry!)
  32. Admire your handywork! And if you post your creation to social media, tag me in @inksugarspice so I can see what you’ve been up to 💙

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