The Fresh Loaf

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Retarding dough whilst shaping a complex decorative loaf?

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thebookhouseboys's picture

Retarding dough whilst shaping a complex decorative loaf?


I've been trying to make a decorative centrepiece loaf, which requires quite a bit of handling and shaping.  It's a basic sweet dough (500g strong flour, 60g butter, 10g yeast, 10g salt, 250ml milk, 40g sugar) with some added flavourings, but my problem is this:
When shaping, I have to roll out around 30 individual thin 'pencils' of dough, and then plait these in bunches of three.  The process of divding and shaping the dough takes about 20 minutes from start to finish, and I'm worried about some bits proofing before others, or about knocking the air out of the pieces that are last to be shaped.  Is there any way to get around this?
I was considering putting portions of the dough in the fridge whilst I deal with the rest of it, but just wanted a second opinion.
Also:  as each section is plaited, I'm finding it harder to judge when the dough's proofed - the plait seems to inhibit the expansion a little, so it doesn't reach double size in the same say that a normal loaf might.  How should I judge the proofing time if I can't go by the visible increase in volume?

Thanks so much for any help you can give! 

judsonsmith's picture

Hi Ruby,

Have you considered using dead dough for the thin strands? 

thebookhouseboys's picture

Hi!  I wasn't sure whether dead dough is edible or not - the bread is for a competition and the brief says that the whole thing has to be edible.  If dead dough is edible, though, I'll definitely give that a go!

judsonsmith's picture

Dead dough is most certainly edible, whether or not you'd eat it by choice is another matter:)

proth5's picture

you can retard the dough while doing dividing and shaping.  One thing I have learned is to "work fast" with live dough.  Also, I tend not to worry that I will degas pieces too much.  Particularly with decorative pieces, you want the dough to be degassed so that it doesn't deform in strange ways during the bake.  What is more challenging is getting the thing not to overproof while you assemble the various parts. If you can do the shaping in 20 minutes, though, you probably don't need to retard as this is well within the proofing window for most breads - but you certainly can. 

In fact, if the point is purely a decorative piece and the dough merely has to be edible, as opposed to being judged for its flavor, I wonder why you are wasting money and effort on flavoring, etc - but anyway...

You should use the "poke test" to judge the proof.  Press your finger lightly into the dough and see if it springs back quickly, slowly, or not at all.  Slowly is about right for proofing.  If anything you want to tend towards over proofing as this will prevent your plaits from "exploding" during the bake.

If you are using dead dough for the plaits and live dough for other parts of the piece, you will add the challenge of combining pieces that have dimensional stability (the dead dough) with pieces that don't (the live dough).  I don't know if this simplifies your problem or not.  In some competitions, a certain percentage of live dough is mandated - both to force the baker to address this, and to keep the competition germaine to bread baking - as dead dough is essentially modeling clay and stays the way you shape it.

The retarding of the pieces and perhaps even the whole will certainly help, and yes, I do it and so do others. 

Again, in highly decorative pieces, a lot of what we strive for in our "eating breads" is sacrificed.  Beauty is sacrifice.  I heard that somewhere...

Good luck and I'm sure the good folks on this site would love to see pictures!


thebookhouseboys's picture

Thanks so much - that's all great advice!
I do need the whole thing to be flavoured etc rather than just technically edible. So I will use live dough for the whole thing, I think, except for a few tiny details which I'll use the dead dough for. I did a test run today and managed to actually shape the whole thing within 15 minutes, with a little practice, which should mean the proofing isn't too much of an issue after all. I tried putting a few of the braids in the oven at 10 minute intervals to figure out an optimal proofing time, and the 1 hour mark seemed to be about right.

I will post pictures of the finished loaf when it's done!
Thanks again