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How to Shape a Bread With a Filling
Bread can be as easy or as complicated as you want it to be. You can make a perfectly fine loaf from just flour, water, salt and yeast, shaped into a nice simple boule (or not shaped at all and just put into a baking tin).
On the other hand, there are a lot of ways to give just a little extra to that bread. You can add fillings, roll it, braid it, decorate it, the options are endless. (If you’re a Great British Bake Off show watcher you will have seen all sorts of creations come by during their recurring bread week episodes!).
If you opt for making a bread with a filling you want to make sure those fillings are well distributed throughout the bread. Getting those fillings in might be tricky. Luckily, there are also a lot of ways to do this!
What to look out for when shaping a filled bread
Shaping will not only impact the appearance of your bread, it can also improve the quality of your bread if you choose a proper method.
A lot of fillings are prone to burning, an obvious example would be raisins. If they stick out of the bread in your hot oven, chances are they get scorched. Herbs also need to be protected by the bread dough to prevent them from burning and losing all their flavour. Other fillings work great if exposed to the oven heat (e.g. cheeses).
So, apart from appearance, think about whether your filling should be protected by the dough or not. Also, think about whether they’ll release a lot of steam (which you might not want within your bread) or oil. We’ll discuss four major methods:
- Swirls – works best for fillings that can endure some heat since part of it will be exposed to the oven hit and for fillings that are don’t contain too big pieces
- Rolls – works great for protecting your fillings well by rolling them completely within the dough. They couldn’t be too liquid or fatty since all of that will remain within your dough
- Encasing – works best for sturdy fillings that can cook within the enclosure
- Mixed within the dough – protects the fillings well and will give the most homogeneous distribution of your filling. You can’t add as much filling generally though, nor something that will affect the texture and structure of your dough
The first three methods will allow you to make your dough first and let it prove. You will only add the fillings once you start shaping your bread.
If you’ve got a bread with a filling with smaller pieces, for instance chocolate pieces or chopped nuts, making a ‘swirl’ is a fancy way to shape your bread. It’s the bread at the top of this post. So how does it work?
How it’s done
This method starts by rolling out your dough into a rectangle or square. Don’t roll it out super thin and make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom. Then sprinkle your filling around generously. Roll up the dough to incorporate the filling well. So far, it’s very similar to the rolls method above, however, from now on we start deviating. You now have a long strand of rolled dough, you might want to roll them a little thinner if it’s a very thick roll.
Now take your roll and starting from about 2 cm (1 inch) from one end cut the roll in the middle along the long side. In essence, you’re splitting your one long strand into two long strands and doing so you open up the filling of the roll. Take care, it might fall out here.
Since one end of your strand is still connected to each other you can now swirl the two sides along side each other. Try to keep the open filling side on the top and swirl them around one another. It’s a bit like braiding, but then with two instead of three strands. Once you’ve swirled the two strands you can either fill a bread pan with it by folding it over one another or you can roll it into a round baking pan.
Why it works
This method only works if you’ve got plenty of filling. There needs to be enough to cover the whole surface of the rolled out dough. The filling is what keeps the different layers of dough well separated. It prevents them from sticking together and opening up again when you swirl them around each other.
This also has the advantage that the bread has a lot of ways to grow to. It isn’t constrained in one particular direction. You can see quite a bit of a rise in the second proof after shaping this bread.
There are of course a lot of ways to do this, here’s a nice video showing one example:
This definitely is one of the more elaborate shaping styles, but definitely worth it. You can find the recipe to the rolls shown on this photo at the end of my post, it’s probably one of the best loafs I ever made. The rolls are a great way to hold on to filling, create a nice look, but it will also give a dough a bit more sturdiness for holding itself up.
How it’s done
As with every shaping technique, there are a lot of ways to make rolls. This method can be used with and without fillings. Take a piece of dough and roll it into a rectangle, the long side should clearly be longer than the short side. Now is the moment to add the filling along the long side in a thin strand. Roll up the rectangle along the long side, so you end up with a long thin strand (not a short thick one).
Roll this strand a little thinner by rolling it over the bench with your hands. Rolling it a little thinner now will make it easier to handle when you’re filling it. The thinner roll is also easier to make into a swirl. Now take the strand and start forming it into the swirl or snake like shape you see on the photo.
The rolls need space, but not too much
The trick when rolling your bread is that you give it enough space to continue proofing after the shaping stage. It needs to be able to expand, else you’ll risk a dense, even undercooked bread. If you’ve got a filling in these rolls (which this bread does), it’s also important that the bread is forced to rise in such a way that it doesn’t create large air pockets when baked.
Keeping those two in mind, take care of the following. When you shape the rolls, don’t roll them too tightly against one another, but they should touch. Take the resulting swirl and place it in a pan. In my case, I managed to fit 5 in without squeezing them into each other too tightly. There were plenty of empty spaces in between for them to grow into, but they did touch another. This way, they can only expand sideways slightly, but enough, after that they’re forced to rise up!
Don’t try fitting in another one when it’s just about full. Just take a mini baking pan or a tray and put it on there. It will still taste great.
3. Encase the filling
If your bread has a high ratio of filling compared to bread and you want the filling to stick together, you might want to encase it. This method is great for sturdier, not too moist fillings, such as a minced meat mix.
A common example of this are what we Dutch call ‘worstenbroodjes‘, or sausage rolls. The sausages are folded within a thin layer of dough and baked inside this layer.
The advanctage of cooking within the encasing is that the filling stays nice and moist, it will not lose a lot of moisture.
4. Shape as you would a bread without a filling
Last but not least, the most boring of the three: shape it like you would any bread. If your filling is homogeneously dispersed through the bread (e.g. walnuts), in other words, you have mixed it through completely, you can use most conventional shaping techniques.
Take care that during shaping some of your filling may still want to stick out. Ensure there’s a layer of dough around the fillings that are prone to burning.
There are a lot of beautiful breads out there, here’s a just a few suggestions! Culinary Kitchenette, Dough eyed baker (beautiful pesto babka, using the swirl technique), King Arthur flour (made a beautiful star shaped bread)