Bread shapes: making at home

plaited brioche courronne

Updated February 2019 – to include new images, plus composite breads and bread sticks.

I’ve taken a little time to look into the myriad and diverse range of bread shapes that can be created. I’ve looked at the most commonly found ones that you can create with your own fair hands from a standard (or close to standard) bread dough. There are many more of course, but this list comprises those I think you’ll see or make most often.

What I mean by ‘standard’ is that I am rather loosely lumping together all bread created with the basic flour-water-yeast-salt only combination and allowed to rise. Some of these will be made with doughs that have the addition of a little oil or maybe an egg, and they can be made with wid yeast, fresh or instant. These breads also need some (or a lot of) shaping by hand before a second prove.

What I’ve left out: I have purposely kept out enriched breads that have a different combination such as a lot of extra oil or butter or an unusual method or prove, such as brioche or ciabatta (which is exceptionally wet and can just about be shaped into its traditional slipper form), filled breads and things like focaccia or schiaciatta (where oil is drizzled on top to purposely retard the rise and create a flatter bread). This is because they warrant separate coverage. I originally omitted grissini/bread sticks and composite breads – but I’ve just added these in (so they weren’t included in my original illustration, below). I’ve also omitted flat breads, as they’re mostly encompassed by a few shapes, usually (but not always) don’t contain yeast and there are so many different flat breads so I felt they also merited a separate category (and maybe a post) on their own.


These shapes can all be made with a wide variety of flours; not just white. Actually, I do really like white flour but I rarely use it on its own; I tend to mix it with another flour type or add in some extras like malt flakes or seeds.

Also, some of the simpler shapes can be made with dough that includes a certain amount of sourdough starter (added to your traditional dough to liven it up). Complex shapes aren’t feasible with proper sourdough because they spread and merge during the longer rise. Also low gluten-producing flours aren’t that great either – as again you don’t get a discernible shape and it would be very tricky to mould or plait. I have successfully braided brioche, though, and bread where low-gluten flour is mixed 50:50 with strong white.

I’ve only given cursory instructions on how to physically shape the dough apart from I have a short clip of me plaiting a seven braided loaf right at the end.

I’ve listed the bread shapes in a rough order of complexity: from the simplest boule down to multi strand plaits.

All the breads shown here have been handmade by me (plus I’ve also styled and photographed them myself).

Simpler shapes

Cob or boule


Here’s where to start when shaping by hand! These can be hand shaped and raised or set for their second rise in a banneton. Cobs care most often plain topped (ie not slashed) but don’t let that stop you experimenting with covering them in seeds or malt flakes for example or to slash them (as the flower slash above – or in a Coburg shape). The simple cross-hatch slash will have been the basic historic bread shape from when leavened bread started to be baked in ovens rather than just on a stone and is a feature of soda bread, to help the loaves cook thoroughly.



Basically a cob with a crown-like slash, said to have been done to celebrate Prince Albert of Coburg, Queen Victoria’s consort. Can be with either three slashes/peaks or four.

Bloomer or bâtard

slashedLeafSourdough This is a longer, larger loaf where it is impractical to make into a round (would be difficult to slice that large or fit into an oven). Typically with diagonal slashes, but experiment with leaf and scroll shapes.

Cottage loaf

Cottage loaf with twist top - by Ink Sugar SpiceA real old traditional British shape. Potentially this developed to get a little height and spread (if slashes are used) without support during the rise. These are hand shaped entirely. Split your dough into 2/3 and 1/3 pieces and roll both into a ball. Place the small ball on top of the larger one and using one or two fingers push down, dead centre, to the table so that you are fixing the top to the bottom. This can have vertical slashes all the way round or left plain.

Split tin

splitTinThis is less shaped by hand and more by the tin: putting the dough into a loaf tin ensures straight sides, ends and bottom. The most common way of doing this is to let the dough rise as normal then the second proof is done in the tin. Following the second rise, draw one large, long slash across the top prior to putting it in the oven. I have read old recipes though where the dough is split into two and the first rise is done separately. Then, after knocking back the two halves are rolled into fat sausage shapes and lain side by side in the tin. I’ve not tried this, but I suspect the bread would tear in half easily.


checkerboardSeededLoafLess a shape and more just an elaborated set of slashes. Shape as for a rounded cob loaf, then after the second proof draw at least three parallel slashes, evenly space out across the top of the bread. Turn the loaf 90˚, and do an equal number of slashes, so creating a set of squares, or the chequerboard effect.

Pullman – baked in a special tin with a lid to create a perfect block shape. Named after Pullman train cars as they mimic that shape. I have never made one of these – you need to own this specialist Pullman tin and I don’t like the square shape enough to buy one (I’d rather buy another banneton or couch cloth). I can imagine that you would have to stick rigidly to the correct volume. I assume that if you did anything other than a plain loaf where you can easily measure the total loaf size and predict the rise, you’d have to try to calculate the effect on the final size of the loaf. For instance, if you added a lot of inclusions it may be too big for the tin and if you used a flour with less gluten it would be too small – perhaps not reaching the lid.

Milk roll shape – similar to the Pullman in that it is baked inside a completely enclosing tin. However, the milk roll tin is two semi circular halves, clipped together.

Pouch or ear


A change on the cob shape. This is shaped into an oval after knocking back and one long slash is made holding the blade at a shallow angle, digging in to the dough. That is hold the blade at about 30* to the loaf. This is usually easier with a curved lame/grinette with the concave part of the blade facing the top of the loaf. This creates a large tear which the steam from the bread forces into a ‘lip’ or ‘ear’ of crust on one side during the bake. You should be able to get your fingertips under this lip to lift the loaf up – or it may curl over completely, fully opening up the loaf and exposing more crust and allowing more rise (as above).


breakFastRoolsThis shape dates back to its massive popularity in Victorian times and was particularly eaten as breakfast bread rolls. So named, as it mimicked the rolls served in Viennese tea houses. It is shaped with softly tapered ends like a very short baguette. After proving, roll out to a sausage shape and tuck the bread over on itself lengthways once or twice and pinch the bread together at the seam to seal. The seam should be baked on the bottom. Apply a long slash either straight down the length of the bread or slightly at an angle. It can also be dusted with poppy seeds or linseeds etc before the slash is made (as in the above picture of my breakfast rolls).

Bread sticks or grissini


You may think I’ve added these little crispy sticks havea bit far down the complexity list. However, bread sticks are deceptively difficult to get looking good. Producing a straight and even bread stick is quite a skill – your first few attempts at making them will no doubt leave you with some awesomely delicious bread sticks, but you may or may not be that pleased with the results on how they look. Weighing your dough and dividing into exactly equal pieces will help with creating bread sticks that are all the same length, but it’s the practice of rolling the dough out into a long sausage that’s tricky. That’s because you’re dealing with quite a thin stand of dough and if it catches on your unfloured hands or the table, or you drag your palm across one area with greater force it will not be a nice long tube but a bumpy, bending caterpillar. It just takes practice. Bread sticks can be scattered with seeds, plaited, twisted, have a scrolled end or shaped – they’re quite fun to play around with.



We all know this one! An extra long slim loaf, its ends are pointed or rounded depending from baker creates them. Traditionally it is slashed several times at an angle across the top (such as with my spelt sourdough baguettes above) – here the top of the second slash show overlap the first to stop the loaf spreading strangely and putting bulges into the bread (the overlap is supposed to counteract the bulging). I’ve seen some baguettes though with slashes at all sorts of angles and single long slashes – some of these have been gorgeous so it’s worth experimenting yourself.

Complex shapes



Now we’re getting into more detailed shaping and slashing. Fougasse is a flattish loaf, similar to foccacia but is traditionally shaped into a large leaf shape. This leaf is then peppered with small short cuts (all the way through, not just top slashing) so that the cuts resemble the veins on the leaf. However, I rarely produce a leaf shape fougasse: I’ve made spookgasse/boogasse in the shapes of ghosts and ghouls for Halloween, letters, rings/circles, flowers etc. Have fun with this one and it’s a particularly great bread to give to children to produce as they can have fun with the shapes.

Pain d’epi /wheat ear bread

CQFa3j9WcAALiQA.jpg_largeThis is a long stick of dough, prepared similarly to a baguette with is then cut and splayed on alternate sides. It’s easiest to snip the cuts with scissors rather than use a blade. It is supposed to resemble an ear of corn. It’s a lovely tear and share bread – each ‘ear’ forms an individual roll. I personally love this loaf shape and make it often.

Spiral/snail  – normally these are made with very large amounts of dough and creates a very large loaf – 600g or above, although it is often used in individual rolls. A long roll of dough is shaped and is shaped so one end is gently tapered. Start with the fat end and coil the spiral around itself, tuck/pinch the end of the coil onto the rest of the dough to anchor it together otherwise it may start to separate during baking. I have to say I don’t like this shape (it looks rather like a giant poop – but don’t let me put you off! I don’t like cupcake toppings piped in this shape either…) but it is quite traditional for some European breads, like potica.


scrollWildGarlicVery similar to the spiral but keep each end of the long tube of dough a little slimmer than the middle. Take one of the ends and roll it round until it reaches the mid point of the dough, then take the other end and wind it in the opposite direction to meet in the middle. Produces an elaborate S shape. Common in roll shaping too and is one of the typical shapes in Scandinavian St Lucia saffron buns (such as Swedish/Norwegian lussekatt).

Composite shapes


wreathWreaths can be made in many ways. As long as it results in a ring of dough, it’s a wreath, even by just joining a long plain strand of dough together or using balls of dough. Kringles and slashed plaits, a circular pain de epi and 3+ multi strand plaits are all elaborate and fun wreaths to make. Other special festival wreaths include those with fillings but I won”t include those here (as I’m excluding filled breads). A wreath is usually cut into individual portion sizes and used as you would a roll or chunk of bread rather than finely sliced. Alternatively, the whole thing can be sliced in two horizontally and filled like a giant bagel, from which individual portions are taken. Typically a celebratory or show-off bake.

Layered, tiered or composite loaves


These are great, fund breads to make [I’ve added this category Dec 2018 as I’ve changed my mind on it being a filled bread. Most commonly these are made with fillings, but they can be made with just a little butter or oil, or plainly, so I’ve decided to posthumously add them here].

These include monkey breads, where balls of dough are gathered together usually in a ring shape, fantans and layered loaves including my own ‘bookshelf bread‘ recipe.

Simple plait


Now we’re into the plaited section and I’ve only included three to cover the multitude that can be done. the simplest you can do is to twist two strands of bread together and affix them at each end, but a typical simple plait uses three braids. Three plait braids make lovely little dinner rolls too. Make sure you really press the ends together or it will unravel. Above are three and four plait examples.

If you come across a ‘zopf’ loaf this is German for plait (which should actually be thicker at one end, representing a plait of hair), and likewise the French term is tresse.



Instead of plaiting you can knot a single strand of dough into what looks like a complex shape. This is much easier, and more common, to do with rolls but can be achieved in a loaf. Knots include a simple overhand knot (ie the first over-and-under that is used in a reef or bow) or where the strand of dough is looped then wound round itself. The post below shows me making overhand knotted rolls. Please also see my recipe for these knotted pesto dinner rolls.

Ball plait


This is one of my favourites. Not only is it highly attractive but it serves to keep the bread in a lovely shape as it goes through its second rise. At first this looks a complex plait but you get used to it very quickly. Four dough strands are used to create this. The ends of the dough strands can be tucked under after the plaiting is done to help lift the top of the bread upwards and keep the nice dome shape. I also like to double up sometimes when making this shape, by which I mean I use two strands together as if they were one – ie I roll out eight strands and use them in pairs. This makes a real showstopper of a loaf.

Complex plait

Any number of strands of bread can be made into a plait, although I’d suggest nine is an utter maximum or you’re getting really silly and into finger-knotting territory to complete, and the loaf will be as wide as it is long. I most often pick five or seven strands to plait for a complex large loaf. There are a number of set patterns which can be applied to plaiting – I was going to write these in here but I think this merits an entire post on its own. So bear with me and I will write one. Above is a video clip of me braiding a seven strand – and a photo of the outcome loaf (below).

If you want to create a showstopper of a braid but you think you can’t do a multi strand plait, you can actually always ‘cheat’! Divide your dough into two uneven pieces, one being 2/3rds of the dough, the other 1/3rd.

Divide each of these pieces of dough into three. Roll out the dough so that the smaller three balls of dough become thin strands nearly as long as the larger three pieces. Make two plaits: a larger and smaller one. The smaller braid can be placed directly on top of the larger braid, giving the illusion of a complex plait.

Top tip: the best advice I can give on making a neat multi strand plait is to make sure your strands of dough are as even and smooth as possible before you start. Any lumpy strands will result in a (still lovely but) mishapen plait.


If you’ve enjoyed this post or found it useful please ‘like’ it or better still leave me a nice comment – thank you!

Spiral cake with marbled sponge – or cake and maths

I was doodling spirals, as you do, and wondered how I’d go about decorating a geometric spiral cake… after much more doodling and some time creating a pattern in Adobe Illustrator, this cake is the result.


I thought perhaps a plain sponge might be a bit of a let down after having such a graphic outer layer, so this is a vanilla and lemon verbena sponge and chocolate and orange sponge marbled layer cake. You know me by now – I either go for a real plain but intensely classic and tricky perfect bake or I have to fiddle about with the flavours.


If you haven’t got lemon verbena, just add plain milk to the sponge and then add in one half teaspoon of lemon juice. (Skip the warming and infusion notes)

You can use either the plain spiral and print it out to your own size

Or you can use the PDF I’ve set up which will print out two pages of A4 which can be cut and pasted together to give an exact 21cm diameter pattern, which is right for a 20cm cake tin (plus buttercream and icing layers)

How I worked out the spiral


I took the diameter of the cake tin and added 1 cm to account for the icing and buttercream that would be layered on

I drew two radius lines from the centre of the circle to the circumference, 36° apart. This 36° angle gives me ten arcs in the spiral, an even five each of two colours. A circle is 360° in total, so 360 divided by ten is 36

Using each radius line as a diameter, I drew two smaller circles inside the radius of the larger circle

Where these two circles intersect each other and the larger circle gives me the arc that I want. This is the red shaded area.

I know that this one arc can de duplicated ten times to produce the spiral I want as it’s been set up using geometry to get a perfect result.

Using the template

I’ve given you a pdf template below that will make up a spiral for a 20cm cake (it is slightly wider – 21cm to accommodate the buttercream). This will not fit properly for printing on a single A4 sheet, so you need both and to cut and glue the sides together.



  • Cutting board/surface
  • Sharp craft knife – I use a Swann-Morton scalpel (used one ever since art school and I even use these for slashing my bread. Be careful – they are designed to cut flesh: the sterilised versions are used by surgeons! However, I don’t think you can beat them)
  • Card – A4 piece
  • Print out of the swirl template I’ve provided for you
  • 2 20cm cake tins, preferably loose bottomed or springform
  • Baking parchment/greaseproof paper
  • A small saucepan or a small microwaveable bowl
  • Two bowls
  • Skewer
  • Spoons, spatulas, crank handle palette knife  (preferable) or plain palette knife
  • Measuring jug (small scale) and set of weighing scales

Ingredients – sponge

  • Eggs – 2 large
  • Unsalted butter, softened – 100g
  • Baking margarine – 100g
  • Caster sugar – 200g (I used golden for this but ‘normal’ will do)
  • Plain flour – 185g
  • Cocoa – 15g
  • Baking powder – 1 teaspoon
  • Milk – 50 ml (of which you’ll only actually use 20ml)
  • Lemon verbena leaves – 5 or 6 leaves
  • Orange juice – 20 ml

Ingredients – chocolate buttercream

  • Unsalted, softened butter – 200g
  • Icing sugar – about 400g
  • Hot chocolate powder – about 40g
  • Milk – about 20 – 30 ml

Ingredients – icing

  • Red fondant icing, a shop bought pack or homemade – you will need about 150g
  • White fondant icing, a shop bought pack or homemade – you will need about 150g
  • Icing sugar to keep the surfaces dusted

Method – cakes

  1. Put the oven on to 170C fan / 180C conventional
  2. Make sure your two cake tins are greased and lined/floured
  3. Gently warm the milk and the lemon verbena leaves in the smallest saucepan you have over a low heat. Swirl the leaves around and heat until it is just blood temperature – you’ll be able to dip your finger in and it feel neither hot nor cold. Take off the heat and leave to infuse for a few minutes
  4. Put 50g of butter, 50g of margarine and 100g of caster sugar in a bowl
  5. Cream the fat and sugars together
  6. Add one egg and then sift in 85g of the flour, cocoa and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and mix together
  7. Add the orange juice (you may not need quite all the 20ml) until the batter is a typical cake consistency
  8. Put the chocolate and orange batter to one side
  9. Put 50g of butter, 50g of margarine and 100g of caster sugar in the second bowl
  10. Cream the fat and sugars together
  11. Add one egg and then sift in 100g of the flour and 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder and mix together
  12. Measure out 20ml of the infused milk (discarding the leaves) and add it to the batter (as before you may not need quite all of it, so my tip is to put about 10ml in, mix, and then judge the consistency adding the rest only if required)
  13. Take both baking tins and splodge spoonfuls of the lemon verbena sponge batter into both tins, trying to even the amount out (Fig. 1)

    Fig. 1
  14. You can test whether your tins are of equal weight (and therefore holding equal batter) by ‘zeroing’ your digital scales and putting one tin on. Note the weight. Take off the first tin and put the second on – is it the same? If it’s out by a lot transfer a little of the batter from the heavier tin and weight them both again
  15. Now splodge in the chocolate and orange batter in the same way, but try to fill in the gaps you’ve left with the lemon verbena batter (Fig. 2)

    Fig. 2
  16. Weight the two tins again to see if they’re level
  17. Smooth over the batters in both tins to try and get an even surface – try not to smudge the two batters together too much. However the truth is you’re only smooshing the very top layer and as this will get browned in the over and you won’t see it once the cake is made (Fig. 3)

    Fig. 3
  18. Tap the two tins on the counter
  19. Bake for about 25 minutes until springy to the touch and/or a skewer comes out clean
  20. Leave to cool in the tins

Method – buttercream

  1. Beat the butter, hot chocolate powder and icing sugar together together, adding a little splash of milk as you go to alter the consistency. Whip for a good few minutes as this will ensure it is light and airy

Method – construction

  1. Once cooled, sandwich the two sponges together with the buttercream (Fig. 4)

    Fig. 4
  2. Spread the buttercream on the top and sides of the cake and smooth it over as flat as possible (Fig. 5)

    Fig. 5
  3. Cut out the template
  4. Poke a small hole dead centre of the template and lay it on your cake, trying to make it as centrally aligned as possible – mark the centre of the cake with the skewer. Mark the edges of the cake at the ten points on the circumference and then take off the template
  5. Dust the surface you’re working on heavily with icing sugar
  6. Note of warning!! Make sure you do not turn any of the template pieces upside down or that piece of fondant won’t fit.
  7. Roll out one colour of the fondant larger than the template
  8. Lay the template on the fondant
  9. Carefully cut out the five arcs  – this will also cut your template (this is OK! You could cut out just one arc from the template and use that to cut five from the icing anyway)
  10. Put the five arcs to one side and roll out the other fondant
  11. Take just one of the arcs (this is easier now) and use it to cut out five in this second colour fondant (Fig. 6)

    Fig. 6
  12. Take one arc of fondant (doesn’t matter which colour) and use the template or the picture of the spiral here as a guide to ensure you’re laying it the right way – the fatter, more oblique end goes nearer the centre and the thinner, acute end of the arc goes on the edge of the cake
  13. Align the point of the arc to the hole you poked in the centre of the cake and align the piece of fondant so that the ‘tail’ end sweeps and meets the edge of the cake
  14. Take one arc from the other colour and lay it next to the first arc on the cake – they must touch. Make sure you lay the point to the centre of the cake
  15. Repeat until all the arcs are laid and the top is complete (Fig. 7)

    Fig. 7
  16. To complete the sides, take a scrap piece of paper (from the template you’ve just mauled) and measure the length of one colour along the side of the cake
  17. Cut a rectangle in the paper so that the long edge matches this section of fondant on the edge and the short side equals the height of the cake
  18. Using this paper template cut out five rectangles of fondant icing in each of the two colours
  19. Press these fondant rectangles on the sides of the cake
  20. Pinch together the edges and smooth with either a finger tip dipped in water or a moulding tool if you have one
  21. That should be it – you may want to either give the cake a spritz of water from a sprayer or use a clean pastry brush to give it a ‘wash’ with some water. This cleans it up, dissolves any leftover icing sugar powder and helps bind the edges togetherSpiralCakemethod-finished.jpg