Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Santa Head Bread

I've been fiddling around with a Santa-head shaped bread for quite a while. I like sculpted loaves. They're fun to make, and part of the fun is how oddly unpredictable they can be.

For example, the bunny bread I made involved a lot of different versions before the bunny looked like a bunny and not a gargoyle.

Santa-head-bread is a totally different story. I've made it a number of times, but I've never had an instance when Santa looked like Satan. He always always always looked like a jolly bearded elf. Sometimes he was a little fatter. Other times he was a little less puffy. Sometimes his nose was bigger or his beard was smaller.

And over time, I've messed around with the details a lot. Different beard decorations, flour dusting, egg washing. And they all looked good. This time, I opted for minimal embellishment, with just some scissors snips to add texture to his beard and the furry band and ball on his hat.

Of course, Santa was made using my favorite yeast from Red Star, the active dry yeast. Red Star Yeast sponsored this post, but it really is the brand I always use. I buy active dry yeast in 2-pound bags and keep most of it in my freezer and a small jar in my refrigerator where it's ready to be used. And yes, I use enough of it that it makes sense for me to buy that much!

If that seems like a lot of yeast, keep in mind that I also sometimes use instant yeast, Platinum yeast, or my home-grown sourdough. Yeah, it's pretty yeasty around here.

If you have your own favorite dough, you can use that to make Santa, but it should be a dough that behaves itself. It should be firm enough so that it doesn't slouch and spread, and it should be tame enough so it doesn't rise too quickly and ruin the design you create. You want it to rise, of course. But you don't want it to rise out of control or you might find Santa's nose rolling down his beard.

Santa Head Bread

1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons Red Star Active Dry Yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
1 egg
3 3/4 cups (14 5/8 ounces) bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix slowly until the dough comes together, then increase the speed and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Cover the bowl and set aside until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Divide it into 4 roughly equal pieces.

Grab one piece and cut off enough to make a 1-inch ball of dough for Santa's nose. Form the larger portion into a flat oval about 4 1/2 inches wide by 6 inches long. You can just eyeball it, or even make it a circle. Place the large oval in the center of the baking sheet and position the nose in the center of the oval.

Take the second piece of dough and form it into a long triangle to create the hat. The base should be as wide as Santa's face, and it should be long enough to fold the tip over jauntily. Place the hat on Santa's face, just above the nose. This Santa is a little sleepy and the hat covers his eyes.

Take the third piece and form a beard for Santa and add it to the face you've been building.

Take the last piece and divide it into three roughly equal pieces. Form the first piece into a flat band as wide as Santa's head this will be the furry hat band. Place it on the bottom of the hat and just above Santa's nose.

Take the second piece and form it into your preferred moustache shape and place it right below Santa's nose. Adjust it so it looks the way you like it.

Take the third piece and form a ball and add it to the end of Santa's hat.

Cover dough and set aside to rise for 30 minutes. Tip: Use another sheet pan of the same size as a "cover" for the pan holding the dough.

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 350 degrees.

When the dough has risen for 30 minutes, uncover it.

If needed, adjust the nose, hat band, moustache as desired.

Take a small, sharp pair of scissors and make snips in the dough of the hatband and hat ball to create texture. The more perpendicular to the surface the scissors are as you snip, the shorter the spikes of dough will be. I made very small spikes on the ball and slightly longer spikes on the band.

A similar technique is used on the beard. But first, I made some snips all the way through the dough around the edges. Then I held the scissors nearly parallel to the dough to make long, thin beard strands.

If you like, you can brush parts of the dough with egg wash to make them shiny, or you can dust parts of the dough with flour.

When you're done decorating, bake Santa at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes, until the dough is nicely browned.

Remove the pan from the oven, slide Santa, still on the parchment, onto a rack to cool. When it's cool enough to handle, remove the bread from the parchment and allow it to cool completely.

And, no, it's not too cute to eat. Get out a knife and slice it up!

Thanks to Red Star Yeast for sponsoring this post and particularly for being so willing to answer my questions about yeast!

For more yeasty information, you can follow Red Star on social media: Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Google Plus.