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Back in the day, during a writing jam, I started wondering it'd be good if a culture in my world would have loafs of bread resembling a hexagon-based tube. Almost like a cylinder, but with six well distinguishable sides.

In terms of practical approach in bakery, how and/or when can it be useful or even working?

Or it's just a matter of tase, and I can bake hexagon-shaped breads whenever I want?

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    $\begingroup$ I have a cookbook which shows how to bake in conserve tins - the tins peaches or beans come in. The bread comes out tall, so you lie it on its side to slice it. If you had a whole load of hexagonal tins you could do this too. It would take a lot longer to bake if you had the oven full of them in a solid layer, though. $\endgroup$ – RedSonja May 24 '17 at 11:19
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    $\begingroup$ I’ve seen hexagonal loaves a few times in Poland, exactly the shape you describe. Unfortunately I don’t have a photo, and I can’t find images of any online, but they definitely exist! The ones I saw were all fairly dense dark rye loaves with seeds, and were at a couple of different bakeries in the neighbourhood near Warsaw University. $\endgroup$ – Peter LeFanu Lumsdaine May 24 '17 at 14:03
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    $\begingroup$ "I can bake hexagon-shaped breads whenever I want?" Probably you can. The 120 degree angles might not be well visible and it may look a bit round, but otherwise... $\endgroup$ – Trilarion May 24 '17 at 14:33
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    $\begingroup$ Hexagonal toast goes lovely with butter and writing jam! $\endgroup$ – Grimm The Opiner May 24 '17 at 15:21
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    $\begingroup$ Wait, wait, wait: Do you mean a hexagonal pan — out from which the bread rises like a muffin, — or a do you mean bread that rises to form a hexagonal cylinder's angular corners on the top? $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food May 24 '17 at 18:46

14 Answers 14

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The hexagon is an efficient way to mass-produce identical loaves

Following a period of widespread bread alteration (think allum) the king has given a list of decrees to control the bread market. Apart from limiting the ingredients to flour, water, yeast and salt, he has demanded that all 1-penny loaves be identical. A 1-penny loaf on this side of the kingdom is the same as a 1-penny loaf on the other side.

The bakers were not happy. . . .

Problem #1: All loaves must be the same weight.

Solution #1: Make the dough in large amounts. Slice into equal kilo-weights and put them all in the oven.

Problem #2: Loaves must be the same shape.

Solution #2: Use a mould. Think an upside-down cake tin with the raw dough placed under. As the dough rises it expands to match the shape of the container.

Problem #3: Having many molds uses up lots of material and they don't fit properly in the oven.

Solution #3: Only have one big mold. A wide one with many same-shape cavities in it. Put a lump of dough under each and put the whole thing in the oven. An hour later you have a hundred identical loaves side-by-side.

Now there are many ways to arrange the same shape over a plane. For example the square:

enter image description here

and the hexagon:

enter image description here

and many others.

So to solve all 3 problems you can use a square or hexagon loaf or some other shape. So why one and not the other?

Problem #4: Shortage of materials to make moulds.

Solution #4: The hexagon pattern is known to minimise the total length of the 'walls'. This is why bees use hex-comb rather than square comb.

So hundreds of bakers each use dozens of inverted honeycombs to produce thousands of identical 1-penny loaves every day of the year. I think that answers the question nicely.

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    $\begingroup$ It is a useful because it makes it easier to mass-produce identical loaves. Producing identical loaves is useful because it stops your being arrested as a bread adulterer. $\endgroup$ – Daron May 24 '17 at 1:50
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    $\begingroup$ Agreed. However such a phenomenon is inevitable in any world where bread can be mass-produced. Bread adulteration and standardization was a huge controversy in the Victorian period, right up until the invention of the sliced pan where it sort of fell apart. $\endgroup$ – Daron May 24 '17 at 2:00
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    $\begingroup$ I can't help but notice all those pesky half hexagons on the edges of your plane... $\endgroup$ – apaul May 24 '17 at 5:31
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    $\begingroup$ The problem is wasted space around the edges, amplified with the size of the hexes and hence size of loaf. Less of a problem for tiny bees, more of a problem for 800g loaves. The problem goes away if your oven happens to be hexagonal as well, maybe with swing doors on two adjacent sides. Our ovens are squares, make everything hexagonal and it works. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix May 24 '17 at 7:22
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    $\begingroup$ The Bakers union lobbys the monarchy to add a provision for a ha'penny loaf which is exactly a half-hexagon shape and weighs exactly the same as half a penny loaf. Now there is no waste. $\endgroup$ – Daron May 24 '17 at 8:58
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It really depends on the scale you're aiming at

Bread as we know it:

Making this the main-form for bread in that culture would be impractical. The loaf as we know it developed from the fact that it is very easy to just heat up a ball of dough until it is done. You can control the time it takes to bake it by adjusting the thickness of your loaf, and as there's no holes whatsoever, the heat will evenly distribute.

Hexagonal bread:

Making a hexagonal bread, at least the way you describe it, will be a tad more difficult and ultimately less practical. As your goal is to attain a hexagonal shape you will need to do something along the line of sticking 7 rods of dough into 3 layers of 2, then 3, then 2 rods again on top of each other.

A handy guide to hexbread

The issue here is that you need some way to keep the weight of the upper dough rods from crashing the lower rods. The best way to do this would likely be to bake the bread in a vertical position, e.g. inside a basket or maybe a hole in your oven, this will lead to further issues regarding heat, etc. But it can ultimately be solved.

Considering the additional effort and the specialized equipment this would need, it seems more likely that this sort of bread would develop as a bread for special occasions (e.g. for the mess on Sundays, birthday festivities, catering for guests, etc.) similar to e.g. the Zopf.

An alternative to your tube-based bread would be to arrange multiple balls of dough like a flower, and thus create a flat bread that has the distinct shape:

Brotblume Image taken from: http://www.wunderkessel.de/media/brotblume.12725/

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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn read the quedtion $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T May 24 '17 at 7:19
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    $\begingroup$ @dot_Sp0T yes, we have read the question. The question talks about a "hexagon-based tube" which would be a 2D hexagon extruded on the third axis not some strange layered process $\endgroup$ – Trotski94 May 24 '17 at 7:39
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    $\begingroup$ @JamesTrotter you folks are just hoaxing me, right? $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T May 24 '17 at 7:48
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    $\begingroup$ Close, we're hexing you. :) $\endgroup$ – candied_orange May 24 '17 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @MartinBonner I'm still not getting where you're taking the dot is trying to make the void in the centre be horizontal from :/ $\endgroup$ – dot_Sp0T May 24 '17 at 9:26
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It is done, just the way you described it. See the manufacturer's website and a shop that sells it.

So yes, by all means it makes sense. They have been baking and selling it for years, at least since 2010 - the best proof it can work. For why, I admit I'm clueless, but you wanted a reality check, and here you have it: it's real.

About the bread: it's a sourdough bread, made of Triticum spelta (spelt) and common wheat. Spelt is low on gluten so it needs to be baked in forms, and that's the case here. It is baked in hexagon forms with a crust similar to that of rye breads (baked in forms), not white bread (baked as free standing loaves). In this image you can see the top of this bread. Sadly, it is not licensed in a way that would let me include the image directly in my answer.

enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Best 'reality check' there is... maybe add the image to the answer? $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN May 25 '17 at 13:39
  • $\begingroup$ @G0BLiN Maybe I should. Sadly, I can't find CC-compatible photo of it, nor a photo on https:// I could hotlink. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 25 '17 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ Damn, yes, this is what I was thinking! Now I wonder if it's practical, at all... $\endgroup$ – Katamori May 25 '17 at 14:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Katamori They started to advertise it on the Internet in 2010. So they bake and sell it for at least 7 years. But I believe I remember it to be much older. It is practical, somehow. Even if only from marketing point ;) "Money talks", as people say. $\endgroup$ – Mołot May 25 '17 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Mołot sure, but I meant in an "enterprise" context, so, for mass-producing it and so on. Apparently, there are many different answers for it, but only few nails the point. Whatever, I assume it's because of the way I asked the question. $\endgroup$ – Katamori May 25 '17 at 14:24
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As others have noted, the reasonable starting point is stacking. If you need to stack lots of bread for significant periods of time, you want a shape that does not waste space. So the cross-section would be a triangle, a rectangle, or a hexagon.

The problem is that pretty much all storage spaces where we would stack things are rectangular and will store rectangular bread more efficiently. Only advantage a hex has over a square is that it has less crust per volume.

So we need some reason to minimize the amount of crust. The easy solution is that the crust is actually inedible. Considering that this is bread that is stored long enough that stacking efficiency is a major issue, the bread itself is probably completely dry, extremely dense, and hard enough that you need to soak it for a while before you can eat it. More a biscuit than bread. For the crust to be inedible in comparison, it must be toxic. As in, rats gnaw at it and die.

As noted in a comment, a toxic crust would also be an added cost and would give an added reason to minimize the surface area. So if you use such crust a hexagonal bread will be better than a rectangular.

This actually makes sense. Any bread stored long enough that stacking efficiency matters would have to be protected from spoilage. It should be rat proof, insect proof, mould proof, and water proof. Being fireproof would be nice, but given the extreme dryness would be hard to achieve.

So after it has been baked in a metallic mould, it is lacquered with a lacquer that is either toxic enough to kill rats itself or has some arsenic added to it. Once the lacquer dries it forms a hard insect and water proof surface. The toxicity gives protection from rats and other vermin. The smooth hardened surface also makes storage slightly easier. Since the bread itself is very dense the poison will not penetrate beyond the surface layer.

This kind of bread should store for a very long time. And you would not need to worry about keeping the storage dry and free of vermin. This is important because it combines with high stacking efficiency to make long term storage cheap enough to be practical.

Then after you are out of everything that is actually edible, you go to the farthest corner of the basement, pick some of these hexagonal rods your grand father stacked there, cut off the brightly coloured (probably red/ochre) crust with a saw, then use a clean saw to cut the rod into thin slices, boil some water, soak the slices in the water, eat the slices once they have softened enough, and pray to all Gods you can remember that you will not die.

You could call this the "red bread of last resort", I guess. Although I imagine it could be some sort of gourmet delicacy, if it was spiced in some way. Since it can be stored for a long time, the taste could mature over time. A bread equivalent of fine wines or cheese.

I thought some about what possible disaster would make such emergency food make sense and by coincidence saw a video about medieval castles. Sieges were prolonged affairs and properly designed castles could hold out until the defenders run out of supplies. The amount of food stored when the siege starts would then be of crucial importance. This would give real value to food that can be stored for long periods of time.

Castles were also fairly expensive to build. This means that spending some extra money on making food store better might be practical and that food that stores efficiently would have real value because space was at premium inside castles.

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    $\begingroup$ You forgot to mention that the toxic crust coating is also very expensive, which further drives minimizing surface area. $\endgroup$ – user3067860 May 24 '17 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @user3067860 Good point. I just assumed it must be affordable for this to be practical, but it would still be relatively expensive and definitely a cost to minimize. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 25 '17 at 10:47
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    $\begingroup$ @JeroenMostert True, but even without the "gourmet" option this is hardly normal bread. In fact this pretty much is hardtack except for storing even better. And probably having more flavor since the sealed surface will trap aromatic compounds. Which is why the gourmet option is possible. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 26 '17 at 13:32
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    $\begingroup$ I keep thinking about this--maybe there is some kind of regular but infrequent disaster that leads to stockpiling these large amounts of emergency foods... Maybe they have 17 year cicadas that are REALLY HUGE. So you spend 16 years storing everything possible, then on the 17th year you spend a couple of months eating nothing but cicada meat (and lots of it), followed by near-famine the rest of the year since the cicadas ate everything so you only have these provisions that were stored in cicada-proof areas. They've spent a long time improving all the storage options... $\endgroup$ – user3067860 May 26 '17 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ @user3067860 Sieges might be right kind of disaster. Edited a note to the answer. Thanks for the reminder. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi May 28 '17 at 16:17
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Here are many different, separate reasons for this that I could come up with.

  • The moulds for this exist in nature and do not have to be made, as in there is an easily accessible fireproof something that can be used for this purpose for any kind of bread, the effect of which is better, more evenly cooked bread even for the poor without a good oven.
    • Expanding on this, perhaps there isn't a lot of wood, and this material, in this shape, can cook bread faster, which is needed because there isn't much fuel.
  • The guild insists upon it. It's a weird shape to prevent pretenders from being bakers. There's a baker's mafia.
  • The shape is important in the culture, and hexes are used for certain festivals/popular for celebration feasts/said to be lucky/are considered better than "poor round bread."
  • As @Ville Niemi covered, because this form is good for storage. I would expand on this to say it would be good for harsh winters, and there might be other things baked into it, such as dried meat or mushrooms to make a kind of "stew bread" in desperate times.
  • There's nothing people fight over more than food, especially bread. @Daron's suggestion of a king's decree for standardization is not surprising, since in history there were plenty of laws governing bread in early times.
  • Finally, and this is a weird one, food as currency. If it's as indestructible as @Ville Niemi says and takes a good soaking to break down, it actually might be a good stand-in for MONEY. The weird shape is a bonus, making it more difficult to forge (and the ingredients cost money...so...) Here's a list of all the food used for currency in history. Not as a trade item, mind. (I talk about food as currency in this answer here on our site).
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Cultural norms often define things for no readily apparent reason.

Things often grow organically from earlier things. Think how railroad gauges chose an arbitrary width that hearkens back to horse cart widths, which are fairly standardized because of the width of horses... everything grows from something older.

So you have hex shaped bread loaves and want to reverse that back to a reason why. Why would most (all?) bakers standardize on a hex-shaped loaf pan? Early bakers didn't use pans at all. They used ovens and slid bread dough into the oven without a pan.

As near as I can determine, bread pans are a relatively modern idea. It appears they are most commonly used in England, Scotland, the US. It appears that bread pans date back to roughly the 16th century England/Scotland. That link cites the earliest known English reference to baking bread in pans as 1807, but states it was surely a common practice before then.

I mention that, because to get hexagonal bread, you need a hexagonal bread pan. Otherwise, you get a vaguely hexagonal round loaf, since forming the loaf into a perfect hex while it is still dough won't matter during the rising or baking stages.

As for why, others have supplied answers that basically talk about efficient use of oven space. This really doesn't matter until your society reaches mass production. As long as your baker can bake sufficient quantities to supply his/her local customers for the day, then standard baking practices with ovens and no baking pans will work.

No, if you want to get hexagonal loaves before mass production, you need a different cause than efficiency.

If your society worships bees, they would have a reason to introduce bee-based shapes into their society. Perhaps they build everything on a hexagonal pattern. So you have hex houses with hex plates and bowls and they bake hex-shaped bread from hex-shaped stoneware.

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    $\begingroup$ Or maybe they're timelords and have an obsession with both circles and hexagons. $\endgroup$ – Pharap May 25 '17 at 4:09
  • $\begingroup$ I didn't mention anything related "pre-mass-production", so you have no reason to assume that I want them to appear, for example, in the Middle Age. Mass-produced hexagonal loaves are perfect for my purpose. $\endgroup$ – Katamori May 25 '17 at 14:16
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The most efficient way to place round bolls of dough on a plate is to use a hexagonal pattern. During the baking process, the dough will rise to the sides and automatically form hexagons. This not only works with bread, multiple times I ended up baking hexagonal cookies because I placed too many on the same plate while baking.

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Considering that this heart-shaped monstrosity is quite doable, I'm very much inclined to say it is indeed possible.

Cooking bread in such molds generally requires a fair amount of cleanup, though, so I'm not convinced doing so would be especially practical.

If your society is capable of making the bread come out easily without sticking or leaving residue, though, I could see using the hexagon shape as being practical. Make an oven with heating elements between each mold, and optionally integrate it with the ability to push the bread out and get more dough. You get loafs of bread that store compactly, and are produced in a relatively space-efficient way.

That said, I don't think the hexagon shape would be particularly superior in any respect to the standard square-ish thing we have today.

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    $\begingroup$ Would you say that it is quite doughable, then? $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food May 24 '17 at 19:01
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So these answers focus on a mold, but there is one really large problem. You have to bake the stuff.

Normal white bread will not do well if it's "fat in the middle"

The narrower top and bottom will be done long before the middle of the loaf. The crust will be harder and more dry, while the center will still be "raw". Normal white bread (that we generally eat these days) just won't work if it's not "mostly" uniform.

This is true for older breads too, that's why many breads were made as a blob of dough on a flat surface. The bread wasn't as much rectangle (like we think of today) but round. It would "flatten" out a bit as it cooked, and you would get a short fat blop of bread.

The "modern" bread that you get at the grocery is a joke compared to real bread. Even real bread made in a loaf pan tend to be uniform in nature or the cook poorly. The loaf pans primary job is to constrain the rising bread and make it "mushroom" at the top. In fact when placing the dough in the pan there should be lots of room "around" the dough to allow for it to expand (lots is relative).

So, a Hex shaped tube, or any non circular tube isn't going to work well for "modern" bread.

But don't fear there are options.

Wet or moist breads (think banana bread) won't have this problem, at least not as bad. Flat breads also won't matter much. Any bread that doesn't leaven (rise with yeast) should work quite well so long as you can account for thicker middle of the loaf.

Leavening breads may still work if the tube allows some poof out the top like a loaf pan does IRL. It would be tricky though.

Historically, breads wanted a thick, hard, dense, tough, crust. This is how it stayed fresh. Specially for traveling, you would want a crust you wouldn't actually eat. You would peal back the crust and eat the squishy bit inside. Much like a orange. The only difference is that the crust could then be used (some times) in soups or stews. Other times it was too moldy and just discarded. If that is a feature your looking for the a hex shape may not be bad. The center could need more time to cook, and thus your crust would be thick and hardy.

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  • $\begingroup$ What about simply inserting a metal rod into the center of the hexagon throughout the loaf and heat that up in accordance? That'd cook the inside, too. As a matter of fact, other answers already made me consider it for logistical benefits, anyway. $\endgroup$ – Katamori May 25 '17 at 3:36
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One of the difficulties with bread baking involve the equal application of heat over the surface area, nobody wants bread that is burnt, but it happens, especially in big wood ovens. So what do you do?

Create a clam-shell like mold that closes into a hexagonal tube with flat ends. This is the important bit though: When closed, it has 3 edges with a hole for a hook to attach. This would be the same hook that is in many old time fireplaces where you could hang a kettle.

The closed design has many benefits. First, it keeps embers and other debris from the fireplace out of the loaf. Next, being able to turn the loaf to each of the 3 hook points gives the baker much better control over heat distribution.

These molds, most likely being mad from cast iron, are likely to become heirloom pieces, passed from generation to generation, like your grandmothers jelly mold.

The stackablility is just a by product of the shape that allows for a quality loaf.

Stackability, heirloom molds, plus inertia (We've always done it that way) should carry the traditional hex loaf forward through time.

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Rectangle is perfect shape for storing (as it works like building blocks). Hexagons would require more work as it's hard to produce bread in semi-perfect hexagon shape and can't really be placed in a container not to waste space. Rectangular shape has no such imperfection and is much more easier measurable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Actually bees use hexagon for their hives instead of square or rectangle because it is more effective in using space. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica May 24 '17 at 12:35
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Hexagonal grid uses less wax - that's the reason why bee hives are hexagonal, It's not more efficient in storage space by any means $\endgroup$ – NoOorZ24 May 24 '17 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ By "not more efficient storage space" I mean - there's no grid needed for bread, so space used by grid = 0 $\endgroup$ – NoOorZ24 May 24 '17 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to WorldBuilding! If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name May 24 '17 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ Also, a hexagonal grid allows finer variations along its perimeter than a quadrilateral one. It can fill irregular spaces better, be truncated more easily, et c. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food May 24 '17 at 18:59
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One of the answers already shows that it is being done (although it seems like rye bread)

Shapes for safety

Many breads are just different shapes to distinguish between the different types since if all bread looked the same you wouldn't be able to tell which scones are burger buns from a commoner's perspective.

Perhaps squishing it to see if its soft but nobody wants to eat bread that dirty commoner hands have touched.

So I would say that there was a some kind of rectangular bread that was brought in, maybe a foreigners bread and they want people to sell local. (or maybe the local wheat was safe while the outside bread could be made from plague wheat)

so one day the local folk decide to make their bread hexagonal to differentiate it from normal bread in the stores so people know they can trust it.

This could be the history and the in the world's modern day it just stayed hexagonal without the original reason for it being that way as being common knowledge

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In terms of low-tech bakeries (typical medieval bakeries for instance) the oven would be internally fired to get it hot and the bread 'just' plopped down in free-form dollop shapes onto the oven floor. There's no expense of buying tins to bake in, there's no effort needed to clean the tins and no need to store tins for each type of loaf that is made. And if fashion changes and a 'new' shape loaf becomes fashionable then you'd need a whole new set of tins. Given the absence of cheap tin-plate, bread tins would be heavy, take a lot of heating up and therefore take a lot of heat out of the oven. When it comes to transporting bread... sacks don't pack hexagons much better than dollops. All in all, there's no benefit in making bulk bread in medieval times in tins.

Also if you're using an artisanal flour with your own variety of yeast, the behaviour of the dough won;t be consistent. Making consistent loaves from inconsistent ingredients would be an extra overhead.

Now if you accept uniform ingredients and cheap tin plate you can more easily make a hexagonal tin (a closed two-part tin with ends) and make a consistent hexagonal loaf. In the UK there's a loaf called 'milk roll' that is mould-made in this way... as a ribbed cylinder with flat ends. But it's dependent on knowing that an amount of bread will rise in a given time to fill the tin completely, that the oven temperature will be reliable and consistent across the loaves cooking at any time. It's a high-tech loaf rather than a low-tech loaf.

If you want to consider authorities imposing dimensions on bread... consider the laws in France about dimensions and weights of baguettes. See for instance http://www.frenchdesire.com.au/facts/bread/ that hints at the law. So it can be done, but not in hexagonal tins!

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If question is about industrial bread production for mass consumption, hexagon molds will cost magnitudes more for earlier eras and are less useful if you aim to authomatise baking later. Conveyor line handles rectangles much better than hexagons.

It will make machines like these twice as complicated for no real benefit. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UjUWfwWAC4&t=220

If question is not about bread industy, then there isn't any problems with hexagons. Cylindrical bread are common through history, and they are pretty close to hexagonal in shape and mass.

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  • $\begingroup$ So I have to stick for cultural reasons, as well as alternate production processes, then. $\endgroup$ – Katamori May 25 '17 at 14:32

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