Scoring Bread – Everything You Need To Know

How to score bread
Published on
20 October 2020
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

Professional bakers’ ability to score bread is a true art form. Seeing a pro score their loaves can feel like a distant dream to master. But you can! Even if you’re not all that “artistic”, with a bit of practice (and this bread scoring guide), you’ll be scoring bread dough with confidence in no time!

Why score bread?

Once bread is proofed, its surface is scored with a blade before going into the oven. One of the reasons for scoring bread is that years ago, bread dough was made at home and taken to the local bakery for baking. So that the baker knew whose loaf was whose, an identifiable design was cut into each loaf.

But this is not the only reason. Scoring bread dough has an important role to play in the quality of the crust and crumb.

When bread goes into the oven, gas inflates the gluten structure in a process called oven spring. The intense heat that occurs forces the dough to expand rapidly, making it 30-60% larger than it was unbaked.

During oven spring, the warm environment generates a strong burst of carbon dioxide gas and water vapour. When bread dough is correctly shaped, the outer membrane is strong and resistant to anything passing through it.

If there is no escape route from the centre of the loaf, carbon dioxide and water vapour congregate in weak areas of the gluten structure. Pressure builds, and the structure of the dough eventually ruptures, tearing the surface and ripping a hole in the crumb so gas can escape.

To avoid these unsightly “rupture holes”, “blowouts”, and even “big bubbles” of gas retained in the crumb, bread is scored before baking. Once scored, a route is available for excess gas and water vapour to escape the bread. The result is that the dough rises well and looks appealing.

What knife to make slashes in bread?

Lame

wooden lame

To score bread, a lame, also known as a grignette, is usually preferred. A lame (pronounced “lamb”) is essentially a razor blade on a stick (some bakers make their own). The sharp blade has a small surface area, so cuts through soft bread dough with ease and without dragging.

Small serrated knife

serrated knife

serrated knife is used by many bakers for scoring bread dough. Whilst not as accurate or versatile as a lame, a serrated knife can score bread to a high standard.

Bread knife

If you don’t have any other knife for scoring bread a bread knife will work! You’ll be restricted in the designs you score, but you’ll be able to score most of the simple designs (including a simple loaf cut) with a bread knife.

Scissors

kitchen scissors can score bread

For some cuts, a sharp pair of kitchen scissors is preferred. Popular examples are star shapes, epi baguettes and hedgehog bread.

How to score bread

1. Get ready

Once your dough is cut, you’ll want to put it in the oven right away, so get your water mister pumped (if used for steam) and everything ready. Clear your route to the oven.

2. Tip the bread onto a board or peel

If you use a bread tin to proof and bake your dough, you can skip this step. If a banneton or couche is used, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board or peel.

TIP: Slide a metal dough scraper or palette knife underneath the dough to loosen it from the board.

3. Remove excess flour

removing the flour

Use a pastry brush to remove the excess flour from the dough’s surface. Dry flour will burn to leave a dry, bitter taste.

4. Make the scores

Take the lame and remove the cover. You want to make clean and precise cuts, so take a second to plan your cuts before proceeding. For the popular pound sign design (also called a windowpane), position the scoring blade at a 30-degree angle, 10 cm away from the side of the bread you intend to score.

Cut 1
Cut 1

Pull the blade towards you whilst lowering the blade into the dough’s surface and pull the blade in a straight line towards you, raising it at the end of the incision. You should have a nice, straight cut.

Cut 2
Cut 3
Cut 4
Note: The blade dragged against the dough, as shown in the middle image. This is because I was too slow when making the cut (I was trying to get a nice photo!). If you notice this happening, try and be quicker and firmer with your movement.

Check the cut is even, going over missed areas if needed. Cuts open up best when clean and singular, so don’t play around too much.

Turn the dough 90 degrees and repeat.

cut 5
Cut 6

Repeat on all four sides.

Cut 7
Cut 8

5. Put the bread in the oven

As soon as the cuts are made, put your bread in the oven. Being quick here will enhance the effects of the oven spring and open the cuts properly. 

For the best oven spring, bake your bread on a baking stone and add steam to the oven.

6. Remove your bread from the oven and cool

How to score bread tutorial

Once you’ve baked your bread, it will need to cool for around 2-3 hours before it’s sliced and eaten. See how long to cool bread properly to learn more.

Reversing the angle of the blade

Instead of rotating yourself (or the peel) 90 degrees for each score, make two cuts in the dough surface at a time, then move 90 degrees and score the other two. You can flip the angle of the blade so that it points inwards each time, or not. It’s up to you.

Angle for one score
angle of the blade is reversed

Bread scoring patterns

Once you’ve mastered the simple pound sign design, why not try another bread scoring pattern? Here are some of the most common sourdough scoring patterns, but will work nicely with yeasted bread too:

Bread scoring patterns

How to score baguettes

Scoring baguettes is a challenge that takes most home bakers some time to perfect.

How to score baguettes

Proof your dough to 70-80%, so the cuts open up with vibrancy.

Start at the top, around ¼ inch from the edge. Each score is diagonal, with around 45 degrees as the perfect angle. The next cut starts slightly higher than where the previous one ended. There should be 5-8 cuts for a full-size baguette, but one small enough to fit in a domestic oven will have 3-4.

curved French lame is preferred for scoring baguettes. The curved blade scores dough in a diamond shape that makes the final baked loaf look magnificent!

How to score bread to get an ear

To achieve the distinctive ear many bakers love on their sourdough bread, take a properly fermented dough that has been well developed during bulk fermentation. Proof it to 70-80% proof (slightly under-proofed) and make a single deep cut at a 45 degree angle in the half-moon pattern. When baked with steam, the rapid expansion causes the bread to open up like an ear.

Understanding ripping – Improve your oven spring!

Is a ripping crust good for bread?

When dough is slightly under proofed, the oven spring is more prolific. An excess of energy from the dough causes the extra gas produced to expand the cuts, making them more open and exaggerated. This is called ripping and can also happen when scores are slightly too shallow.

Scoring bread dough with elaborate designs

Look at the video below from Sourdough Bread Art’s Instagram. I can’t help but be inspired by it! 

There are many opportunities and designs available when scoring bread and some of my favourite decorative cuts have wheat stalks or diagonal slashes with leaves in the middle! But scoring bread dough doesn’t have to be so elaborate. I’ve spent most of my career in commercial bakeries where there isn’t time to spend on fancy scoring patterns.

If you would like to step into the arena of “sourdough bread art”, the dough is best placed in the freezer for 10-30 minutes before scoring. The cold dough has a firm surface which makes it easier to slash.

The dough must be well fermented and proofed to 90%-100% to reduce ripping as you’ll be making shallower slashes.

The lame must be a sharp razor, with many bakers opt for a UFO blade style or just a razor blade for the intricate bits!

Further reading: What is the best bread lame?

How to use stencils for bread designs

Stencils are a great way to create excitement in the look of your bread alongside scoring designs. Find a bread stencil with a fun, intricate pattern. You can also make your own if you have a 3D printer!

Why is dough sticking to the blade when scoring?

Dough sticks to the blade a leaves ripple marks

1. The blade isn’t sharp

Replace or rotate the blade on your lame. Blades should be rotated every 30 – 50 loaves and replaced every 100-150. A craft baker will change their razor blade every night. Otherwise, the blade drags on the dough surface.

2. The gluten structure is weak

Develop a stronger gluten network by increasing bulk fermentation, kneading for longer or using a high-protein baker’s flour.

3. The bread is over-proofed or fermented

The dough has lost elasticity as the lactic acid and over-oxidation have weakened the gluten. It’s very hard to score dough when there isn’t a taut surface to make straight slashes! Let’s nothing you can do to save an over-developed dough. Reduce the length of the bulk fermentation process or final rise time on your next attempt.

4. The dough was too wet

Dry the dough out for 10-15 minutes before baking. Use the refrigerator or freezer if you need to slow yeast activity down.

Ending thoughts on scoring bread

We’ve covered all the basics of scoring techniques, including how to score a basic design, more complicated methods and some common troubleshooting pointers. The challenge is now for you to practice that smooth cutting motion!

I’ve trained many bakers, and most don’t get it right the first time, so don’t worry if you don’t, either! I recommend making a large batch of dough to practise if you can. Drop a comment in the section below if you have any questions.

Scoring bread – frequently asked questions

Should I use a wet blade when cutting bread?
There is an argument that a wet blade offers more resistance to the cutting action making scoring easier. The blade should not be wet when cutting bread dough. It is detrimental as moisture will adhere to the dough surface which is going to deteriorate the crust in the oven.
How deep shall I cut bread?
The depth of the scores made to the bread is relative to the number of cuts made. The cut should be in the range of 3 mm to 10 mm deep. For single cut designs such as the one used in my beginner’s bread recipe, a deeper cut is preferred. Whereas, more creative designs require shallower cuts.
Does the bread go in the oven straight after scoring?
Yes, the dough should go straight into the oven once cut. This enhances the upwards motion of oven spring.
Should I flour bread before scoring it?
It is down to personal taste if flour is dusted over the bread. If using a floured banneton for the final proof, there is usually enough flour already on the bread. Bread such as a British Farmhouse loaf often requires the baker to sieve flour before being scored. If the dough is particularly sticky, placing it in the fridge for 30 minutes will firm it and is preferred to flour dusting.
The cuts didn’t open during baking?
The reason cuts don’t open up could be down to the angle of the slashes made yet is most likely to be over proofing, not adding water to the oven to make steam or adding too much steam.
Why did my bread collapse after cutting?
Some loaves will collapse when cut as the gluten structure is weak or damaged. Review the process of developing the gluten and consider increasing the kneading or the first rise time.
How long should we spend cutting bread?
1 – 4 seconds is required to score a loaf of bread. Any longer than this can lead to over-proofing in a commercial bakery. Being efficient when scoring usually leads to a better product. However, more elaborate scoring designs are made in small batches.
Should we score every bread before baking?
Complex whole grains such as rye, whole wheat and spelt have fewer simple sugars and a less extensible dough structure than dough made from white wheat flour. Less gas is created during oven spring, so the risk of rupturing is minimal. Scoring is not necessary for whole grain bread, and doing so would weaken the dough structure.
What is the best angle for scoring bread dough?
30 degrees is the standard scoring angle for bread. Some bakers will increase the angle to 45 degrees for baguettes and bread to get the cuts to open up more.
What is the best way to score bread?
Use a sharp blade. Cut at a 30 degree angle to the dough. Be confident and try not to have to re-cut the slashes again. Cut towards you. Move the bread or your body to get the right angle
Should I “go over” the scores again?
A single stroke gives a much cleaner look, but if the first cut isn’t deep enough, a second cut can be made.
Buy Me A Coffee

Keep up to date with the latest Articles, Recipes & Bread Baking info by joining my mailing list

Join The Weekly Bread Baker's Newsletter!

Join my weekly baking newsletter to be notified with the latest bread baking tips and trends.
Busby's Bakery

© Busby's Bakery. All rights reserved.
Designed by Joe Joubert.