This guide covers everything you need to know about scoring bread to help you make your slashes correctly. Bread is such a simple food, yet the look and craftsmanship in shaping and cutting can make it look amazing.
Cutting bread can be a true art form. Look at the video below from Sourdough Bread Art's Instagram. I can't help but be inspired from it!
But it doesn't have to be so elaborate. Spending much of my career in commercial bakeries there isn't time to spend on design. The other loaves waiting for the oven would over proof! So I prefer to keep things simple.
Whether you want to keep it simple or let your artistic juices flow is up to you, here are some tips to help you get started.
Why we score bread
At the end of proofing, we make cuts in the bread before it goes into the oven. The cuts open up as the bread expands during oven spring. The result is a bread that is well sprung and decorative.
Though scoring bread isn't just about creating a pretty pattern, it has an important role to play in the quality of the crust and crumb too. During baking the yeast generates an excessive amount of carbon dioxide gas.
Without cutting, gas forms a bubble in the weakest area of the dough. As the bubble expands it eventually tears the outer surface of the bread which creates an unsightly rupture of the crust which is called "ripping", "rupturing" or "tearing".
The bubbles of gas also cause an uneven crumb which is unsightly and also damages the texture of the bread.
Is ripping in the crust always bad for the bread?
We can encourage a bit of ripping by making the cut slightly too small for the bread. This makes the cut open up during oven spring and is quite appealing.
Should we score every bread before baking?
The majority of breads are scored before they enter the oven however several breads are not. Where more complex grains are used such as rye, wholemeal or spelt there are fewer simple sugars and also less gluten. This results in less gas creation and poorer gas retention during oven spring.
Cutting these types of bread will allow more gas to escape and a weak oven spring. Because of this there is a much lower risk of the bread rupturing therefore there is no need to cut bread made with these flours.
What should I use to make the slashes?
To cut the bread a lame also known as a grignette is most common. It's essentially a razor blade on a stick (though some bakers make their own!). Using a razor blade gives the sharpest point and the best detail to the slashing.
I used a thin serrated knife when I was a baker for a supermarket. Though not as accurate or as versatile as a lame, a serrated knife works well and there less of a risk in cutting yourself!
For some cuts a sharp pair of kitchen scissors are used. These are great for getting into areas when accuracy of the cut is important.
Take a look at the what knife to use for scoring bread article to help you decide on yours.
How long should we spend cutting bread?
2 - 20 seconds should be allowed to score bread. If you make just one or two loaves at a time you can spend more time making prettier designs if you wish. Spending any longer than this in a commercial bakery adds labour costs and can cause bottle necking at the ovens.
For more elaborate designs the dough is best placed in the freezer for 10-20 minutes before cutting. This hardens the surface to make it easier to make the slashes. Times of up to 15 minutes can be used in this instance.
How to score bread
1. Get ready
Before you make your cut, get everything ready. You'll want to put your bread straight in the oven so get your kettle boiled (if using to create steam), your peel ready and clear the walkway to the oven.
2. Tip the bread and check the dough isn't stuck
If using, turn the bread out the banneton or couche and place on a tray or peel. If the bread is to be slid onto a baking stone in the oven check the bread isn't stuck to the peel. Slide a metal dough scraper or palette knife underneath the dough to loosen it if required.
3. Remove excess flour
Use a pastry brush to remove excessive amounts of flour from the crust surface. Bakers using new bannetons often use extra flour to prevent sticking so having a brush handy is often helpful.
4. How to score the dough
Take the lame and remove the cover so it's ready to use. Plan your cut's first. There are five golden rules when cutting bread:
- Use a sharp blade
- Cut at a 30 degree angle
- 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
In this case we're going to make a pound sign design (also called a windowpane).
To make it easier we're going to move the peel 90 degrees after every cut. This means every cut will be cutting at the same angle.
Take the blade in your hand, holding as shown:
Position the blade at a 30 degree angle and about 10 cm away from the bread.
Pull the blade towards you whilst lowering the blade into the surface of the dough and continue to pull the blade through the length of the cut. Raise the blade from the bread when the cut has ended whilst following through towards you.
Check the cut is even and go over any missed areas of you have to. Don't play around too much, cuts open up better when they are clean and singular.
Turn the bread 90 degrees and repeat for all four sides.
Reversing the blade angle method
If (and when) you feel confident twist the angle on the blade so it is in reverse for the opposite cuts as shown in the images. This method only requires only a 90 degree angle change. This can be created by either moving your body and approaching in a different position or by moving the peel.
Should I "go over" the scores again?
A single stroke gives a much cleaner look but if the first cut isn't deep enough then a second cut can be made.
What is the correct angle to score bread
30 degrees is the standard scoring angle for bread. Some bakers will increase the angle to 45 degrees for baguettes and breads where the opening of the cuts is important. Though it is debatable whether the larger angle should be viewed as an improvement.
5. Put the bread in the oven
As soon as the cuts are made the bread should enter the oven. It is important that the oven spring pushes the bread upwards therefore it is important that there is no delay in getting the bread to the oven. For the cuts to open out properly and the bread to rise in the oven it is important that steam is created in the oven.
How to score baguettes
Making the cuts at the right angle is a bit of a challenge and can take a little practice. It's important that the dough is proofed to the perfect point as well. The dough shouldn't be gassy. We want the oven spring to be quite powerful and open up the cuts nice and evenly.
There should be 5-8 cuts in a full size baguette (unlike my diagram!). The cuts should be made from the top, working downwards starting around 1/4 from the edge. The cut should be made at diagonally at a 30 degree angle. The next cut should start higher than the previous one ends.
Using a curved French lame is often preferred for scoring baguettes. The curved cuts will open up nicely to create a diamond shape that is magnificent on the eye.
How to score bread to get an ear
This is covered in detail in the how to get an ear post. Simply take a dough that has been well fermented but under proofed and cut in the half moon pattern. Use plenty of steam and the bread will open up like an ear when baked.
How to use stencils for bread designs
Stencils are a great way to create excitement in the look of your bread. There isn't a massive selection to choose from though you might find some joy looking at cappuccino stencils or even make your own using a 3D printer.
View my recommendations:
Clicking the link takes you to Amazon where I'll earn a commission if you purchase - THANK YOU!
How to score elaborate designs in bread
If you want to be more creating with your bread designs there are two things that are crucial.
First the dough should be nice and firm. This can be done by placing the dough in the freezer for 20-30 minutes beforehand. The dough must be well fermented and nicely proofed. Enough to have a nice oven spring but not so big that it rips.
Secondly the blade must be sharp, You can see my preferences on the What blade should I use for cutting bread article
Scoring 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. Yet this may be true, we don't cut vegetables with wet knives so the blade should not be wet when cutting bread. It is not necessary and in fact 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 amount 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 beginners bread recipe a deeper cut is preferred. Whereas, more creative designs require the cut to be shallower..
Does the bread go in the oven straight after scoring?
Yes, the dough should go straight into the oven once cut. This protects the upwards motion of oven spring.
Should I flour the bread before cutting?
It is down to personal taste if flour is to be dusted over the bread.
If using a floured banneton for the final proof there is usually enough flour already on the bread. Breads such as a British Farmhouse loaf often require the baker to sieve flour over them before the cut.
If the dough is particularly sticky, placing it into the fridge for 30 minutes will firm it and is preferred to a flour dusting.
The dough keeps sticking to my knife when cutting
There are four reasons that dough sticks to the blade when scoring:
1. The blade isn't sharp
Use a bakers lame or if using, replace the blade with a new one. A blade should be replaced or rotated every 50 - 100 breads depending on the level of accuracy required. A craft baker changes their blade every night but in high intensity bakeries the number of blades used will be higher.
2. The gluten structure is weak
Develop a stronger gluten network by increasing the fermentation time, the amount of kneading or use a high quality bakers flour.
3. The dough is too wet
When you make it again, reduce the hydration ratio (amount of water).
4. The bread is over proofed or fermented
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 or not adding water to the oven to make steam.