The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Scoring hearth loaves made with high hydration doughs is a challenge. Expressions of frustration with this in TFL postings are not rare. Much good advice regarding how to accomplish nice scoring of wet, sticky dough has been offered, but it is scattered. So, I thought I would share my own advice on this subject in one place.

These two bâtards are San Joaquin Sourdoughs. (For the formula and procedures, please see San Joaquin Sourdough: Update. Today's bake was different only in that I used just 100 g of 100% hydration starter.) The effective hydration of this dough is 74.5%. It is a sticky dough and a good test of one's shaping and scoring abilities. Yet, as you can see, it is possible to get nicely shaped loaves from this dough with cuts that bloom nicely and form impressive ears.


The key points in achieving this are the following:

A Key Point

  1. Gluten must be well-developed by mixing and fermentation. Good dough “strength” is important for crumb structure, but also for successful shaping. It is even more critical in wet doughs, because these tend to spread out and form flat loaves if their shape is not supported by a good, strong sheath of gluten.

  2. Pre-shaping and shaping can add to dough strength through additional stretching of the dough in the process of forming the loaves. A wet dough like this needs to be tightly shaped. This is a challenge, because it also has to be handled gently. Rough handling will result in excessive de-gassing and a dense loaf. It will also tend to make the dough stick to your hands more. When it sticks, it tears and makes weak spots in the loaf surface which are likely to burst during oven spring. The goal is to form the tight gluten sheath by stretching the dough and sealing the seams while avoiding downward pressure on the dough pieces being shaped. “An iron hand in a velvet glove.” Dough sticking to your hands can be decreased by lightly flouring your hands, wetting them or oiling them. However, the most helpful trick is to touch the dough lightly and as briefly as possible each time.

  3. The loaves need to have lateral support during proofing. This is to prevent them from spreading out. Support can be provided by a banneton (proofing basket) or on baker's linen or parchment, where folds in the couche material, sometimes reinforced with rolled up towels or the like under the material, provide the support. (I suppose the “ultimate support” is provided by a loaf pan.)

  4. The ideal material to support proofing loaves is absorbent. Baker's linen, cloth-lined bannetons and floured, coiled cane brotformen all absorb some moisture from the surface of the loaves in contact with them. This makes that surface a bit less sticky and easier to score without the cut edges sticking to the blade excessively. (I do not want the loaf surface so dry it forms a “skin.”) I like to proof loaves with the surface I am going to score on the absorbent material. This means baguettes and bâtards are proofed smooth side down (seam side up). Note that baking parchment is not absorbent, so, while advantageous for other reasons, it is not ideal for this purpose.

  5. Loaves should not be over-proofed. A greatly over-proofed loaf may actually collapse and deflate when scored. Short of that, it will still have less oven spring and bloom. This is a relatively greater problem with high-hydration doughs which are more delicate to start with. I find the “poke test” as reliable as any other criterion for when a loaf is ready to bake. However, it is not quite as reliable with very wet doughs. Neither is the degree of dough expansion. You just have to learn through experience with each formula when it is perfectly proofed.

  6. Loaves should be scored immediately after transferring to a peel and immediately before loading in the oven. Letting high-hydration doughs sit too long on the peel is asking them to spread out, especially if they have been scored ,which disrupts the supportive gluten sheath.

  7. The wetter the dough, the shallower the cuts. This is not as critical for boules, but, for long loaves like baguettes and bâtards, if you want good bloom, and especially if you want good ear formation, The cuts need to be very shallow (about 1/4 inch deep) and at an acute angle (30-45 degrees). A deeper cut creates a heavy flap that will collapse of its own weight and seal over, rather than lifting up to form an ear as the cut blooms open. The cuts made on the loaves pictured here were barely perceptible on the unbaked loaf surface. Resist the temptation to re-cut!

  8. Minimize dough sticking to the blade and getting dragged, forming a ragged cut. The cuts need to be made swiftly and smoothly, without hesitation. A thin, extremely sharp blade is best. Some find serrated blades work well for them. I find a razor blade on a bendable metal handle works best for me. The cuts are made with the forward end of the blade only, not the whole length. Some find oiling or wetting the blade lessens sticking. I have not found this necessary.

  9. Humidify the oven with steam during the first part of the bake. This delays firming up of the crust which would restrict the loaf from expanding (oven spring) and the cuts from opening (bloom).

Most of these points apply to scoring in general. I have indicated where there are differences or special considerations applying to high-hydration doughs.

Finally, a mini-glossary:

Scoring refers to the cuts made on the surface of the loaf prior to baking. The primary purpose of scoring is to create an artificial weak spot and direct expansion of the loaf to it so the loaf doesn't burst at some random point. Secondarily, the scoring pattern influences the final shape of the loaf. And lastly, the pattern of cuts can be decorative and, if unique, can serve as a “signature” for the baker.

Oven spring is the expansion of the loaf when exposed to oven heat.

Bloom refers to the opening up of the scoring cuts during oven spring. The French term for this is grigne.


Ear, when pertaining to bread, is a flap of crust that separates from the surface during oven spring and bloom.

For additional information regarding scoring and a more basic introduction to this topic, please see The Scoring Tutorial Also, excellent examples of shaping and scoring can be found in videos on, particularly those made by Ciril Hitz, and on the King Arthur Flour web site. I have not found any that address the peculiar challenges presented by higher-hydration doughs, however.

Happy baking!


dmsnyder's picture

These photos were e-mailed to me and Glenn. My younger son, Joel - father of Naomi and Sasha, made Montreal bagels from the formula in ITJB this weekend. He must have had excellent shaping instruction from his daughters. They look better than most of mine.



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In a way, today was “really” the first day of my retirement. Our granddaughters are back in their parents' keeping. I'm not teaching this week. I discovered a couple of changes in my cooking and baking, compared to my approach pre-retirement.

The only quasi-business items on my to-do list involved phone calls only. So, I had lots of discretionary time. On Saturday, at the farmer's market, we had decided ratatouille omelets sounded like a great dinner for Monday night. I have always made a somewhat shortcut version in the past. Today, I did it “right,” following Julia Child's recipe to the letter - the eggplant, zucchini and onions/peppers/garlic mix each sautéed separately. No canned tomatoes, but a mix of vine-ripened heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded and hand cut in strips. No need to compromise to save time.

This morning, it occurred to me that our omelets really needed to be accompanied by fresh-baked baguettes. If I'd thought about it last night, I'd have made a poolish, but I didn't, so they needed to be “straight dough” baguettes. No need to run errands or prepare for the next work day. No problem at all.

I had made some surprisingly good straight dough baguettes before. They had lovely flavor but not very good crumb structure. Today, I made the version from Advanced Bread and Pastry. It is 70% hydration and calls for a very short mix and (for a yeasted baguette) a long, 3-hour bulk fermentation with 2-3 folds.



Baker's %

Wt (g)

AP flour






Yeast (instant)






Malt (powdered, diastatic)







  1. Mix flour and water to a shaggy mass. Cover and autolyse for 20 minutes.

  2. Add the yeast, salt and malt to the dough. Mix on low speed for 1-2 minutes, then on Speed 2 for 3.5 minutes.

  3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover.

  4. Bulk ferment for 3 hours with folds at 50, 100 and 150 minutes.

  5. Divide into two equal pieces and pre-shape as logs.

  6. Rest, covered, for 20-30 minutes.

  7. Shape as baguettes.

  8. Proof en couche, seam-side up, for 45 to 60 minutes.

  9. Bake at 460 dF for 22-25 minutes, with steam for the first half of the bake.


The loaves sang loudly when they were taken out of the oven. The crust was very crisp and thin. The crumb was somewhat open, more so than the other straight dough baguettes I've made. The flavor was quite good with noticeable sweetness. Really a classic baguette taste.

In hindsight, I think two folds would have been sufficient.

The ratatouille omelets were just delicious.


 A good day.


dmsnyder's picture

Many TFL baker's have blogged on this bread, and for good reason. It is delicious. I haven't made it since last October. Today, I made three 568 g boules. I started with a liquid starter which I converted to a firm starter and fed twice before mixing the final dough. The formed loaves were cold retarded for about 16 hours then proofed at 85 dF for 2 1/2 hours before baking.

I have been making Hamelman's Pain au Levain frequently for many months and enjoying it a lot. This week, I just felt like something with more of a whole grain flavor and recalled this bread. Looking back at my earlier blog, today's bake was significantly better when tasted after a couple hours' cooling. There was none of what I had described as a "grassy" flavor. This bread was simply delicious with a sweet, nutty, crunchy crust and a  chewy crumb with a nice wheaty, mildly sour flavor. 

I'm going to stick with this one ... except I do want to try the mixed levain version again.


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I am retired. This is the first full week since I retired, July 31. Already I see big problems. I no longer have to limit my baking to weekends and vacations. In principle, I could be baking bread any day ... or every day. But, I do not need to be eating more bread than I have been eating. I will certainly be gifting more loaves, but I have to find a new equilibrium. Ah, well. Life is good.

Anyway, this explains how I happen to be baking bread mid-week. 

My San Francisco-style Sourdough quest of last Spring was a ton of fun. Of the various tweaks I tried, my favorite version was "Take 4." (For the formula and procedures, see: My San Francisco Sourdough Quest, Take 4.) I believe I have baked this version about 5 times now, and, for me, it has been pretty consistant in producing my personal ideal bread of this type. Today was no exception. Crunchy, sweet crust and moist, chewy, complex-flavored crumb with moderate sourness. Excellent keeping quality.

It's been very hot in Fresno. My fermentation times for the levain builds were shorter than those indicated in my methods. "Watch the dough, not the clock" applies to levains as it does to final doughs. The times were not so short I felt I had to refrigerate any build, but I would have done so if the times to maturity were so short I thought flavor would be compromised.

Diamond scoring pattern

Cross-hatched scoring pattern

Crust close-up for the bubbly crust lovers

SF-Style Sourdough crumb

I also made the Sourdough Seed Bread from Hamelman's Bread today. In the past, I have generally made this as 500-600 g boules. Today, I shaped two bâtards of 1 kg each.

Sourdough Seed Bread cross section

Sourdough Seed Bread, crumb close-up

This particular bread profits greatly from overnight cold retardation. It is not bad baked the day it's mixed, but it is fantastically delicious if allowed those extra hours of flavor development. 

There are some gastrointestinal conditions for which the standard advice is to avoid eating seeds. If you have the misfortune to suffer from one of these, I suggest you not eat this bread. However, the heavenly aroma of this bread when it is sliced still slightly warm from the oven is not to be missed. So, bake it even if you can't eat it. Give it away ... but only after cutting a loaf and taking a few deep breaths. 

Happy baking!


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Our granddaughters, Naomi (6 years old) and Sasha (3 years old), have been staying with us for two weeks. Making bagels was in our contract. We saved this activity until just before their parents return, so they could have them fresh-baked. The parents return late tonight, so we made bagels today to bake for their brunch tomorrow.

Naomi had had an introduction to bagel shaping by her great Great Uncle, Glenn, a few weeks ago. She was a quick learner. Now, little sister wanted to make bagels too.

Sasha got to shape the first bagel, before going for her nap. Naomi provided support. 

Naomi really remembered everything Glenn had shown her. She needed minimal help - like keeping the board damp enough to give the dough some traction.

Naomi really shaped most of the bagels, but she did let me make a couple.

From the "It's never too late to learn" department: When she saw how much fun we were having, Grandma Susan had to grab a piece of the action. She received excellent instruction and did pretty well, for a beginner.

Since I had so much help with the bagels, I was able to get a couple bâtards of pain au levain baked this afternoon as well.

While they lacked something in symmetry, these were the best tasting bagels I've every baked. I used the Krakow Bagel formula from ITJB recipe testing. It is the same as the New York Bagel formula in the book, except it adds a 60 minute bulk fermentation step before dividing and shaping. I tried brother Glenn's flour mix - 25% KAF Bread Flour and 75% KAF Sir Lancelot Flour. Also, the bagels were eaten within an hour of baking. The crust was crisp. There was just the right amount of chewiness. The flavor was perfect, with a bit more sweet flavor than usual.

My apprentices each ate ate two whole bagels with cream cheese and cold smoked salmon. (Their parents wouldn't let them eat more.)

Naomi eating her "twisty bagel."

Sasha could hardly wait to eat her bagel

Sasha and Naomi's parents were given a copy of ITJB. I am pretty sure they will be baking bagels in Las Vegas.



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Miche, Pointe-à-Callière

I haven't made this one in a while. It is still a favorite. I made it with Central Milling's "Type 85 Organic, unmalted" flour. I retarded the firm levain overnight, but the bread was baked on the same day the final dough was mixed.

Episodic supervision and taste testing were provided by granddaughter, Naomi.

Miche, Pointe-a-Calliere, crumb

Tasting notes

Crunchy-chewy crust. Chewy crumb. Sweet, nutty, wheaty flavors with moderate sourdough tang, tasted 18 hours after baking. Naomi, who doesn't eat the crust on bakery bread, 1. Asked for a second slice. 2. Finished both slices to the last crumb and said the crust was her favorite part. 


Happy baker/grandfather

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We are back home (as of last weekend) from a week with 18 Snyder family relatives in Ft Bragg, a few days in Prague and 4 days  with 62 of Susan's family members, coming from 7 countries, in Warsaw, Poland.

At Glenn's Ft Bragg house, we had Glenn's home-made pastrami on my sour rye breads and many more yummy breads from Glenn's and my ovens. And Glenn's pastries, which were delicious. In Warsaw, we were so involved with socializing and with events the reunion organizers had scheduled, there was no time to explore bakeries. However, the fresh-baked bread assortment for breakfast at the Warsaw Marriott was almost "worth a journey." There were both French-style breads and pastries and Eastern European-style multi-grain and whole grain breads. Every one I tried was excellent. 

Back home, I refreshed my stock starter last weekend, revved it up Thursday evening and baked a couple loaves of San Francisco-style Sourdough yesterday. It was good.


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I just had to share: Brother Glenn teaching granddaughter, Naomi, to shape bagels.


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This was my second bake of Phil's (PiPs) Desem. His beautiful blog entry on this bread can be viewed here: Honest bread - 100% whole-wheat desem bread and some country bread. As with my first bake, I modified Phil's procedure somewhat, using CM fine ground organic whole wheat flour rather than fresh-ground white WW flour and machine mixing. While I baked directly on a stone last time, today I baked in Lodge 4 qt. Cast Iron Dutch ovens.

Desem crust close-up

The general appearence of the loaves was pretty much the same between the two baking methods. I understand that Phil is contending with the special challenges of a gas oven, but, for me, baking on the stone directly is easier than wrangling hot and heavy DO's. 

Desem crumb profile

Desem crumb close-up

I cut the desem loaves 3-4 hours after baking. The crumb structure was very satisfactory, but it was somewhat gummy. Hansjoakim (see below) raised an excellent question: Would the desem benefit from a 24-36 hour rest before slicing, like a high-percentage rye does? I wonder.

The flavor of the desem, tasted when first sliced was very assertive - sweet whole wheat with a moderate sour tang. The sourness had decreased the next morning when I had it toasted for breakfast. It was very nice with butter and apricot jam.

I also baked a couple 1 kg loaves using the SFBI Miche formula. (See Miche from SFBI Artisan II - 2 kg) I altered the flour mix. The final dough was made using half KAF AP and half CM Organic Type-85  flour.

We had some of this bread with dinner. The crust was crunchy and the crumb was soft but chewy. The flavor was complex - sweet, wheaty and mildly sour. I have made this bread using the original SFBI formula, with all CM Type-85 flour and with the mix I used today. I'd be hard pressed to say which I prefer. They have all been delicious.

I'm happy with today's bakes.



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