The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Scoring Bread made with high-hydration dough

  • Pin It
dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Scoring Bread made with high-hydration dough

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 youtube.com, 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!

David

Comments

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Sage advice, David.  Would you mind if I featured this post on the homepage for a bit?  

-Floyd

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I would be honored!

David

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

David,

What a comprehensive list.  Thanks for putting it all into one place - you explained all the details so well.

Now, can we ask for your advice on keeping the ends pointy?

-Brad

 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Shape a bâtard your favorite way. (I like the one illustrated in the KAF video. I think it's number 4 or 5.) When rolling out the loaf, increase downward pressure for the outside 2 inches or so.  It helps to adduct your wrists (turn your hands so your fingers are pointing inward).

There is a good SFBI video of this, but it requires a subscription.

David

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

David - Do the ends stay pointy throughout the final proof or do you have to re-roll just prior to baking?

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I don't re-roll.

David

Mebake's picture
Mebake

This should come in handy for many TFL members, including myslef. 

And what a beautiful, beautiful looking batard! 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

David

loafgeek's picture
loafgeek

Love those loaves, they are pretty--look like yams!

baybakin's picture
baybakin

Wonderful looking gringe David!

I'm planning a bake of your San Joaquin Sourdough this weekend (did the first starter feed before going to work this morning).  I'll be the first to admit that my scoring is usually hit-and-miss, but we'll see how it turns out this time.  I'll post up pics when they are done, the shape you chose is just about my favorite shape to make bread in.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Looking forward to seeing your results.

David

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Looks like your teaching activity in retirement has begun.  Or resumed.  Thanks a million for this.

I for one would love to see a similar treatement of dough strength development, as it is so critical to this and loaf architecture in general.  Remains one of my nemisae.

Thanks again.

Tom

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I am totally sold on the combination of a short mix and long bulk fermentation with stretch and folds to build dough strength. Pre-shaping and shaping also play a role.

Tell me more about your issues regarding dough strength. Maybe I can help.

David

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Thanks David,

I did the math: you log 180 S&F strokes by the time the SJ SD hits the couche.  Aha.  I do a fraction of that.  I assume your S&Fs are more or less what Khalid (mebake) so nicely illustrated in his drawings.  This weekend, I think I'll spare the household the weekly trauma of my french folding and leave the house-shaking to storm Isaac, forecast to shake, rattle and flood us :-(.  I'll see if I can hit an S&F number close to 180.  

Thanks for your pedagogical generosity, as always.

Tom

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Please understand that most of the strokes are with the dough in a bowl, not on the board. Also, the counts are really maximums. Sometimes, the dough is at maximum strength after 15 or 20 strokes and needs to relax before doing the next batch of S&F's. If you have used this technique, I'm sure you know this. 

If not, the best illustration of the technique I have is a video Mark Sinclair made a while back. Here's a link: NoKnead.html

 

David

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

for such an informative, concise tutorial.  The point you make about ears - don't cut twice, keep the slash shallow - is most welcome. With my baking, ears have tended to be fickle features - sometimes they're 'ere (sorry) - and sometimes they ain't.  Thanks to you, at last I see the link - sometimes I slash once, sometimes, I re-slash the same cut if I think it 's too shallow.  The deeper slashes, come to think of it, never do produce ears. Huzzah!

This retirement of yours is working out to be kinda busy, isn't it?! :0)

All at Sea

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Thanks for your  nice comments.

The Scoring Tutorial has a more detailed explanation of why shallow cuts are better.

Scoring at sea must present interesting challenges. Please let us know if my advice actually helped. It works for me and has good theory behind it, but there is no substitute for data.

David

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... and setting sail for Snyder Island and the buried treasure of Scoring Know-How! Thanks for directing me, David. 

It's wonderful to find yet another piece of the great bread jigsaw puzzle plop into place ... been trying to understand why achieving good grigne doesn't necessarily equate to producing accompanying ears. But you've provided the Eureka! moment at last. And it's very much appreciated.

Scoring at sea must present interesting challenges.

Baking bread while underway is challenging particularly with rough passages. A lot of guesstimating and minimal handling for obvious reasons. We are a catamaran, so don't have a gimballed stove, as we don't heel that much. But there is still a lot of "boat-dance" even so - especially if sailing to weather (in other words - with head winds).  Tottering around trying to load the oven with high hydration dough requires good timing, I've learned that. And scoring must be super-fast and sure or "interesting" effects and consequences can ensue ... !

But these summer months in the Caribbean are mostly spent at anchor, with only short day-hops to various bays or local islands occasionally. So I usually bake once we've dropped the hook, and are nicely settled. But scales are always a challenge even at anchor. The boat is just never still enough for an accurate reading. And digital scales are a joke ... a teaspoon of salt might weigh 0.5 grams or 55 grams within the same nano-second! I've almost acquired an 'ology in just eyeballing (fairly) accurate quantities now.

Please let us know if my advice actually helped. It works for me and has good theory behind it, but there is no substitute for data.

Thank you, David, will do. You've already cleared up the mystery of why ears sometimes appear or don't; looking forward to learning and understanding more. I like understanding the theories behind why something works or doesn't. Your easy-to-digest, concise style is terrific for that.

All at Sea

 

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... delighted to report back your advice works like a treat. Keeping the scoring shallow when working with high hydration doughs definitely gives you ears. Hooray! I've baked two batches of bread since last commenting here, and both have fully "eared" - 2 batches being four loaves - though one loaf out of the 4 had a slightly raggy ear, due to my hesitation with the lamé. The other 3 were consistently cleanly eared. I'm chuffed as chips to have learned your tip - no more "ear today, gone tomorrow" hit and miss. Ears on command from hereon! So a huge thank you again, David.

I will try to post photos to prove it, but for some reason, I can find no rich text buttons to assist me tonight. Seems to be a regular glitch with me - this non-availability of editing buttons, but I'll see if I can coax them to appear somehow.

All at Sea

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

That's just great! Thanks for letting us know. I hope you understand that you will have ups and downs but net improvement with practice.

I'd love to see the photos. I'll do a little button dance for you.

Happy baking!

David

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

David,

You make it sound possible and your results are encouraging.  I don't normally score (or need to score) a dough at 75% but you make me want to try.

I have found that if I use a tangzhong method at high hydration I get a noticeably stronger dough that would probably take scoring, especially if it came straight from the retarder.

Thank you for taking the time to put it together.

Doc

 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

If you perused my blog over the past 4 years or so, you would find my "results" have been consistent. The only times I have failed to get them has been when the loaves were over-proofed.

I have never employed the "tangzhong method." I can understand why it would result in a fluffier crumb, but that's not what I want in most of my hearth breads. I can't see why it should result in stronger dough. Can you help me?

David

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

David,

It is just my observation without any measurements.  The tangzhong technique is something that I don't use often and only when I want a soft puffy result.  My model for good bread is something that looks more like yours.  I get excellent open crumb from my high hydration dough, and when I first read about tangzhong that was a natural place to try it out. I found that the timing was unchanged, the dough needed a little less development, and it was MUCH easier to handle when it came time to load.  After a couple of reruns to demonstrate to myself that it was repeatable I just don't go there unless I am making a filled bun or perhaps hot crossed buns for Easter.

Doc

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

David,

Thanks for such a thorough and concise explanation about how to handle high hydration loaves.  I have learned several things that have always puzzled me in regards to scoring in order to get ears and gringe when I want them to appear :-)

I had to chuckle to myself as I read your post because if I had run across it when I first found TFL I would have been totally baffled due to the vocabulary you have used.  When I began baking bread again my baking vocabulary consisted of just a few common baking terms: flour, water, salt, dough, yeast, rising and baking.  I had no clue then that I would need to learn a new language just in order to decipher the wealth of information found on this site.  I am happy to say that I could read your instructions and I knew what every word meant!!! Huge accomplishment for this foreign language challenged woman.  Lucky are the people who are somewhat new here because of your inclusion of a vocabulary list complete with definitions!!!!  

You have done a wonderful job and I thank you so much for taking the time to write it all out and post it for all of us here.  I have a neighbor who would kill for the tips you achieved on the ends of your loaves :-)

Take Care,

Janet

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

for your kind words.

It's hard to explain manual techniques in words or even in still photos. Videos help. Watching some one do it in person is much better. Having some one watch and coach you is the best. That and practice, practice, practice.

David

IndoLee's picture
IndoLee

Hi David,

Just read your post on scoring high hydration doughs - masterful as usual (and, of course, included the two things I've personally found most important:

1)  Use a couche for proofing or, even a good DRY banneton  (well dusted with a 50/50 mix of rice and wheat flours, or better yet, 1/3 rice each rice, wheat and semolina) as the caning will also absorb some of the water from the to-be-scored surface).  As you say - important that shaped loaves are placed to-be-scored side down - in contact with the couche/linen/cotton/banneton.  Using a couche... above all else, facilitated a quantum leap for me past my early, numerous scoring failures.

2)  Use a sharp, clean, new razor blade to score, adjusting depth of cut to the hydration of dough, with shallower cuts for higher hydration doughs.  As you further note, if using a lame with a curved blade only use the front edge of the blade when making cuts, - which are otherwise impossible to do without creating ragged edges (due to blade curvature in the lame). 

Note:... After using a plain "unmounted" razor blade for a while, I made a lame with a straight double-edge razor blade (not curved) which allows deep cuts for lower hydration breads - without causing a ragged edge.  I found a chopstick with a split at the blade end of the chopstick (long enough to slip the razor blade into the slit, and a tiny bolt/washer/nut to secure the blade worked quite well.  I still use my "mounted"/curved lame for making deeper circular cuts as the curve of the mounted blade allows relatively deep cuts if they're not in a straight line.

Thanks again for your yeoman's posts and repeated shares and tips.

Lee (also enjoying retirement - and the same contest between wasteline and extra time to bake!)

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

pointy ends and perfect slashing, I thought for sure it was one of mine...... and then I woke up from my dream to see it really was the work and result of a real Master Slasher.  Now we know what DMS really stands for David Master Slasher. 

Very nice teaching David. 

Syd's picture
Syd

Excellent post David.  Lots of solid advice. Have you ever considered doing some part-time teaching in your retirement? I think you would make a great teacher.  Not that you are necessarily looking for things to fill up your time, but if there were a baking school in your area that just happened to be looking for a part time instructor.... It could be very rewarding. Just a thought. :)

All the best,

Syd

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Thanks for the compliment.

Actually, I have considered giving some classes, specifically for school-aged children and teens. I hope to get around to investigating some opportunities before next Summer. The closest thing to a baking school locally, to my knowlege, is a culinary arts program through a for-profit trade school. Not appealing to me. 

David

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

David,

Without regard to your excellent tutorial and the various techniques employed here.........those are two stunningly beautiful loaves of bread.  This is the first time a front page photo has so grabbed my attention.  Really really beautiful,

Jeff

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

David

GSnyde's picture
GSnyde

Beautiful breads and a very thorough tutorial.  I will be making baguette this weekend and will re-read this while they proof.

Thanks, David.

Glenn

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

More Snyder Bros. synchronicity. I'm going to be making txfarmer's 36-hour baguettes this weekend for the first time. I'm really looking forward to them.

David

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Have to thank you for that subject line.  Every time I thought of it over the weekend, I couldn't help but grin.  Combination of sibling sports banter and perhaps the goofy SNL-like image of Howard Cosell commentating a baker in action.  A gem. 

Thanks for that.

Tom

 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Another great tutorial, David.

Certainly deserves a more permanent home in the TFL Handbook.

 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Thanks for the suggestion. I have added this material to the Handbook section on Scoring.

David

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Hello David,
Thank you so much for this very instructive and helpful post!
:^) breadsong

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

Lindy beat me to it.  Excellent tutorial, David!

Sylvia

Judon's picture
Judon

Hi David,

I can only add my thank you to those above.

Your loaves are a picture of perfection!

Judy

Leandro Di Lorenzo's picture
Leandro Di Lorenzo

David!!!!

Spectacular loaf!!!!

I'm speechless!!!!

Congrats!!! :)

mamatkamal's picture
mamatkamal

This is such a great tutorial, thank you so much and this batard with the end "pointue" looks just amazing! 

Cheers

Mamat

baybakin's picture
baybakin

Attempted this today.  Didn't quite turn out with as much ear as you did.  I swear you are magic.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

The bread looks delicious. Nice crust and crumb. You have the idea of the scoring, and you must have done everything else wonderfully well to get that result. Now just do it again (and again, and again). It will come. 

Thanks for sharing your loaf.

David

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Any advice on scoring multi-seed topped breads?  The blade doesn't glide through the dough due to the seed tooping and then causes some unwanted pulls and sags.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I can't think of any special considerations. Having a very sharp, thin blade is just more important, and make swift, unhesitating cuts.

David

Franko's picture
Franko

The most effective way to score a seeded loaf that I've found is to use scissors. Place one blade where you want to start the score, open the other blade to the length you want, making sure it's at the same depth as the other and close the blades. I had the same problem scoring seeded loaves until I found this method in Hamelman's "Bread" pg 81-82. It works like a charm.

Best,

Franko

claudiobr's picture
claudiobr

Hi David, thank you for your beautiful and useful post.

Please may I know if the single cut for these loaves was a straight-line cut or a slightly curved one?

My cuts usually spreadout flat rather than opening up like yours. Thanks for all guidelines, I´ll keep on trying!

Claudio

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Thanks for the compliment.

I scored these with a single straight cut down the center of the loaf. The cut was about 1/4 inch deep with the blade held at a 30 degree angle. Only 1/3 inch or so of the far edge of the blade entered the dough. I use a double-sided razor blade mounted on a very flexible French birds' beak lame, bent so the blade is curved with the concave side facing up. 

I hope that helps.

David

caryn's picture
caryn

David- I know that this may be a bit off topic, but your topic inspired me to make the San Joaquin bread.  I am quite experienced baking sourdoughs, but I thought I would try the technique that you described where you do the final proof on a linen couche,  which I  had stopped using some time ago,  when I discovered how easy it was to use parchment paper.  So today I decided that I would like to try again to use the couche technique, but I found it really hard to transfer the loaves to the peel, and as a result I ended up compromising the shape of the loaves. So, if you could describe in a bit more detail how you do the transfer, I, and I think many others would probably benefit. Questions:  Do you transfer the loaves one at a time to the peel and into the oven? And what is your basic method of transfer from the couche to the peel? If you have addressed this elsewhere on TFL, please just refer me to where I might find it.

Thank you,

Caryn

 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, caryn.

Proofing on parchment does have the advantage of being easy to get on the peel. If proofing on linen, you generally use a "transfer peel," also known as a "flipping board," to transfer loaves from the couche to a peel. You can learn about this by searching TFL on either quoted expression or, better yet, both.

A couple years ago, rainbowz here on TFL made a way cool cartoon or how to use this device. See Quick doodle should help. Just note that, if you proof loaves smooth side down (as I generally do), you use the transfer peel to flip them over, still on the couche, before getting them on the transfer peel.

Read up on this and ask again, if your questions aren't answered.

David

Pages