The Fresh Loaf

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Help Please-- How do you slash a loaf properly?

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Marni's picture
Marni

Help Please-- How do you slash a loaf properly?

I have a batch of sourdough rising now (it claims to have a soft crust- my children prefer that-) that I would like to try slashing.  I have tried slashing only two or three times and I clearly do it wrong.  I read in BBA that the slashes should be almost perpendicular to the top of the loaf. That didn't work.  I don't have great tools yet - a serrated knife and a single edge blade is all.  I always seem to catch the corner of the blade or deflate a nicely risen loaf.  Also, the slashes don't open much. I can try to get a lame (BTW- how do you pronounce that?) today if it is really required.  There are so many beautifully slashed loaves pictured on this site, I'd love to try it.  Thanks.

Marni

Felila's picture
Felila

No matter how carefully I sharpened my knives, I couldn't get a good slash. I'm broke and can't afford a bakers lame (I think it's "lahm") with blades, so I bought a pack of old-fashioned razor blades. I handle the blade carefully so as not to get slashed myself. The razor blades do the trick. I get lovely deep slashes and the bread doesn't deflate (unless it's over-proofed).

Grey's picture
Grey

I went to a local hobby shop (Model Airplanes, Warhammer, Comics, etc.) and got an exacto knife that's sort of like a scalpal, I picked up a pack of blades for it and cleaned them with some alcohol.

Ah, In fact Wikipedia has a picture of the exact type of knife I ended up using, (Though obviously the blade is a lot cleaner on mine)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Exacto_knife.jpg

Oldcampcook's picture
Oldcampcook

I use double edged razor blades and whittle down a popsicle stick so that it will fit into the slot in the middle.  Makes a nice curved lamé.

willow's picture
willow

I screwed my double edge razor to a dowel rod. So I have a nice 12" handle.

dougal's picture
dougal

What happens because of your slash depends on how you slash, but also on what you did before to the dough, and what happens after it goes into the oven.

 

The basic idea is to channel the oven spring to open the slashes. The slashes are there to stop the spring tearing the loaf randomly. It'll give where its weakest - hopefully at your slashes!

So you must get oven spring. (Long subject in itself! - but don't overproof, do use a properly hot oven and stone, and use initial steam...)

And you have to avoid other weak spots on the surface. You want the surface to be strong, and evenly so. You do that by evenly tensioning the surface during your shaping process - which aligns the gluten parallel to the surface. The tension largely relaxes away, but the alignment (and thus strengthening) stays! (Anyway, shaping is another big subject closely connected with slashing.)

 

Cheap Trick: You can make a curved lame from a double edged ("safety") razor blade and a Starbucks coffee stirring stick - just bend the blade so that the stick goes through the "end holes" in the blade. Be careful with your fingers! But the sticks do seem to be the exact ideal dimension...

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

I found an abundant supply of "Lame" handles at my local coffee shop.

_______________________________________________________

Redundancy is your friend, so is redundancy

pantone_000's picture
pantone_000

I have been thinking of that idea too, but haven't dont it yet. Will post when I get to do it. :)

cpmart's picture
cpmart

I'm going to add something that I stumbled upon that has made my slashes much nicer, even though I am a rank amature compared to the other bakers here.
I too us a razor blade for the lame (bought a pack of single edged, and just hold it in my hand).  What I found made a difference in slashing my baguettes and batards was doing the final proof in a cloth.  The slashing surface became a little dry, and almost had a skin (I hate to use that word, it is just slightly dryer).  I am able to slash without dragging and the slashes open up beautifully.  So no more plastic covering of the final proof for me, I just lay a towel over the loaves.  Give it a shot sometime and good luck
Chris

nbicomputers's picture
nbicomputers

single edge razor blades the type used in box cutters can be found at any hardwars store.  and with only one sharp edge there much safer.

to get a clean cut the blade must be wet...so dip the blade in warm water before each cut.

in order to not catch the corner of the blade in the dough hold the plade at a 45 degree angle or only the far corner of the blade touch the dough and pull in only one direction (back to you never push) and depending on the shape cut down 1/4 to 1/2 inch

you can also cut the bread about 20 minutes before it goes into the oven cover and finish proof. that time will alow the cuts to open up a little more

KazaKhan's picture
KazaKhan

I used a razor blade based (curved) lame for the 1st time last week and i was not impressed. I'll be sticking to pairing knives from Victorinox, which have served me well over the last few years. Watch this guys no fuss use of a pairing knife ;-)

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Your link to Vincent is a great example. If you watch the other videos by the same author you see one where the baker drags the knife across the metal at the top of his peel. He is putting an edge on it just before using it.

Sort of by accident I tried a tomato knife the other day and it was amazingly easy to get a no grab slash. Much better than the single edge razor or sharpened paring knife I usually use. Try a serrated edge paring or bread knife. I had heard of this but never actually tried it. Be bold and let the blade do the work.

Eric

Larry Clark's picture
Larry Clark

 

Here's a collection of interesting videos on shaping and slashing dough. Watch "La Scarification" to see how the experts do it.

http://lepetitboulanger.com/ 

 Larry

Marni's picture
Marni

Thank you to everyone who offered their advice and tips on slashing. Everything was helpful and informative. I would never have tought of an exacto knife! The links are great, I'll be revisiting them.  I guess ( hope!) that this will just take practice to get right -trying different tools and techniques until one works.   I tried again last night with such poor results that I didn't even take pictures. At least the bread tasted good! 

Marni

verminiusrex's picture
verminiusrex

I tried all sorts of knives and razor blades for slashing, and what ended up working for me best were the cheap serrated table/steak knives that I got in a pack of 16 from Sam's Club. 

I think the serration does a good job of cutting. but I honestly think that the most important part is knowing how much pressure to use.  Just hard enough to break the outer layer, just deep enough so the slash spreads slightly, and just fast enough so that the dough doesn't stick to the blade.  

 Experience is the best teacher, so just keep trying and you'll discover that what you slash with doesn't really matter quite as much as how you slash it.

Felila's picture
Felila

I finally checked my French dictionary, my Petit Larousse. It's lame, no accent, and pronounced "lahm". It means blade, flake, or lamination. 

I've never met another dedicated baker in person; all my knowledge comes from websites and cookbooks. So I often have to look up pronunciations. Or wish I had, when I make a mistake. 

 

Marni's picture
Marni

I also don't know any bakers who would have the answer.  Would you mind too much checking the pronunciation of couche?  I need to get one and I'd like to say it correctly! Thanks.

Marni 

Felila's picture
Felila

That one's easy. It comes from couchez, to lay (down). Are you old enough to remember the old disco song, Voulez-vous couchez avec moi? (Do you want to sleep with me?) Koosh-ay. Koosh.

I now raise my loaves as boules, on a greased baking pan. Over them I put a thickly woven flowered cloth that I inherited from my mother and ultimately, my paternal grandmother. It looks quite cheerful and according to advice given above, it may be partly responsible for the nice slashes I've been getting lately. 
 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Marni. 

Couche is pronounced "coosh," more or less. In French, the final e is very softly voiced. How strongly depends on the region. So maybe "coosh-uh" is closer.

David

Elagins's picture
Elagins

Elagins@sbcglobal.net

I figure that 100 years ago or so, when refinements like lames didn't exist, people used whatever did the job. As it happens, I have several old german steel straight razors that work just beautifully, as long as I wipe down the blades after I make my cuts, so that the acid in the (sour)dough doesn't corrode the blade or dull the edge.

Also, a couple of other points:

I agree with cpmart that proofing the loaves en couche or in a banneton does make a difference. Both the linen and willow wick moisture away from the dough, leaving a slightly drier 'skin' that's both easier to slash and also retains a more defined border between the skin and the internal dough;

Also, I find that holding the blade at about 45 degrees from vertical when I slash (and I slash deep -- generally 3/4" to 1") gives me a much better grigne, which is the "ear" that the french bakers talk about -- the little shelf of bread on either side of the slash, as in the pic below.

Hope this helps. Stan

 After 25 years of hobby brewing, a friend of mine decided to open an artisan brewery, where he focuses on European-style, reinheitsgebot-compliant beers -- generally in the 8.5% alcohol range. I love his stuff, and we've spent hours discussing the finer points of yeast, grain, enzymes and the idiosyncrasies of lacto- and acetobacillus. Finally, after some weeks of thinking about it, I took a stab at using one of his beers -- a seasonal doppelbock-style beer with low hops and high wheat content -- in a bread .... and here's the result, a wonderful sweet and malty loaf with just a hint of hops. Even my wife, who doesn't care for strong-tasting bread, likes this one. To make it, I used 16oz of beer (boiled to remove the CO2), 4oz water, 12oz KA unbleached bread flour, 10oz medium WW flour, 3oz blackstrap molasses, 1 oz honey, 0.30 oz active dry yeast, 0.60 oz salt. The dough rose quickly, thanks to the molasses and honey, 60 min ferment/45min proof. Baked on a stone preheated to 500 and then reduced to 450 for a total of 20 min.Enjoy!

Marni's picture
Marni

Thanks for the advice and support.  The last loaves were so disappointing, but I can't give up.  Dough is doing its bulk ferment in the fridge and I will try again tonight.

Marni

tartine-y's picture
tartine-y

I've just moved back to UK after being in australia - and since moving my slashes don't work anymore! So I think it is the dough itself rather than the basic razor blade held in my hand. Either that or they don't make them sharp here!? I used to get clean, even cuts and good 'ears'. Now the blade drags the dough and hardly makes an impression. I will try covering them with a cloth, instead of either leaving them plain, or bagged in the frig. I'm following the tartine method, but very loosely, with lots of time in the fridge sometimes, inbetween stages, as dictated by hectic life of a mum. Perhaps the bread loses some spring due to length of time proofing. I do get a great shaped loaf, and good holes, just rubbish slashes. The crusts are much softer now, too. I need a bread doctor! How are you going marni?