The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Slash Top Problem

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buh's picture
buh

Slash Top Problem

I know how to slash my bread but my brand new razor blade still drags, pulls, bread. Right now a loaf is rising for 2nd time. I smoothed on flour, then covered pans w dry kitchen towel. This way I should get a slight crust, so that my blade won't drag. But any other ideas?? Thanks.

Floydm's picture
Floydm

I would personally try to avoid the crust build up because it'll inhibit the final rise. I let my loaves rise in clean garbage bag, so the moisture stays in.

In terms of how to avoid the blade dragging, it is really tough. Dipping the blade in oil helps a little, but I think it just takes a heck of a lot of practice. Look at my scoring 2 years ago:

and compare it to recently:

The second dough was a slacker dough too, which makes it more difficult to score. I'm just finally getting a feel for it.

Napoleon's saying "An iron hand in a velvet glove" always comes to mind when describing scoring and shaping: you need to be quick, forceful, and graceful all at the same time. But trying to articulate how to get there is kind of like trying to describe how to play the blues: you can describe to chords and procedure, but there is something critical that can't be articulated into a simple series of steps.

I hope I'm not getting too out there for you, but Chuang-Tzu's story of the Dexterous Butcher comes to mind:

Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui. As every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee — zip! zoop! He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself. After three years I no longer saw the whole ox. And now — now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes. Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants. I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and following things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year — because he cuts. A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month — because he hacks. I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone. There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife has really no thickness. If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room — more than enough for the blade to play about it. That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until — flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground. I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui. “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”

Keep working on it.

buh's picture
buh

Caroline--Your first loaf looks just like mine. When i get the double sided blades i'll report back. thanks so much for your help !

vegasjeremy's picture
vegasjeremy

.....absolutly the best post I've ever read on this or any other board.....it reads like an inspiring song......ladies and gentelmen, this guy gets it.....

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Floyd, thanks for the tips and photos, amazing how beautiful your recent slashes look even before baking...even though I've been baking most of my life I could never make nice slashes, it's been very frustrating. I hadn't heard of dipping the blade in oil, I will try that next. I tried dipping it in water and mine still dragged like your photo from 2 years ago. Last week I took some scrap firm starter dough, kneaded into a ball, and practised slashing: I just bought a new lame, so I compared that to a single-edge razor blade from the hardware store, and also to a thin serrated tomato knife - turns out the tomato knife seemed to work best but was still messy. I was disappointed with the lame, but I'll try it again with oil to see if that helps. Looks like you make your slashes pretty deep, too, are they more than 1/4 inch, and do you angle them or just go straight in? 

Thanks,

Mountaindog

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Looks like you make your slashes pretty deep, too, are they more than 1/4 inch, and do you angle them or just go straight in?

Yes, they are definitely more than 1/4 inch. More around 1/2 an inch to as much as an inch. I kept finding that anything else wouldn't allow it to open up enough.

Angling is definitely the way to go. I hear the technique described as being more like shaving a peel off the loaf than cutting down into it. Sometimes that is easier said than done though.

The other common mistake people make (myself included) is to score across rather than down the loaf. When it hits the oven the opening will increase the diameter of the loaf enough to spread the opening across the top real nicely, but the loaf doesn't really grow in length in the oven much.

I've been meaning to take video and post it here (via YouTube) of my scoring technique. I've been holding off because I am still learning too, but I should go ahead and post what I know so far and let others add to it. I'm sure I could learn something from their critiques too.

Other people's insights? Anyone else bold enough to post a vid?

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Tips like these make this site so great, thanks for all the work you put into this Floyd!

buh's picture
buh

Caroline

I totally agree!! This site is quite a find!!!!

breadnerd's picture
breadnerd

That's a great illustration, and the photos above are nice too.

 

Slashing is one of those things that's very hard to describe, and bakers seem to have strong preferences on tools they prefer.  I learned with a razor blade but have worked with folks that love a serrated knife (that would drive me crazy!).

 

It really is a matter of practice, and I loved taking classes (and working) when I could slash 15 or so baguettes at once. I feel like I have the feel of it, but I still choke now and then, especially (of course!) when I'm trying to demonstrate it to somebody else.

Floydm's picture
Floydm

It didn't come out perfect, but here is a video of my technique.

SteveB's picture
SteveB

Hi Floyd,

Just as an FYI, the name of the tool is pronounced "lahm", not "lah-may".

Grapedad's picture
Grapedad

That was absolutely fabulous and explains making a lame, how to score, and the results.  This was amazing!

buh's picture
buh

Caroline---first time i'd been on You Tube so had trouble w the video but finally got to see it. it helps a lot actually seeing it being done. thanks so much.

Tammyps's picture
Tammyps

Really good of you to take the time and make this video, as baking for me is kind of an alone thing.  My slash still looks absurd, but the bread tastes good...I'll keep working at it!

saraugie's picture
saraugie

How do you decide which to use ?  Do many of you use both, or just a razor type blade or a serrated type exclusively ?

Janice Boger's picture
Janice Boger

I am so thankful for all of your advice.  I have so much trouble with slashing the loaf. Now it turns out I am slashing across instead of down the loaf.  I have been dipping the lame in flour which does not seem to help.  I will now try oil.  Any other hints are welcome.

demegrad's picture
demegrad

 I'll start by saying I'm quite new at baking bread, at least good bread.  For while I had been frustrated by slashing, but over the holidays I was doing a heavier amount of baking, making all the bread for family meals and whatnot, and I notice that my knife which after using it all day was covered in little bits of dough and flour cut much better.  Since then I've been spraying a little oil on the knife and giving it a healthy dose of flour and my slashing has improved greatly, at least the dragging part, it still takes an artist to get it just right which I'm not.  My theory is that the oil makes the flour stick to the knife and the flour keeps of dough from dragging.  Reflour the knife if your doing a lot of slashes.  Give it try and see if work for you.

 

demegrad

http://www.demegrad.blogspot.com

rbarbe's picture
rbarbe

Floydm--In the second set of photos the loaves appear to be slashed before the final proof rather than just before putting them in the oven. All my sources tell me to slash just before baking. Is it OK to slash sooner? It's certainly easier.

Floydm's picture
Floydm

No, those have been proofed. They just opened up quite a bit after I slashed them.

buh's picture
buh

Caroline

Thanks, all, for your good help. I'll try going deeper, and use oil and flour. And regulate my state of mind.

merrybaker's picture
merrybaker

Are you using a single-edged razor blade?  They are much thicker than double-edged blades, and don't slash nearly as well.  You can make your own lame by CAREFULLY threading a chopstick through the holes in the double-edged blade.   And when you slash, as Julia Child used to say, "Have the courage of your convictions!"

buh's picture
buh

Caroline--merrybaker, i use a single blade razor. come to think of it, those double edged are indeed thinner. thanks, i'll get some.

smudge's picture
smudge

 

This most excellent French baking website has just what you're looking for:

 

http://lepetitboulanger.com/

 

click on videos, scroll down to 'la scarification' for some beautiful bread slashing.

 

--

smudge

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Thanks Smudge! That site with the videos is a find! The slashing demo was very inspiring...the rest of the site is pretty interesting too if you can read French (fortunately I can read it better than I can speak it).

merrybaker's picture
merrybaker

Great videos!  I loved the way he rolled out the baguette as though it were Play-Doh.  I noticed he sifted flour on top of the loaves.  That would make them easier to slash, I imagine, in addition to making them pretty.

Srishti's picture
Srishti

These videos are amazing!

Thanks for the link!

sewwhatsports's picture
sewwhatsports

Great videos.  They make it look so easy.  Maybe in a few years it will be that easy but for now I still struggle with it.  Practice makes better slashes if Floyd is any example (and of course we know that he is....) 

Rena in Delaware

Sylviambt's picture
Sylviambt

Thanks so much for this advise.  It's wonderful.  Can't wait to get home and try them.  My bread, too, tends to look like those of 2 years ago, Floyd.

In search of the perfect crust & crumb

tony's picture
tony

I appreciate this discussion of slashing. Here's my $0.02: I think it was Jeffrey Hamelman's book that says to lock the wrist during the stroke. In my experience that is essential -- not necessarily sufficient, but necessary. The baker I learned from uses a box cutter (little retracting blade knife from the hardware store). I use now the same one I bought over a year ago, sharpened periodically with my little disc knife sharpener.

buh's picture
buh

hi tony: i have a handy box cutter and i w try it. i sharpen it on a chunk of granite stolen from a trip over the mountain from san fran to reno.

thanks, caroline

tony's picture
tony

I hope your granite stone is ok as a sharpener. There probably shouldn't be any jaggedy places along the edge. The gadget I use is this disc sharpener. It puts an edge angled 20 degrees on a side, which the documentation says is right for knives. I don't know if it's right for razor-equivalents, though. Nonetheless, it has worked for me so far.

tony's picture
tony

Thanks to floydm's video and associated explanation, I lifted some wooden stirrers from the ubiquitous fancy-coffee store and bought a pack of double-edged blades from a ubiquitous drugstore chain outlet yesterday. With some struggle and, luckily, no cut fingers I was able to fashion a nifty lame that did a marvelous job scoring three loaves of a wet-dough 75% wholegrain bread. For now, anyway, no more box cutter.

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Ditto here, Tony. I used my new double edge razor on a stick this weekend and what a huge difference it made - I got perfect slashes with absolutely no dragging, and I didn't even use any oil on it, it cut like a hot knife through butter. I threw out the plastic-handled disposable "lame" I bought at a restaurant supply store that I had been using, it was totally dull compared to the double-edge razor blade! I'd take some pics but my husband is away and has the digital camera. Thanks Floyd for the suggestion...

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Glad to hear it is working for you.

I wish I could take credit for the idea, but I got the idea from Peter Reinhart in the The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

Sylviambt's picture
Sylviambt

Floyd,

Many thanks for the second video.  A very useful lesson.  Again, I'm impressed by just how slack your dough is.  I must try harder in that direction for more of my loaves.  I keep my ciabatta's really wet, but have worked to the much drier side with other breads.  Will try to get hydrations up.  I really love the way your breads open up. Great oven spring.

Sylviambt

In search of the perfect crust & crumb

DohBoy's picture
DohBoy

Thanks for your great demonstration video.  This is very helpful.  Now I can't wait to practice this weekend on my own breads.

sewwhatsports's picture
sewwhatsports

I finished baking 2 loaves of bread today, a sourdough rye from Rose Levy Beranbaum and a single Pain au Levain.  I tried the slashing with the double edge razor blade in the angle like Floyd's video and it worked great.  These were the best slashes I have ever done and I am thrilled with the results.  I will take some pix and post them in my blog later.  Thanks FLoyd- you really helped!! 

Rena in Delaware

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Rena - look forward to seeing your pics. I had the hardest time finding those old-fashioned double-edge razors, most stores only sell the plastic twin track kind for shaving anymore, but I finally found some at an Eckherd pharmacy. I can't wait to try it out this weekend too, it seems much sharper than what I was using before so hopefully it will make a difference.

fminparis's picture
fminparis

There's absolutely no comparison; double edged blades are so much thinner and sharper. The blade glides through the risen dough. I get mine at the local RiteAid store and by pushing the blade only part way out of the holder, I have a handle to hold the blade with and there's no danger of finger slicing.

jlewis30's picture
jlewis30

When I slash my loaves I use my Cutco large serated knife (or even the bread knife, that is spelled wrong huh?). I let the weight of the knife do most of the work and I have never had a dragging issue. I use two long diagonal strokes for my Italian and the standard one vertical stroke for whole wheat.

richawatt's picture
richawatt

ive found that double edge blades work the best too.  I ordered some online.  I just googled double edge razors and got 100 for 15 bucks.  It is sharp brand.  also...proof in a couche, it helps the surface be just dry enough to slash just right.  I went to jo-anne's fabric and got some cloth there.  Look for duck cloth, it is the closest to the real thing.  100% natural and un-bleached or died.  I worked in bread and cie in san diego and saw meny couche.  the duck cloth is just the same. 

Falsehat's picture
Falsehat

This year, 2010, and Eighty loaves later I finally mastered slashing. Seven adult children and their six children put a real demand on my bread baking.


The blade must be very sharp. Commercial individual blades are not that sharp. It is incredibly simple to sharpen a knife and keep it very sharp. I use a simple pocket stone and always give the blade a few swips before using it. Gently run you finger along the blade; if you do not feel it dragging on your finger, it is dull. It takes some work to sharpen a dull knife. But the joy of using a sharp knife is worth the effort.


The second necessity is speed. Place the knife about 1/2" deep at the start of the proposed slash and with great speed, slash. You will hardly notice the slashes.The great speed does not give the dough time to drag on the blade. I sometime use oil on the knife but more often that not, I forget to do so.

saraugie's picture
saraugie

My cousin told me "Ummmm, looks like a cancerous growth, lol or a big burnt sweet potato"  I think she was being kind.  Practice, practice I guess. It feels like I'll never 'get' it.  Used lame, at angle, a bit of oil, made the cuts 15 min before end of proof.  I think I proofed 1/2 hour longer than PR formula called for, but that's not it.  Does the crumb look totally wrong too ? 




 

Janice Boger's picture
Janice Boger

I too have had problems with slashing and have tried several different techniques.  I found the lame blade got dull.  I bought double edged razor blades and attached them to a thin chop stick and had better luck.  But, my best results have been with an electric knife.  I am getting pretty good with the electric knife.


I also agree you must slice the long way on a long loaf.  Slice at an angle, and just keep working at it.


Good Luck     JAN BOGER