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Bread Scoring Tutorial (updated 1/2/2009)

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dmsnyder

Bread Scoring Tutorial (updated 1/2/2009)

 Please Note: This tutorial has been updated extensively with additional material and new and improved videos. Here is a link to the updated Bread Scoring Tutorial: Scoring Bread: An updated tutorial

Scoring Bread

 

What is scoring?

“Scoring” is the word used to describe the cuts made in a loaf of bread before it is baked. Some breads are not scored. For example many loaves baked in pans are not. However, almost all free-formed “hearth breads” are scored.

When is scoring done?

Scoring is generally performed just prior to loading the loaves in the oven.

Why are breads scored?

The purpose of scoring is primarily to control the direction in which the bread will expand during “oven spring.” Intentionally creating a weak spot on the surface of the loaf prevents the loaf from bursting at weak spots created during shaping.

The pattern of cuts made, the angle at which they are made and the depth of the cuts also influence the rate of expansion and the formation of an “ear” - a raised flap of crust at the edge of a cut.

The pattern of cuts also can create a pleasing visual pattern on the surface of the loaf. While there are some very traditional patterns, for example for baguettes, the baker can use the scoring pattern to identify the type of bread or to create an unique pattern that identifies the loaf as coming from his or her oven.

The effects of scoring on loaf shape are discussed in more detail below.

How are breads scored?

Breads are scored with very sharp cutting implements. These may be straight or curved razor blades, which may be held in the hand or mounted on a handle. Scoring may be performed with other sharp, straight blades, even with a straight razor. Some bakers prefer serrated blades. Some examples are pictured below:

Lame

This is a “lame,” the French term for a razor blade used to score bread. This one is permanently mounted on a handle. Others are made with replaceable blades.

This lame holds the blade in a curved position. Others hold the blade straight. The curved lames are generally used for long breads like baguettes which are scored with cuts parallel to the long axis of the loaf. The cuts are made with the blade held at a shallow angle to the surface of the loaf, about 20-30 degrees or so. The blade is held with the concave surface facing up (away from the loaf). A flap of dough is created that will lift up to create an “ear” as the loaf expands and, by lifting gradually, slows the expansion of the loaf. This prolongs the time during which new areas of dough are exposed to the direct heat of the oven and results in greater overall expansion – a larger “bloom.”

Serrated knife

Serrated knife

Tomato knife

Tomato knife

These are examples of serrated, straight bladed knives. The first one is made expressly for scoring breads. The second one is manufactured as a “tomato knife,” but it is very sharp, holds its edge well and has been found to work very well for scoring bread.

Straight bladed knives are preferred for cuts made with the blade held perpendicular to the loaf's surface. This sort of cut is generally used for round loaves (“boules”). However, they can be used for the same kinds of cuts described above as well.

The angle the blade of the knife makes with the surface of the loaf is important in determining how the cut will open up. If you want the cuts to spread equally from the cut and to open quickly, the knife should be held vertically – at 90 degrees to the surface of the loaf. This type of cut is usually made ¼ to ½ inch deep.

Wrong lame position

 

If you want the cuts to spread more slowly and create an “ear,” the knife blade should be held at a shallow angle with the surface of the loaf, like this:

Correct lame position

This type of cut should be shallower than the cuts made with the blade vertical to the loaf – about ¼ inch deep. A deeper cut will result in the flap closing from its own weight rather than separating from the surface of the loaf to form an “ear.”

The scoring stroke should be firm, rapid, smooth and decisive. For the beginner, it may help to take “practice swings” or to visualize the movements and totally focus one's attention before making the cuts. Understanding the functions of scoring and the effects of the variables described can help, but there is no substitute for experience. In this respect, scoring bread is no different from an athletic skill or any other art or craft. (Tourist: “Please, sir, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” New Yorker: “Practice, practice, practice.”)

 

The effect of scoring on loaf shape

Michael Suas, in his book "Advanced Bread & Pastry," provides some information about how scoring patterns influence loaf shape. Scoring is not just to make a visually pretty design on the top of a loaf. It is also how the baker controls the direction in which the loaf expands. This impacts the shape of the loaf cross section (rounder or more oval), the height of the loaf and, for a boule, whether it stays round or ends up more oblong.

According to Suas, long loaves like bâtards and baguettes are traditionally scored parallel to their long axis. This may be a single long cut or multiple cuts that are almost parallel and overlap somewhat (for ¼ to 1/3 of their length, generally).

Classic cuts

Classic Cut – Single and multiple cuts

However, for breads with high-rye content which have lower gluten and less oven spring, the traditional objective is to encourage a higher rise in the oven spring resulting in a rounder cross section. This is achieved by "sausage" or "chevron" cuts.

Sausage cut (on the left) and Chevron cut (on the right)

Sausage cut (on the left) and Chevron cut (on the right)

Boules are scored in a variety of patterns, again with differing effects on how the loaf expands. The common "tic-tac-toe" pattern and a simple cross will direct the expansion upward. More complex patterns like diamonds result in a relatively flatter loaf.

Boule with tic tac toe

Boule scored with “tic-tac-toe” pattern

One of most interesting effects is that scoring a boule with multiple parallel cuts encourages expansion at a right angle to the cuts. This results in an oblong loaf shape.

 

What's the point of an ear? Controlled bloom!

This topic is not about the auricular anatomy of elves (or Vulcans). It's about scoring breads.

Scoring loaves creates a visually pleasing pattern, and it helps control the expansion of the loaf as it bakes.

These San Francisco Sourdough breads illustrate a more "advanced" aspect of scoring that is alluded to by both Hamelman (in "Bread") and Suas (in "Advanced Bread & Pastry.")

San Francisco Sourdough Breads (from Peter Reinhart's "Crust & Crumb")

Bloom

Detail of bâtard crust, with "ear," grigne" & "bloom."

 

What Suas called "the classic cut" is parallel to the long axis of a baguette or a bâtard. The cut is made with the blade at a shallow angle to the surface of the loaf. The cut should be shallow - about 1/4 inch deep. Paradoxically, this shallow cut results in the flap lifting better than a deeper cut would, thus forming a nice "ear." Hamelman (pg. 80) points out that "a deep cut will simply collapse from its own weight."

The angle is also important. "If the angle is not achieved and the cut is done with the blade vertical to the loaf, the two sides of the dough will spread very quickly during oven spring and expose an enormous surface area to the heat. The crust will begin to form too soon - sometimes before the end of oven spring - penalizing the development of the bread. If the cut is properly horizontal, the sides of the loaf will spread slower. The layer of dough created by the incision will partially and temporarily protect the surface from the heat and encourage a better oven spring and development." (Suas, pg. 116.)

The second photo, above, illustrates a fairly nice "ear," but it also shows that the bloom occurred slowly, as it should. Notice that the color of the crust in the opening has 3 distinct degrees of browning, decreasing from left to right. The darker part on the left obviously opened first and was exposed to the direct heat of the oven for longer. If the bloom occurred too rapidly, it would have a more even coloration.

This boule was slashed with the blade held at 90 degrees to the surface of the loaf. Note the even coloration of the bloomed crust.

In summary, in order to achieve an optimal bloom in baguettes and bâtards, one must attend to 3 variables when scoring them:

  1. The cuts should be almost parallel to the long axis of the loaf.

  2. The blade should be held at about a 30 degree angle to the surface of the loaf.

  3. The depth of the cut should be shallow - about 1/4 inch.

Variable shading of the bloomed crust confirms that the desired slow but prolonged opening of the cut during oven spring occurred.

Happy baking!

David

P.S. I have made a video version of this tutorial. It was my first attempt at editing a video. I am not delighted with the quality, but I hope I can show it and, maybe, get some help improving it. Here is the link:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4381896920195658969&hl=en (for slow connections)

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=6866686363544546201&hl=en (for broadband, e.g., DSL or cable)

 

Comments

crunchy's picture
crunchy

Thanks for that tutorial, David. The video was good, except that due to low resolution I found it hard to read some of the text. I was just practicing baguette scoring last night and did find that my hands were much more adept by the time I scored the fourth baguette.

stevel's picture
stevel

excellent job, it really explains it all very well! thank you

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

David, I so much enjoyed your video and did learn from it...thank you so much for your time and effort put into this project.  Great write up too!!  Your breads are so beautiful!   Thank you kindly,


Sylvia

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Very well done, David.


I agree that the resolution of the video is a bit low and that the text disappears too quickly in a couple of shots, but it is still very informative and a great first attempt.  Thank you!


I just pulled three Hamelman sourdough batards from the cooler so I have something to practice with.  While this dough is pretty easy to score, I've found I don't do it deeply enough.    I'll focus, take a deep breath, and see if I can improve my trusty tomato knife technique.

cordel's picture
cordel

Thanks for the photos and instructions. The video was perfect for me, since my internet is slow. Your low resolution allowed it to come in with out the stops and starts that sometimes make me just give up trying to watch. They were very helpful. I don't know that I have anything as sharp as your lame in my house.

Wisecarver's picture
Wisecarver (not verified)

...What a guy! :-)

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Well, I scored more deeply, placed the cuts where I wanted them to be, and the loaves looked quite fantastic before they went into the oven.


Ah ha!  Finally, I'd get some nice ears and grigne.  Wishful thinking because it didn't happen.  The oven spring took care of that, leaving me with mini-ears....if that. 


The scored bread looks quite nice and I'm sure will taste as good as ever, but they didn't turn out as I had hoped.  Now that I think of it, the same thing happens with my baguette scores. 


How does one avoid this?  Is it time to get out the compass, ruler, and playdough to work on the angle of the cut?

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Lindy, you are so funny!


What you describe could be due to holding the blade too vertical. Deeper cuts is not the answer, according to the "pros." If your blade was really held at 20-30 degrees from flat, then, according to Hamelman, too deep a cut could cause the ear to collapse.


So, try holding the blade as if you were skinning a fish and cut only 1/4 inch deep. It may be counter-intuitive, but that's what Hamelman and Suas prescribe. And, as Pat once said, "If Hamelman and I disagree, Hamelman's right."


David

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

for seeing the angle at which you slashed the batards. I don't have a problem with my boules, but I could never get the ear/grigne that you do. Now I know why. As many times as I 've heard 20-30 degrees, I was holding the blade at a much higher angle. Now I can't wait to give it a go. I baked SteveB's Corn Bread today, maybe it's time for some sourdough. I'll have to give it away, we've started the New Year with a resolution to whittle off the last 20 loaves of bread that have settled around our middles!


Thanks for both the video and excellent write up.


Betty

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

I was unhappy with the video's resolution. I made it with iMovie and saved it for "streaming video." Cordel's comment shows the advantage of low resolution video for slower connections.


Maybe I'll try to save the video at higher resolution and provided links to both version, so others can choose what fits their setup best.


There are iMovie quirks .... errrrr .... features I have yet to discover. I did spend most of yesterday on the video. The next one (assuming there is one!) will go faster. Practice, practice, practice. ;-)


David

eusebius's picture
eusebius

Hi David,


Thank you for such a wonderful video!  I noticed that your dough was pretty firm.  My sourdough tends to be more on the wet side.  In fact, it doesn't even keep its shape very well even after proofing.  Once its in the oven, though, its springs nicely.


Do you have any advice for scoring dough that tends to be wet?


E

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, E.


Well, if the dough is around 70-75% hyderation, you can score it in the usual manner. It's just more important to wet the blade and use much faster strokes than those in the video when you move to the wet side.


Somewhere around 75-78% hydration, I give up on scoring altogether.


David

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

David

Yundah's picture
Yundah

I thought your video was quite helpful.  Sequential texts were a bit too quick in a couple of places but it clarified your article quite nicely.  Thank you. 


 

mammiesbaker's picture
mammiesbaker

Thanks so much David.  Your explanations are so clear and helpful.  The video was just fine.  I think I prefer the little red tomato knife.  I bought one when you mentioned it awhile back.  It is so sharp and the serated edge does not seem to drag as much as the lame does for me.  Thanks again for all your help to this wonderful site.


Fran

benjamin's picture
benjamin

Thank you so much david! The video was great, exactly what I was looking for, very clear and helpful. I can't wait to put what I learned into practice.


Regards
Ben

hullaf's picture
hullaf

David, thank you so much for this summary on scoring. I put it right away into 'my favorites'. I had just been reading a book about knitting, my next to-learn-better project, and realized that in bread baking and all my hobbies or favorite pastimes, I will always be learning something. Plus those insider secrets are extra special! Your blog and many others on TFL help so much. Thanks!   Anet

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Would you stick with a hobby that didn't allow you to keep learning and improving? I know I wouldn't.


The "insider secrets" to which you referred are all very public - right there in books many of us have. But, it takes time and experience before you realize the importance of some of the instructions.


David

holds99's picture
holds99

David,


You did a great job (tutorial and video) and a great service to the bakers on this site. 


Thanks,


Howard

Marni's picture
Marni

Your explanations are so clear and easy to follow.  I've been playing with slashing angles, but haven't been able to gather enough information to come to conclusions yet.  You've saved me time  and answered some of my questions.  I will now stick with slashing my boules so that they rise upwards - with crosses and tic-tac-toes, as well as  a star or flower that I have found makes them rise upwards too.  


I haven't had time to view your video, but I look forward to it.  Thanks so much again for sharing your knowledge and the results of your experiments.


Marni

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

It looks like the holidays were good to you. More hair. More hat.


David

holds99's picture
holds99

David,


I deleted my original photo to replace it and, because the new system has a more limited pixel requirement, I was having problems uploading a new color photo and was fiddling around with size/pixels on this thumbnail (from an old e-mail attachment "vigilantes of Dodge City") and it worked, so I just left it. 


Maybe after I use my new holiday gift certificate for the face lift, hair transplant and new ball cap I'll post a new "updated" Wayne Newton look :>)


Howard

ejm's picture
ejm

This is extremely useful! Thank you so much for putting it together.


-Elizabeth


P.S. The videos are very good. One small quibble though: the text  doesn't stay long enough on the screen in some of the sections (phrases with more than two or three words, especially in the batard scoring section). Perhaps you could have the words in subtitle form and leave them there for the whole batard scoring section? But let me hasten to add that the video itself is very easy to follow and the images are beautifully clear. Thank you once again!

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

The timing of the text display gave me more headaches than anything else in making the video. I think I understand the concepts in iMovie, but haven't mastered the execution by any stretch!


I'm happy you found the videos helpful, in spite of ...


David

crunchy's picture
crunchy

David, I think my obsession with scoring is leading me in the wrong direction. I made another batch of poolish baguettes yesterday and while the shape and the crumb were great, the scores all but disappeared. I've never had this problem before. I think I was concentrating on the angle of the cuts too much and didn't score deep enough, so the oven spring really smoothed them out. They were definitely proofed well. On to another batch, another try.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi crunchy.


Do you mean the cuts didn't open up? No bloom?


Cutting too deep is a more likely a cause of this than not cutting deeply enough. I know it seems counter-intuitive, but that's what I've read.


Keep working on it. It will come.


David

crunchy's picture
crunchy

Thanks for your help, I appreciate it. I mean that there were no ears at all. The cuts opened up nicely, but they were completely level with the surface of the baguette. I may take some pictures tonight to show them to you. Maybe I should start making 8 baguettes at a time to have enough replications for a thorough analysis of where things went wrong?

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

David, this was very helpful. I've been making bread for years and my slashing has definitely improved with practice over the years in their neatness and placement, but I never achieved the "ear" as well as yesterday after reviewing your video and "counter-intuitive" instructions on depth of the shallow-angled slash. It realy works, even on a very slack dough!


Thank you, this site is such a great place to continually learn new things, even after lurking for a few years now!


--Mountaindog

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Thanks for the positive feedback. If the tutorial helped you get your ears, I'm happy.


David

mcs's picture
mcs

David,
I may be a little late in voicing my input, but this is without a doubt the best summary of scoring I've ever seen.  Very detailed, informative, and analytical as usual.  Plus the photos and videos are great compliments to your narrative.


-Mark

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Such nice compliments from the bread baking instructional video maestro! I am flatterred.


Thank you!


David

chayarivka's picture
chayarivka

Hi David,


I have been offline for a while, but better late than never. Your written and video tutorials are excellent. Thank you so much.


Chaya Rivka

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

David

laurawest's picture
laurawest

Your tutorial explains everything very clearly. Thanks for taking the time to put it together.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Laura.


Welcome to TFL!


Why don't you introduce yourself to the group and tell us about your baking interests?


David

spinster's picture
spinster

I found this site with Stumble.  I went through the scoring tutorial with many "ahas".


Today I made a pumpernickle batard load and for the FIRST time it came out with height instead of being a flat oval.  I am doin the happy dance!

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, spinster.


Welcome to TFL!


I don't know that improved scoring deserves total credit for your breakthrough, but, if it helped, I'm glad!


Did you use a "sausage" cut to get more height? What scoring pattern had you used before?


David

golgi70's picture
golgi70

This is the information that you just can't seem to find in many of the best bread books.  They usually touch in on scoring and steaming and leave it fast. 


I will certify that all that makes your cuts work is lots of practice.  and i've strangely found my girn with an approach a little different.  So I suppose I have a question.


So i am a baker professionally and have been a bread baker for three years and its taken a lot o f practice to finally start liking my finshed product.  I tried everything in the book.  all the different angles, curved/str8 and a little with serrated.  i do prefer a lame in almost all cases but like a str8 blad for some bread and a curved for others(mostly long baguettes). 


But i've cut with the concave side down and have better results gettting grin.  i still turn the blade to get a sharp angle across the loaf.  for some reason i feel this works because its going more with the grain of the shape??? i don't know if that can makes sense without a picture.  okay so maybe its more of how i've pulled off grin and thought i'd throw it in, not really a quesiton.


I love the tutorial i think its great for new bakers and old. 


 


Thanks


 


josh

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

And welcome to TFL!


I can't recall reading anything about which way to hold the lame blade - concave side up or down. I found out it is held concave up from videos of professional boulangers scoring loaves.


I also noticed in the video of Professor Calvel I purchased from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) web site that he does a subtle wrist twist at the end of his cuts. I have not tried the variations systematically myself, but that's on my to do list. On page 43, as I recall. 


Bottom line, though, is if it's working for you, keep doing it.


David

golgi70's picture
golgi70

wrist twist?  sometimes i think a lot more goes on a good cut and its similar to playing sports. you can only explain what your doing to an extent and the rest is so fast and learned from practice.  i think its all about finding the perfect angle and the perfect spot against the shoulder to get a really nice ear.  others i work with don't care as much about the ear as i do.  i think it makes a baguette oh so much better.  why ?  CRUNCH

GilBi's picture
GilBi

Hi David,


Great tutorial, very helpful as your other posts.


I am experimenting now with 20% rye sourdough , getting great tasting bread BUT while in the oven (first 10 minutes) the bread "skin" tears around the slashes very fast resulting in that most surface area is not the original crust but the "inside" getting browned. My hunch is that the skin is not elastic eough but I don't know why. Thanks for your help.Gil.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Gil.


I'm glad you find the tutorial helpful!


From your description, it sounds like you are getting dramatic oven spring. Generally, that's a good thing. A photo might help with the diagnosis.


If you want more modest oven spring, you might try proofing your loaves more completely before baking them.


Again, a photo of your loaf along with the recipe you are using would be helpful.


Try posting these as a new topic. I bet you get lots of good suggestions.


David

Linnette's picture
Linnette

Very good post I learned two unusual things today what is scoring? and How to draw Darth Vader  because of my son he was asking me for this Darth vader, I searched the web and got 2 new things. Thank you for your Scoring post.

ques2008's picture
ques2008

just reading this tutorial now.  don't think I saw it when you first posted it.  wow, this is going to help me a lot when I begin making sourdough next year!  thanks for the valuable ideas.

bobm1's picture
bobm1

David, thank you for caring enough to provide such a fine tutelage. Books on bread and baking abound but what you've shared is as complete and concise as any thing i've seen, and the appearance of your breads belie your expertise.

Wheatridge's picture
Wheatridge

Dave, your tutorial was excellent.  Thanks.  Amazing that this thread is still going after almost a year.  No one ever told me how to hold the blade, or that going too deep was counter productive.  I a year after the first posting, you are still around, can you tell me where to obtain your super rising bowls?  I have not seen them anyplace?

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Wheatridge.


Thanks. I'm happy you found the tutorial useful.


If by my "super rising bowls" you mean the brotforms I use to proof some of the loaves in the tutorial, there are a number of online sources including the San Francisco Baking Institute and Brotform.com


David

mredwood's picture
mredwood

TFL instructions and photos are great. I learned something. I appreciate the time you have taken with your posts. I always learn something. The video showed me I am not the only one to hold the loaf while scoring. Words blurred and to high but the instruction great. I look forward to more. Thanks again. 


Mariah

EvaB's picture
EvaB

And the video was good, usually I have to wait for the video to load, but its all there for me at the same time this time, no fits and starts.


I think I see one of my problems scoring, I'm a bit too tentative, and then get a bit too deep, so already its helping. I really must go and try baking some more bread, have been not doing so, as I've been still working on the yard after the snowfall in May, and then I managed to kill a toenail which I had to have removed on Monday! ARG, but its likely to be a good day to bake on Sunday (and it would be nice to have some bread for when DH makes it home on Monday) so will have to go check out a recipe and get it all set up for baking.

teketeke's picture
teketeke

Thanks to your tips, I could make "bloom" or "ear" or " grigne" finally. But  I don't know why only the edge has " bloom" .  This bread is 80% hydration that based on "The Bread Bakers Apprentice", and  It has not enough air as much as I expected.


 


 


 


 



 


 


 


 


 


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