The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is there a "rule" about docking?

DrPr's picture

Is there a "rule" about docking?

I am trying to create my own distinctive docking pattern and wonder if there is a rule about how many cuts you can make into a boule of any particular size. I see boules pictured on this site that have 7 or 8 slashes. Does anyone understand the science behind this enough to know  if I have to make the slashes more shallow the more of them I create?

flournwater's picture

If it's a science I haven't found it published anywhere.  Seems to me it's a more a matter of providing some allowance for expansion during oven rise.  I use a clam shell slash design in my rustic loaves, sometimes three slashes, sometimes five.  Haven't found it to make much difference.  The depth of the slashes, on the other hand, has made a difference and I don't typically slash deeper than about 3/8 inch or so.

DrPr's picture

I learned about depth when I accidentally made one slash deeper than the rest. The shape reminded me of volcano!  Oh well, it was a learning experience.  That's one thing I am grateful for in breadbaking; my mistakes are still graciously received and enthusiastically enjoyed by friends and family!

mountaindog's picture

has everything you probably wanted to know about scoring (aka docking) here, including some nifty video links at the botttom of the page, thanks to David (dmsnyder). Check out the other excellent content of the handbook (see the tab for "Handbook" along the top of the website header). Happy Baking!

Janknitz's picture

Very frustrating!  I'm using highly hydrated doughs either from a banneton or just freeform boules and such that depend on the surface tension to hold their shape while proofing.   I use a thin metal "lame" (from SFBI) and double edge razor blades.   The leading edge of my razor blade tends to get caught under the "skin" as  I am scoring and that edge drags along. 

Any hints on how to avoid that?

LindyD's picture

What's the hydration level?  Wet doughs (80 percent or more) are really difficult to score.

Have you tried using sharp scissors?

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Jan/Dragon Lady.

It's a challenge, for sure. At some point, with super slack doughs like Ciabattas, you don't even try to score them. But, if you are working with a moderately slack dough, say 75% hydration, here are some things that will help:

1. Use a very sharp blade.

2. Wet the blade before each cut.

3. Make each cut fast. No hesitancy. 

4. Hamelman says make shallower (1/4 inch) cuts in slacker dough.

If you haven't read the Scoring Tutorial in the handbook, do so. 


dabigo's picture

Sharp blade and dust the dough with flour. That works for me. I usually score just before it goes in the oven. And I'm always playing with the pattern.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, DrPr.

"Docking" refers to poking holes in the loaf before (and sometimes in the middle) baking. It is usually used with breads that have a high percentage of rye. "Scoring" refers to making cuts in the surface.

There is a "science" to scoring patterns. This is summarized in the Scoring Tutorial to which mountaindog referred. Once you understand the effects of different scoring patterns, you can improvise to your heart's content.


DrPr's picture

Thank you. Perhaps the terminology is confusing. :-)  I've seen "docking" and "scoring" used interchangeably. For example, Reinhart states in The Bread Baker's Apprentice that these terms are interchangeable. Silverton, in her La Brea Bakery book uses "docking" to describe the slashes. The Freshloaf handbook itself has no entry for "docking" but its entry for "scoring" shows terms to be interchangeable.  I do see the term "docking" used often in the pastry industry, and in reference to pizza doughs- recipes that call for holes rather than slashes.

PaddyL's picture

The various scoring designs were necessary in the days of the village oven.  Each baker scored his own design, or mark, and that way his bread would be recognised.

xaipete's picture

Hamelman appears to have a set of rules about proper and improper scoring. See pg. 78 - 83 in Bread; there is also a color photo demonstrating proper and improper scoring on baguettes.


Janknitz's picture


Thanks for your suggestions.  My doughs are generally at about 80% hydration (AB in 5) so it is a challenge to score them.  I will try wetting the blade first--didn't think of that. 

Is there also something I should do with respect to the angle at which the lame is held?  I am slanting it about 30 degrees from the surface of the dough, but it seems to me I may also need to hold my wrist so that the blade itself is at an angle to the direction I want to cut in order to keep the leading edge of the blade out of the way.  Sounds a bit awkward!

P.S. I'm so glad to be able to calculate the hydration percentages now.  Susan of Wild Yeast's most recent blog post (containing the average weight in grams of flour and salt) gave me the last bit of info I needed, sans scale, to do the baker's math.  I have my own "cheat sheet" and spread sheet calculator based on Susan's excellent explanations of Bakers Math.    Yay, Susan!  ;o)

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Jan.

A dough that is 80% hydration may not be scorable, if it's made with white flour. Whole grains absorb more water, so the dough is less slack.

30 degrees to the surface should do it. Your wrist should be straight relative to your forarm. You control the angle of the blade by rotating your arm at the elbow. If you are right handed, start with your arm straight and the palm of your hand facing down. Now, rotate your forarm clockwise until the blade is at the angle you want. When you make the cuts, your wrist and elbow joints should not move. The motion should be a pulling back using your shoulder joint. (How's that for a "word picture?")

Try working this out with some Play Doh or the like in front of a mirror. (Close the bathroom door first so any passing non-bread bakers don't think you're weird.)


ehanner's picture

I have noticed that when I go out of my way to put tension on the outer surface when shaping, the blade is much less likely to catch the sides. I think it has to do with the surface pulling away after being cut.