The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Scoring/shaping bread question

venkitac's picture

Scoring/shaping bread question

I've had decent luck baking bread now, but two things are still very difficult for me.

1. When I make a boule (I really love that shape), usully after proofing it doesn't stay like a ball, it sort of spread around into a cicrular loaf about 2 inches or so high. The bread still tastes great, but that's no boule:) I tried proofing in a banneton with parchment inside the banneton, but that spreads out the same way the moment I take out the parchment and put it on the baking stone. I've tried strecthing the surface, which perhaps helped some but not a lot. Is it just that there's too much hydration in the recipes I'm trying to shape into a boule and I need to use less water?

2. Scoring beats me. I tried all the kitchen knives and what not, they all "dragged" the surface and created a mess. I gave up and bought the Paderno World Cuisine bakers blade for like 10 dollars, tried it, it still drages the surface of the dough and creates a mess instead of making a beatiful cut like in youtube videos. What am I doing wrong?




dmsnyder's picture


It's a bit hard to answer your questions without knowing what you are trying to bake.

Please tell us the recipe with which you are working. Photos of the baked bread would be helpful too.

If the blade is dragging the dough when you score, wetting the blade before making your cuts may help.


venkitac's picture

Hi David, I'm trying to bake the Olive bread recipe in Rose Beranbaum's book, 63% hydration (I think I was off, it was more like 65% when I made it). I have attached the photos. (I did 2 stretch-and-folds for this, and when shaping a boule from the dough, I tried to stretch the dough down the sides like it says in many books).

The white spots in the bread are where I plucked olives off the surface before even taking the photo:)


Thanks for the help, all.


gcook17's picture

Like David said it depends a lot on the type of dough you're working with but...

It might be that you don't have enough gluten development in your dough. If you start with fairly undeveloped dough out of the mixer then you can fold the dough one or more times during the fermentation to strengthen it.  With my white sourdough that has a four hour bulk fermentation I often give it 3 folds (one per hour).  As long as the dough streches easily during fermentation I continue folding.  If it is pretty rubbery and elastic after the second fold I don't give it a third one.  You kind of get a fell for it after doing it several times.  In case you're not familiar with folding here's some helpful info:

gcook17's picture

If you ferment in a sort of largish shallow container (like a big rectangular tupperware or a bus tub) you can easily fold right in the fermentation bin.  I almost never dump the dough out and pat and spread like in some of the videos but it still works fine.

halfrice's picture

Just to let you know that you are not alone. I still haven't baked a boule successfully. May be someone can clarify if the shaped boule is supposed to prove the right side up or upside down in a basket. Mine always bursts at the bottom and turn into a "brain". Since I knead by hand, I can never achieve desirable gluten development ( windowpane). I am also thinking the hydration of my dough may be a factor.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

If your dough is high hydration, you might try Bertinet's stretching technique for strengthening gluten ( If I have other things to do and cannot drag the dough out every 30-60 minutes to do a classic stretch/fold, then I do Bertinet's and just be done with it.

But we have to talk about autolyse here, because if you allow this initial rest after mixing, you're going to get a weakish windowpane before you even start doing any kneading:

Supposing your gluten development is sufficient, know that creating a boule with good surface tension is FAR from as easy as it looks in any video. I mean, how hard can it be to make a round, right? It's not hard, it's tricky. It's a technique that requires you to both be able to understand what's needing to happen, actually watching the surface of your boule tightening, and be careful while handling it at all times. It's a delicate dance, and it just flat out takes time to master. The next important step after geting the surface tight enough is to properly seal the bottom where everything gathered. If this seal isn't done properly, the surface tension will release; you probably won't even notice... There so many 'little' things that can fail you in just those 2 minutes spent doing the final shape. It's mind-boggling for sure, but the good news is, having your hands on the dough as often as possible will eventually get you better and better results.

Lastly, dough handling, especially final proofs, is an area that requires kid gloves. Rough handling will cause deflation, as will dropping the boule hard onto a baking surface, etc etc... Once you have your final shape and the surface tension is there, you have to understand that any handling/moving of it from that point on should be treated as if it's a hand grenade, because it is.

- Keith

Petey's picture

I spray my knife with cooking spray just before scoring. It works every time!

dghdctr's picture

Photos both before and after shaping, and before and after proofing & scoring would help eliminate some possibilities.  My first inclination is to advise pulling the skin of the loaf more aggressively down toward the seam, but we don't know yet whether or not you were getting good gas production to begin with, or if the gluten was well developed.

As far as the blade issue goes, you only want to cut with one corner of a razor blade, if that's what you have.  If you try to use one entire side of a blade it can snag on the dough's surface.  Additionally, a dough surface that has no tension is difficult to cut.

I can see why you might want to tweak this bread's appearance, maybe, but it doesn't seem that far off from ideal when I look at the profile in the photo, and I do believe I'd eat it.

--Dan DiMuzio

venkitac's picture

I'll post before/after next time I make this. I think 3 folks have mentioned more surface tension above, will certainly try more of that next time, especially the pinch at the bottom (I'm sure I'm messing that up), ditto for the blade issue. The answer is probably more surface tension for all my ills, I guess. Thanks!

(The bread was good - atleast for me - no problem, lots of holes and I got a good windowpane too. And yeah, tasted fine:)).

Larry Clark's picture
Larry Clark

If so, you need more than two stretch and folds. Try 3 or 4 at about 45 minute intervals. If it's a yeasted dough, again, 3 or 4 folds at 20 minute intervals. The dough will tell you when it's had enough when it starts to resist the stretches.

To create major surface tension while shaping a boule, pick up the dough and with each hand, pull the dough under itself. Reapeat this several times, always keeping the top of the loaf up and  rotating the dough as you go. This will stretch the top of the boule tight like a balloon. You can then pinch the bottom seems together.

Another thing that has helped my boule shape is baking under cover. Tremendous oven spring that way. A metal bowl willl work but I made one of these for far less that $10.


Pain Partout's picture
Pain Partout

Your slashing problems will be largely eliminated if you use a very sharp finely serrated knife, or razor blade.  Just keep the blade immersed in a cup of cool water, and dunk it back into the water with each cut.  I also mist the tops of each loaf just prior to slashing and baking.  You may need to use a good bread flour ..which may need a tad more water,..or no additional moisture if the dough is quite slack.  As you fold, just add a small coating of flour until the dough feels less sticky.  Pinch all seams on the bottom and rest/bake on parchment.  Just before sliding the loaves into the oven (handle carefully), spray entire tops with water & slash with the wet knife.  Once in the red-hot oven, quickly spritz more water over the bread and inside the oven.  You can spritz once more in approximately 5 minutes, if your oven was very hot, holds heat well, and you bake on a red-hot baking stone.  You should get good oven spring this way.