The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baguette Scoring Help Request

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

Baguette Scoring Help Request

Hi everyone,

I have been reading posts on the forum for many months now and trying to gain wisdom on the topic of baguette scoring.  I have read almost every post on the subject but can't seem to get it right.  Out of about a dozen attempts at baguettes, I have successfully generated a nice ear/grigne one time.  Strangely enough, it was on the 3rd attempt.  Here is a picture:

I have been using Hamelman's Poolish Baguette and Hamelman's Straightdough Baguette for all attempts.  I have been using King Arthur flour and I usually do a 30-60 min autolyze and an extra fold to get sufficient gluten development.  I check the proofing with a "poke test" as most people do.  When the dimple very slowly returns after a poke, I consider it ready to bake.  I slash with a curved lame with a depth of ~ 1/4 in (or what I perceive to be a 1/4 in. It's difficult to say exactly).  I hold the blade at an angle (I think ~30-45 deg) to try to cut a flap of dough.  I cook the baguettes in a 460 degree oven (preheated for 45 min) on 1/2 in unglazed tiles.  For steam, I follow Hamelman's instructions: throw a few ice cubes into a cast iron skillet on the bottom shelf while slashing, slide the baguettes onto the stone, and then pour 1 cup of boiling water into the skillet.  I have followed this method for all attempts.

I think my shaping has improved in the past 4 months and I've tried to vary my slashing technique slightly to see what I'm doing wrong.  Now, I would like to request some advice.  I appreciate any guidance that anyone will offer.  Here are the pictures of my "ear-free" baguettes.  Individual photos can be seen at http://photobucket.com/atlbreadpics.  Thanks in advance.

On a positive note, I have eaten many many delicious sandwiches from all of this.  Thanks for your help!

Kyle

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Kyle,

I am as interested in the answers as you are. And though I don't have any suggestions, I want to congratulate you on posting one of the best formed requests for help that I have seen in these forums. It is both articulate and well supported with excellent documentary photographs.  Your comittment to data is admirable.  Somebody will look at these and say, "oh yes, you just need to ...".  You have provided a terrific example for others to follow.

Doc

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

Hi Doc,

Thanks for the encouraging comment.  I'm an engineer by trade, so I think of this like diagnosing a bug in a design.  I know there's something that I'm doing wrong in the process.  Hopefully, the pictures will bring some great advice for us all.

Kyle

lumos's picture
lumos

I'll join you to wait for helpful advices from some saviours, too. Your baguattes look very much like the ones I baked a few days ago.  Been baking baguettes for a few years now and still I can't produce good looking baguettes constantly; yo-yo-ing between decent looking ones, giving me a temporary illusion that I've mastered it, and horrible looking ones to bring me down to my eternal baguette purgatory.....  I know the culprit of the last baguettes was over-proofing, and in some  times it's a lack of surface tention (usually due to me being to reckless and increasing the hydration), but in many other occasions I don't know what went wrong.

One thing,  though, which could help you improve the technique (which I learned from several books in Japan where a lot of home-bakers are 'baguette-obsessed')  is to reduce the hydration a little until you get a hang of scoring, like 65%. You may not get as open and holey crumb as more normal 70+% hydration dough (though some home-bakers there have proved it's possible even with 65% hydr), but at least it makes scoring much easier.

Also, though this is a cheat's version (but used by some French bakers), if you add a tiny bit of Vitamin C powder (acetic acid) , it helps tighten the dough a little, making scoring easier, giving you a better chance of getting better ears.

Lastly, for me personally, Hamelman's method of steaming (ice cubes) doesn't really work. I can't produce enough steam like that and I think it may lower the oven temperature, too, which is not a good thing when baking baguettes.  I usually pour boiling water (about 1/2 cup) on a baking tray filled with pebbles (or lava stones) , pre-heated in the oven until it's seriously hot. 

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

I have been pouring about a cup of boiling water into a cast iron skillet that always remains in the oven.  I do the ice cube thing a few minutes before loading the bread.  Hamelman mentions that the ice cubes are not for steam but to create a "moist oven".  I don't know what this part really does, but the boiling water is what I do for steam.  I'm guessing that I could generate even more if I add some pebbles or lava stones to my method.  I don't have a lot of clearance between the stones and the sides of my oven, so sometimes I wonder if the steam really gets up to the baguettes.  Here's a picture of my setup (except that the lower pizza stone is now replaced with a small cast iron skillet):

To give even more info, here is a picture of a shaped and scored baguette, followed by a picture during the oven spring portion of baking:

Thanks for the ideas.  I think I'll try going down to 65% hydration next time.  I recently started playing with sourdough a bit and the most amazing thing happened, I got a great ear on every sourdough loaf I baked.  The skin of the dough was definitely drier on the sourdough loaves and my cuts didn't start to spread out before I got the loaves into the oven (as the baguettes seem to do).

Kyle

MissTati's picture
MissTati

Hi Kyle,

When I look at your pictures, the first thoughts to come to mind are deeper slashes and more steam. It also looks like the slash at the 1/3 overlap portion is more shallow than the rest of the slash. You could also try slashing a couple minutes before loading so it has a chance to open a bit before getting blasted with heat.

I agree with what lumos said above regarding the steaming. I use that same method of pouring hot water over pre-heated river pebbles rather than icecubes. Plus I spray water onto the sides of oven after loading bread. I also find that using a large roasting pan to cover the loaf for the first 10 minutes gives better oven spring, but I can only do this with one loaf at a time and it may not be long enough for standard size baguettes.

I can still remember the grigne I was most proud of, and it was a retarded loaf that I slashed when still at fridge temp. It's definitely easier to slash cool dough. Sometimes there are just so many interacting variables in play it's difficult to isolate the one determining one. I'm still questing to understand why sometimes I can get a crackling crust that "sings", but other times the same technique doesn't. Well, at least we can eat our experiments!

Looking forward to the expert's opinions...

Tatiana

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Reading what you wrote and looking at your photos, I think you have the basic knowledge to score well. What I see is inconsistency in cut length and amount of overlap and problems with the lame angle and depth. Your baguettes look an awful lot like my first few dozen baguettes. I think all you need is practice. 

My advice is to review the parameters before hand. Visualize the cuts. Practice on pieces of paper or Play Doh. Then, when you score the loaves, do so rapidly and without hesitation. At that point, conscious thought is your enemy. Immediately after scoring, reflect on the ways your cuts deviated from perfection and keep this in mind when you "rehearse."

I don't think you need to cut deeper. Remember, you are cutting a flap of dough, not a trench, if you want ears. If the cut is too deep, oven spring cannot support the weight of the flap, and you cut will close, not open. 

I hope this helps.

David

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

Hi David,

Thanks for your response.  If my baguettes look like your initial ones then I'm probably on the right track.  The one time I created a good ear, I did in fact spend about 10 minutes practicing before.  I'll do some practice rounds before my next attempt.

In terms of depth, I've read suggestions that go from a "paper cut" to 1/2 in.  I generally shoot for 1/4 in.  Do you think that's a good depth to shoot for or should I make them a bit more shallow?

Thanks!

Kyle

juliette's picture
juliette

Hi Kyle, The first thing to remember is that baguettes are one of the hardest loaves to shape and score, and practice does make perfect. One thing I wondered about is how wet the dough is when you are scoring it? If you let the surface dry out just a bit before scoring it really helps. You should be able to place your palm lightly on it without it sticking. If you live in a humid place you can use a small table fan to assist. Also, how sharp is your blade? It is amazing how fast the blades become dull when slicing through wet dough...change the blade often, and make sure it does not have any residue from previous use on it. Sharp and swift are your friends!-) Stick with it (pun fully intended), and you will eventually get there. Happy baking!

 

 

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

Hi Juliette,

Thanks for your response.  The very outer skin of the baguette is not too wet when I score them.  I'm able to move them pretty easily and they slide off of my flipping board with just a light dusting of flour.  However, just below the surface it's pretty wet.  Whereas with my sourdough loaves, I can see a nice angled slit after I score, with the baguettes it just looks like a gash in the surface that is starting to split apart.  I'll try to let it dry out a bit more next time.

As far as the blade goes, I'm still using the first lame I bought from KAF about 40 loaves ago.  It might be time to invest in a lame with replaceable blades.  I could definitely score a good bit more swiftly.  I'll give that a shot next time.

Thanks again!
Kyle 

juliette's picture
juliette

I steam with a metal pie tin filled with lava rock on the floor of the oven. The lava rock is very porous so it absorbs the water and distributes the steam better than rock or ice cubes. They are what are used in saunas so it makes perfect sense. You can get them at most hardware stores, usually in the BBQ or garden area. A big bag of them is about $4. And keep your face as far away from the oven as you can when putting the water in, cause it sends off a big cloud of steam! I use a cup sized ladle with an angled handle to add the water, and a metal pizza peel to remove the tin after the steaming period is over. I just put it back in the oven after the bake and leave it there all the time.

 

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Kyle,

You have attracted a nice collection of expert comments. I see in their responses two threads that resonate with me.  A stiffer dough will make slashing easier, and letting the surface dry out will make the surface stiffer than the center of the loaf and perhaps help to open the slash.  So I am thinking that you might proof normally for some period of time, then refrigerate it uncovered for an hour or two with two objectives: 1. dry out the surface and 2. stiffen it up a little.  With a well steamed oven and a little retardation (so that the dough at the surface absorbs some CO2 which then comes out of solution after the surface starch has cooked and formed a gas-tight membrane), you should get nice blisters on the crust too.

Something else to consider might be a straight but very sharp blade for slashing.  I do it with a scalpel - Havel's 60XT is a good choice (though it is actually an autopsy blade) in a low cost handle that is available at http://www.havalon.com/xt-60z.html - others have better luck with a longer serrated blade.

Doc

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

Hi Doc,

You're definitely right about attracting some good comments.  I had reached the end of my abilities and it was time to seek help.  I think you're right about the common threads (that makes 2 intentional puns in this thread).  

Overall, here is my game plan for the next batch:

1.  Add an uncovered refrigeration period to the final fermentation.

2.  Get a new blade and make sure it's sharp.

3.  Practice/visualize before scoring and score the loaves swiftly.

4.  Use lava rocks to produce more steam.

 

I'll be sure to post some results when I have them.  Thanks for your help.

Kyle

juliette's picture
juliette

http://sourdough.com/shop/lames-and-knives/baking-lame-professional-stainless-steel

Hi Kyle, Here is a link to the lame that I bought. Shipping was a bit steep because the company is in Australia, but it has proved to be worth every penny. Cheers!

lumos's picture
lumos

If you want a lame (or a grignette)  in US,  could this be nearer to your home and possibly cheaper. ;)

http://www.sfbi.com/baking_supplies.html

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

Good idea.  After trying a single-edged razor blade, a knife, and a curved lame, I definitely prefer the lame.  Can the SFBI lame be used as both a curved and a straight lame?  It seems like that would be the case since it is just a blade and a handle, but I've only seen blades installed on them as curved lames.

Thanks,

Kyle

juliette's picture
juliette

The SBI lame looks right...I could swear I checked there before and they did not have it (but it's been well over a year). The blade won't be straight...putting it on the holder curves it. Curved works better for shallow controlled slashes, easier angles, and cutting across curved surfaces...it will give you that ear you are looking for. Thanks Lumos, I'm going to buy a couple more of them for my sisters!

foodslut's picture
foodslut

.... try a safety razor blade on a fast food restaurant coffee stir stick:

Let us know (ideally with more great pix) how it goes for you.

proth5's picture
proth5

You've made me poke my head up from my epic and undocumented triticale battle....

Yes, the coffee stir stick works.  But after years with the thing, I found the $6.00 blade holder was so much better and it isn't really that expensive. >sigh<  Really.  Save yourself the pain (and buy proper couche cloth while you're at it, but I digress...)

The blade can be mounted to be curved or straight depending on your razor blades and how you thread them on the holder.  The curved mounting is pretty easy, but the straight mount is a bit trickier. Careful observation shows that the blade holder is also a blade and its edge can be sharpened to slash bread.

Hope this helps. 

lumos's picture
lumos

It may sound like a double-cross after posting the link to SFBI shop, but actually I use a flat metal BBQ skewer with a shaving blade. It's cheap and works exactly in the same way as a grignette (Believe me, I have bought a proper grignette once but couldn't see much difference in the way it worked, so I returned it to the seller straightaway) would, just as a coffee stick as foodslut suggested.

Also, I don't know what sort of single-edged blade you're using, but if it's the same kind as the one I bought before (for craft), I can say from my own experience that a razor blade (double-bladed) is much sharper than a single-edged blade.

juliette's picture
juliette

it's a no brainer...I tried using the plastic coffee stirrer and a fixed lame with a plastic handle. If you are baking very small amounts of bread, maybe, but if you've ever had one of those things snap when you are scoring a dozen loaves ready for the oven...well, after you are done screaming and yelling you will go in search of a metal one. And yes, that is the voice of experience. Like Proth5 said, for $6 it isn't worth the possible aggravation and delay.

foodslut's picture
foodslut

...but I based my comment on what looks like a home oven managing somewhat less than "a dozen loaves ready for the oven" at a time - just offering an alternative.

varda's picture
varda

I eschew baguettes - they are a new-fangled Parisian invention and they're just too darn skinny and long - and besides which they are too hard for me.   However, in confronting similar problems with scoring batards, I realized that I never made my scores where I wanted them.   So I took a toothpick and poked holes where I wanted the beginning and end of each score to be.    Then I looked it over a lot and steeled myself up and then quickly (as David said) made the cuts exactly where I wanted them.   Don't know why this helped so much but it did.   -Varda

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

I gave the baguettes another try this week and implemented a couple of suggestions.  I have ordered a lame and razor blades but they haven't come in yet, and I haven't been able to go to Home Depot for the lava rocks yet, so I have not yet implemented everything.  This time, my changes were:

1. Change ~1h15 final fermentation at room temp. (76 deg) to 1h at room temp. and 30 min in the refrigerator uncovered.

- This helped significantly with the problem of my slits disappearing, but I think I could do more like 45m-1hr at room temp. and 45m-1hr in the refrigerator (maybe covering them part of the time in the refrigerator).  I don't want to risk overproofing or over-drying the exterior.  Even with 30 min in the fridge, scoring was much easier.

2. Practice/visualize scoring beforehand and score quickly.

- I did this, but my "practice rounds" on paper were much better than the actual scoring.  I could probably score even more quickly and get a better cut, but I'm guessing this will just come with time.  Next time, I'm hoping a colder dough will allow me to see what a did or didn't do wrong more easily because the baguette won't spread apart as quickly.

I also think my shaping was a little better on these.  Something I did differently was that I tried to use the folds (building up the loaves) to extend the baguettes before rolling them.  My baguettes were already ~70% of the full length before I started rolling.  The surface seemed a little more taut than last time, so I was pleased.  If you have some feedback on the shaping from the picture, please bring on the advice.

Here's the final product - no ears, but they were delicious - from Hamelman's Poolish Baguettes.

I'll try again soon, hopefully with a new sharp lame, lava rocks, and more refrigeration.  Thanks again for your help.

Kyle

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Your shaping looks good. The crust has a lovely color and shine suggesting optimal steaming.

One suggestion: It appears your cuts are overlapping too much. They should overlap by about 1/3, no more.

How was the crumb?

David

lumos's picture
lumos

You're definitely getting there, Kyle! :)

I think I could do more like 45m-1hr at room temp. and 45m-1hr in the refrigerator (maybe covering them part of the time in the refrigerator). I don't want to risk overproofing or over-drying the exterior.

Yes, cooler dough is definitely easier to score, but please be careful on over-fermentaion. Even in the fridge, fermentation continues. Actually the yeast activity does not really slow down for a while (like 30-60 minute?) even after the dough was put in the fridge. In my experience, over-fermentation is one of the worst culprit for ugly looking baguettes.  I've found I get better result (in looks, that is) in baguette making when the dough is tiny weeny bit under-proofed than I'd do with other types of bread. But that's my personal experience, so other people may differ.

 

Something I did differently was that I tried to use the folds (building up the loaves) to extend the baguettes before rolling them. My baguettes were already ~70% of the full length before I started rolling. The surface seemed a little more taut than last time, so I was pleased.

Sometimes, I don't roll at all but just fold it a few times until I achieve the desired length, especially when I feel the dough is a little too soft/wet. As long as you make sure the dough is evenly spread with same thickness all over at the pre-shaping stage,  I've found you can get away with not rolling.  The most important thing, I've found, is the surface tention.

 

Look forward to your next report! :)

Best wishes,

lumos

 

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

After acquiring a couple of new toys, I tried again.  Unfortunately, we are still ear-less.  Somehow I forgot about the refrigeration during final fermentation on these, so I didn't actually try all of my new techniques.  Here's what I did differently:

  • Added lava rocks to the steam setup - this created quite a bit more steam than the cast iron skillet by itself.  I found this video on Youtube which shows how to be strategic about the process of loading/steaming the oven.  I like it because it makes sure you get the most "bang for your buck" from the hot pan in the bottom of the oven.  Here's a picture of my setup:

     
  • Used my new lame handle and safety-razor blade to score the bread.  Before, I was using a KAF lame.  It's a nice tool, but you can't replace the blade.  I like the razor blade method better.  I ordered the lame and a pack of blades from SFBI.  Here's a picture just before scoring:
     

The results this time were not really different from the last time.  The bread tasted great, the crust was nice, the crumb color was good, and the size of the holes in the inside was ok.  My shaping could use some work.  You can see that the thickness of the baguettes was not even across the length of the baguette.  I think I'm still lacking in some surface tension.  Here are some photos:



I'm in the process of trying another batch.  This time, I am planning to score at a very low angle (~ 30 deg) and not very deeply < 0.25 in.  I'm also planning to use a final fermentation of 30 min at room temperature (seam-side down, covered) followed by 30-60 min in the refrigerator (seam-side up, uncovered for at least part of the time).  We'll see what happens.  I'll post pictures later.

On an interesting note, although I am not satisfied with the results that I'm getting, I haven't been able to find a baguette in any bakery that compares to mine.  I think that reflects more on the poor bread quality here in the US than it does on my ability.  Even in French bakeries, the bread is so Americanized that the inside seems like American sandwich bread as opposed to Artisan bread.  Also, the crumb color on the commercial breads is almost always very white - something that I take to mean a poor choice of flour or overmixing after reading Hamelman's Bread.  Here's a side-by-side photo of The Fresh Market's baguette and the homemade one:

Thanks again,

Kyle

lumos's picture
lumos

That's definitely a big improvement, Kyle. Well done! :)

About the ears... in my personal experience, I found longer and less number of scorings make more attractive ears. This it the tip I picked up from a famous Japanese bread blogger who's known for her beautiful baguette shapes. As an example, I used to make 5-6 scorings for my standard 30 cm mini baguettes, and they quite often came out ear-less. But as soon as I changed her method of 4 scorings for 30 cm baguettes (each scoring measuring about 11cm long), I got much better and reliable results. And until you get used to it, it really helps if you measure the intended length of scorings and mark the starting points and ending points on the dough, probably making small holes with a tip of skewer or something. Scoring in equal length does really makes a difference. 

lumos

 

ETA : Forgot to say.... Another thing a lot of homebakers in Japan (many of them are baguette-obsessed!) do when they start making baguettes is to score the whole length of baguette (just one scoring) until they really get a hang of it. It seems to be easier to get good ear with longer scoring.

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

Well, I have 3 pretty well-shaped baguettes but no ears.  We'll try again another day.  I didn't seem to get much oven spring this time.  I tried to score at a sharp angle and score very shallow.  I even tried the single score, but without success.  Here are a couple of photos.  This is with 30min @room temp. 40 min in the refrigerator.  On a positive note, my shaping was better in this one.  For the first time, it was difficult not to over-extend the baguettes.  The single-score one is the closest I've come to an evenly shaped baguette.

 

Thanks lumos for the tips.  I'll try again in the near future.  I might try all single scores next time with varying depths/angles.  That would remove some of the variables from the equation and allow me to narrow in on my cutting skills.

Kyle

lumos's picture
lumos

Your scoring certainly looks great, Kyle. Really good. So do the shaping. It's a bit difficult to judge from the pic, but maybe you can try scoring a little bit deeper next time.....? If it doesn't work, the only other cause I can think of now (I have a problem with my aging brain, so I may remember something of grave importance later...:p) is slight overfroofing. I always find slight underproofing (compared to other types of bread) works better with baguettes. ...oh, I just remembered. The surface tention! That's quite important, too. And if the dough is a bit overproofed, it's difficult to achieve surface tention, too. As the first step, you can try with slightly lower hydration, because it's easier to tighten the surface that way. And when you got the feel of how to tighten, you can start increasing the hydration step by step. btw...what are you going to do with all these baguettes you're pumping out? :p Best wishes, lumos

 

ETA: another thing I remembered....

When you pre-heat oven + lava rocks, try placing the lava rocks on the top shelf in the oven. It gets hotter there, resulting producing stronger burst of steam. You just move it on the lower shelf just before you load the dough.

KHamATL's picture
KHamATL

I tried two more batches of baguettes this weekend and finally got the ears I was looking for on the second batch.

On the first, I second-guessed my scoring and "adjusted" the cuts - big mistake.  I ended up with scores that were too deep.  They really had no chance of forming a flap with the amount that they had spread in the first minute of baking.  However, I tried fewer/longer scores - 3 to be exact - on some of the loaves.  I really liked this because it gives more distance to work on the angle and depth of the cut.  Here's a few pictures:

Now for the break-through...

Today, I tried Hamelman's Six-Fold No-Knead Baguettes.  I really only did this because I hadn't started a Poolish the night before and I had a new scraper that I wanted to try.  I lowered the hydration to 70% to make things a little bit easier.  The things I did differently this time were:

  • Gentler shaping - I degassed with what I would call "medium" intensity.  Usually, I get most of the air out of the dough but Hamelman suggests a lighter touch with these.  In the next poolish batch, I'll keep this same technique.
  • Higher percentage of final fermentation in the refrigerator - This was actually not by design.  My wife and I needed to go to the store after only 15 minutes into the final fermentation.  I placed the baguettes int the refrigerator uncovered with the seams still up.  After 30 minutes, I turned the baguettes to be seam side down to allow the top of them to dry out a bit.  After another 30 minutes, I slashed and baked.
  • Less proofing - Even though the final fermentation time was ~1h15, the baguettes were noticeably less proofed than my previous attempts.  Everyone says you should be a little under-proofed, but I've taken this to mean by a few minutes.  This time it was much less.  You can tell by the size of the baguettes on the parchment in the picture below.  There was still a good bit of spring with the poke test.
  • Fewer and longer slashes with less overlap - I continued with the 3-slash method to give me a better chance of getting the angle/depth right.  After watching the KAF baguette scoring video, I tried to make my overlap only 1-2 inches.

Now, for some pictures:

I am VERY pleased with this batch.  It is as good if not better than my single successful batch 10 attempts ago.  Next will be the ultimate test - Can I reproduce the results?  I'll try these technique changes with my usual poolish recipe and see what happens.

Thanks again for your help.

Kyle

lumos's picture
lumos

Well done, Kyle. Not only the ears, but the crumb looks great, too! :)

Wonderful  to see you're definitely 'getting there,' but more than anything, I really bow to your deligence and determination.

Look forward to see your next result.

lumos

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Kyle,
If you can replicate these results, please take the time to document your process and ingredients. We might want to run a DOE series around your baseline to quantify the partial derivatives. Perhaps looking at variations in hydration, proof temperature, and some measure of dough resilience when you score.
Doc

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

The topic, with your photos of sequential bakes, is a wonderful illustration of the learning curve for baguette scoring. Your latest bake looks very nice indeed.

David