The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Slash Fail!

Jane Clark's picture
Jane Clark

Slash Fail!

I have never and I mean NEVER been able to slash dough with anything close to the dexterity I see in videos. No matter how wet or dry the loaf (and I have left loaves out  in the dryest of environments to form a skin), what tool I've used (fresh razor blades, serrated knives), or whether I flour the begeesus out of the loaf, oil it, oil the knife, etc, all I end up doing is poking the dough and dragging it off to one side!

The only thing I can think of is that I'm not developing enough tension in the loaf when shaping. Everyone talks about how important shaping is and I'm beginning to suspect this might be my problem. You will see in the video that I'm using a fairly wet straight white dough at 75% hydration and the shape is a bit blousy. I appologize in advance for the shaky video, but I was (attempting to) slash with one hand and video with the other:

But...I finally figured out the stretch and fold method and the bread was creamy and flavorful with a delicate crisp/chewy crust that didn't score the roof of my mouth. Success comes in small measures!


breadforfun's picture

Hi Jane,

Your guess about shaping and tension is probably on the mark.  It is a very difficult skill to master - it took me well over a year to get my loaves to the point where I could do a decent slash.  A couple of other things may help.  Your slashing tool needs to be extremely sharp.  I got the sense from your video that you were struggling with that aspect.  Try a lame or a single edged razor blade,  which you can be replaced every few loaves.  Also, you can try to wet the razor with a bit of water, or even a thin coating of oil may help.


Doc.Dough's picture

I agree with Brad that you probably need a sharper blade, but I think you would perhaps learn faster if you were working with a lower hydration dough. After you get a good feel for success you will know how to address a wet loaf.  Of course there is such a thing as a too wet loaf.

Try working up from a dough hydration somewhere around 67% using your current shaping technique. Perhaps step up 1% at a time when you feel like you it is working for you.

At this instant Walmart has a good price on Personna double-edge stainless razor blades:

Once you find (or make) a handle of the right size (a coffee stirring stick is a good starting point) they work great (left or right handed).  But you may want to get your speed up.  I know the video is a poor example, but you should be able to slash an entire loaf with 4 or 5 cuts in about 2 seconds.  There should be no sawing motion. A sharp blade will zip through the dough just like it will zip through your finger if you are not careful - with amazing ease.

Jane Clark's picture
Jane Clark

I really think I have a shaping problem. When I cut open the loaves in question there were lot's of "lazy baker" holes right along the top crust. I think I will switch to a razor blade and a dryer loaf, but I pretty much get the same results with any tool/any loaf. I like the dipping it in water idea, though. The blade I was using in the video was dipped in oil. I guess I will need to do some searches on "shaping".



GregS's picture

Under "Shaping Batards" on YouTube, I found videos from Jeffrey Hamelman, one of America's finest bakers.  They are very well done. I did have to watch them several times to get some of the nuances. Notice how, as the shape emerges, he makes several moves designed to sort of stretch the top around the loaf (I'm putting it poorly!) At any rate, take a look. I also agree with the previous suggestions of a less wet dough.


Jane Clark's picture
Jane Clark

Awesome video Greg! Definitely a shaping problem, I've been way too gentle, barely shaping at all, seems I've been missing out on half the fun.

Doc.Dough's picture

To get my dough to behave as Hamelman does in the videos, I have to go to about 68% or 69% hydration.  If I tried to handle a 75% hydration dough like that it would stick to everything.

Watch the way the ends of the baguettes bounce back as they are layed on the couche.  I think that is a good indication of the elasticity that you are seeking.


mcs's picture

The shaping practice at lower hydration suggestion is a great one.


Let's just say your next loaves look like the video.  Regardless of your shaping, your loaves will tell you when they need to go in the oven and need to be scored.  This is often determined by 'the poke test' or after you've made enough loaves, simply by 'looking at it'.  A loaf that is shaped loosely will be ready to go into the oven sooner than a loaf that is shaped tightly.  This means that if you shape three loaves and they are at three different degrees of 'tightness':
one will be underproofed, one will be ready, and one will be overproofed ALL AT THE SAME TIME.

Both of the loaves in the video (for the tightness that they are) are overproofed.  I would guess that they are at least 15 minutes overproofed.  If mine got to that stage and were that loose, I would treat them like ciabatta and wouldn't score them so they deflate less.  Anyway, when you do score your next loaves I'd suggest not using a 'bird's beak' blade for now as it tugs on the dough.  If they are visibly wet on the top, dust them with flour or your blade will stick.    If you were scoring something cylindrical like a rolling pin, IT SHOULDN'T ROLL when you score it.  Your motion needs to be fast enough so as not to pull the rolling pin/dough.  Your left hand can stabilize it if you need to, as your right one does the scoring. 



Jane Clark's picture
Jane Clark

Thanks everyone for your help. I will make a loaf at 68-69% hydration, get a blade, keep all of these tips in mind, take a deep breath, fortify myself with wine, and, most of all, try to remember that it's only bread - I get to eat my mistakes. And thanks Mark for taking the time to clue me in on some of the nuances, it wouldn't have occurred to me to stabilize the loaf with my other hand, even if I watched you do it!


bbbakr's picture

The crusts on the top of my baguettes never turn a beautiful rich brown color.  However, the portion that rests on the baking stone does. The  top portion has good texture, though the "ears" always disappear during the baking process. The crumb has large random holes throughout and has good flavor.  Any ideas on why my baguette tops lack color and why the ears collapse would be greatly appreciated.

Jane Clark's picture
Jane Clark

After reading all the suggestiongs I got it right on the first try. Made a lower hydration loaf, got a fresh razor blade, but it was Mark's final suggestion that made the difference: the left hand stabilizes the loaf while the right hand slashes! I just watched a couple of videos all over again and my eye immediately caught the left hand in action. I had watched the videos before, but that never impacted my consciousness. Again, thanks Mark!

Dave323's picture

is also important. LOTS of practice. Might I suggest you make a batch of rolls instead of one loaf. If you make a dozen rolls, you get 12 tries at getting the slashing motions down, instead of just one. This helped me a lot.

Lolounette's picture

Another trick that may help to shape and score wetter dough is to shape right out of the fridge : the cold dough will appear dryer than it is because of the cold temp.

For example for baguettes I cut the dough in pieces right after I pull it from the fridge, then I preshape and let stand the pieces 10-15 minutes only. I proceed directly to the shaping which is then much more easy than if I had left the dough longer at room temp as usualy asked in recipies. 

After shaping I put the loafs on a "couche" (a thick piece of fabric dusted with flour)  for 2 1/2 h at room temp before scoring and I score the part that was in contact with the couche because it formed a drier skin that is easier to slash.

Good luck with your forthcoming loafs :)