The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Slashing 101

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Slashing 101

As a wood worker I have been sharpening my own tools for a long time. One thing I have learned is that the term "sharp" is relative and means many things to different people. A sharp drywall knife wouldn't cut butter very well but a sharp plane blade or chisel can be used to shave with. For a time I was learning how to cut tissue masks on photos so I could air brush and add artwork. (This was before Photoshop and computers in general but just a little after the invention of the car). Anyway I discovered that I could put a polished edge on an Exacto blade that was 10 times better than the way it came new, out of the package, and in about 2 minutes flat. The blades were sharper and smoother and they didn't tear the tissue. You can do the same thing today using a small piece of 600 grit sandpaper, glued to a sheet of glass and a piece of leather to polish the grooves after. I'll provide a photo later if anyone is interested. I bought a small magnifier to look at the sharp edge and you wouldn't believe how rough looking a new single edge blade looks.

Now that I am officially an amateur artisan baker, I have been trying to find a good way to slash my breads smoothly without leaving a wrinkle or distorting the surface. For me, it seems like it's easier to control a single edge razor held in my hand than anything long or remotely resembling a stick or stirrer. The blade will get snagged in the dough if it's slack enough to be sticky unless you oil it beforehand. I have also had luck using  a little water on the blade to help it glide. The speed of the slash seems to help if you can control it.

There also seem to be different schools of thought in regard to how deep to slash. Depending on the hydration level of the dough and the surface tension you have placed on the outer skin, the effect of a shallow slash can be quite different. Some seem to like to go over the slash again making a deep cut (1/2 inch) into the dough which results in a wide gaping valley that may fill in with oven spring. I recently read where it may be advisable to slash whole wheat doughs after the final forming so they proof with the slash and won't later deflate with a last minute slash.

Many of us seem to be having trouble deciding what works best in various situations. For the life of me, I don't get the need for a curved lame. I must be missing something on this one. The one thing I am sure of is that what ever you use it must be sharp (really really sharp)and clean.

I watched a video last week someone posted that showed some bakers in a commercial bakery slashing Baguettes. They were using something small held in the hand and quickly making long slashing movements. Quick and sure strokes. I tried that and it seemed to work for me but maybe a little questionable where the cuts would end.

This would be a good place for a video training aid. One for medium hydration french and another for whole wheat. Any one up for that?

Eric 

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

I think the curve in the double razor is to hold it taut (rigid), and keep it from flopping around.  I just made my first double edge lame using a bamboo skewer and a gillette blade.  I am slashing in style these days.  I have tried everything, one edge razors, exacto knives, seratted knives, (I had the best luck with a fish fillet knife), but this double edge lame that I made is "scary" sharp.

_______________________________________________________

Two wrongs don't make a right. Three lefts make a right

leemid's picture
leemid

And anything else you are willing to add. I am a sharp freak.

Have you tried 1200 grit sand paper?

Lee

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I like the double edge razor idea because they are thin and yes they are sharp! I might try that with a short handle. Does the curve have any effect in the cutting?

As far a sandpaper grade goes, it's been a while since I looked at it. You might be right on the grade. I have used everything down to rouge paper. There is a practical end point to sharpening based on the material being worked on. Inexpensive softer steel that is made for brief use is easy to sharpen and dulls quickly. Steak knives are a good example. Chicago Cutlery makes a great set that is easy to sharpen but they need a touch up after each meal. Others are harder and hold an edge longer but most people never get the sharp back once it is gone. I'll see if I can get a photo or at least a good description of my sharp station.

Eric

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

lame

lame made from bamboo skewer and blade

_______________________________________________________

Two wrongs don't make a right. Three lefts make a right

mkelly27's picture
mkelly27

 

the curve in the blade hardly comes into play as I use only one corner of the blade while slicing though the dough. It's really quite intuitive after struggling for so many years with dull things. 

_______________________________________________________

Two wrongs don't make a right. Three lefts make a right

Cooky's picture
Cooky

Eric, I for one would *love* a slashing tutorial. I have tried a homemade lame, single-edge blade, naked double-edge blade, and various other cutting implements, mostly with poor results. I been having somewhat better luck lately using a top-notch serrated bread knife, at least on sourdoughs. I'm still struggling with mucho-hydrated and wholegrain doughs.

It would be a fine start if anyone who already has a slashing video were to post it here -- or to list the link to an earlier post. I know we have had a few videos from TFLers (Floyd? JMonkey?), and links to other sites (like that French bakery piece you mentioned).

Also, any folks who are game to post clips showing their personal tcchniques would be doing us a solid. I'm not quite adept enough with the vidcam to record myself, but I know there are others here who can.

 

P.S. Maybe a slashing blog? Can they be set up so anyone can post pix/videos? 

 

 

 

"I am not a cook. But I am sorta cooky."

femmebaker's picture
femmebaker

I like the curved double sided lame for getting that perfect 30% under surface cut.. It makes the scores really POP out of the dough.. I find that the curve also adds better control so I don't make *crowns* on my french rounds.. lol    It also makes reverse cutting go just a little faster..  anything that saves wrist movement is great by me... 

SDbaker's picture
SDbaker

I haven't done the math but there seems to be something about drawing a straight line with a curved tool on a rounded surface.  The result appears to be more pronounced ears.  I have learned to lock my hand/wrist/arm and move them as a composite unit during the slash.  Had to break my habbit of cutting in a curve..much better results in a straight line and my slashes on yeasted doughs are much more shallow than I used to make.

A double sided razor blade will provide 4 cutting blades, assuming a good angle is used.

Hamelman's "Bread" has a decent write up on slashing, page 78+

SD Baker

beenjamming's picture
beenjamming

i've had some trouble finding an ideal slashing utensil, but have finally settled on some carpet cutting razors i found at my hardware store as the best. They're very thin and easy to control. I've had some issues them dulling, so I'm anxious to try your sandpaper trick to give it some bite. I usually wet the blad before i slash as well...it makes the slashing much easier. I'd be up for a video, but i'm far from an expert. It could fuel some interesting discussion at least.. 

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I have tried water just before slashing but the water falls off and I don't keep going back as I should. I have had better luck rubbing a little veg oil onto the blade first. It seems to hold and provide a slippery surface that doesn't catch the dough as I pull the blade across.

I'll have to look at that carpet cutter shape. That's probably a better grade of steel that would polish up well. You just know the Pro's don't screw around with high maintenance tools in a production environment. We need a simple, easily sharpened tool that will work on a dough with some skin.

Eric

BROTKUNST's picture
BROTKUNST

The blades one uses for slasing dough actually don't get 'dull' in the common sense - the edge corrodes and the blade then appears less sharp. It's not like the dough is wearing down the hardened blade.

 

In order to keep your dough blade sharp make sure to dry it after use - even if you don't use water. The organic acids in the dough and the water will create microscopic corrosion at the edge, nothing you would be able to see with your bare eye (rust spots). You may store it wax-paper or even dip it in oil.

 

I use one double edged razor blade now for several months and it's sharp like on the first day. I'm just cutting dough after all.

 

BROTKUNST

beenjamming's picture
beenjamming

brotkunst, right. I do always dry my blade after slashing with paper towels, but they still lost their edge. I think i will try keeping my blades in oil to keep it from oxidizing.

BROTKUNST's picture
BROTKUNST

If you have high(er) humidity in your kitchen you may also consider to store your blade in a small container filled with a little bit oil. You'd pick the blade up with a magnet. Of course you'd have to be sure that this would not be accessable to kids since the may not realize that there is a razor blade in the container. Either way, this would be a perfect storage for a blade in order to prevent corrosion.

 

Just a thought ...

 

BROTKUNST