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dmsnyder's picture

 Please Note: This tutorial has been updated extensively with additional material and new and improved videos. Here is a link to the updated Bread Scoring Tutorial: Scoring Bread: An updated tutorial

Scoring Bread


What is scoring?

“Scoring” is the word used to describe the cuts made in a loaf of bread before it is baked. Some breads are not scored. For example many loaves baked in pans are not. However, almost all free-formed “hearth breads” are scored.

When is scoring done?

Scoring is generally performed just prior to loading the loaves in the oven.

Why are breads scored?

The purpose of scoring is primarily to control the direction in which the bread will expand during “oven spring.” Intentionally creating a weak spot on the surface of the loaf prevents the loaf from bursting at weak spots created during shaping.

The pattern of cuts made, the angle at which they are made and the depth of the cuts also influence the rate of expansion and the formation of an “ear” - a raised flap of crust at the edge of a cut.

The pattern of cuts also can create a pleasing visual pattern on the surface of the loaf. While there are some very traditional patterns, for example for baguettes, the baker can use the scoring pattern to identify the type of bread or to create an unique pattern that identifies the loaf as coming from his or her oven.

The effects of scoring on loaf shape are discussed in more detail below.

How are breads scored?

Breads are scored with very sharp cutting implements. These may be straight or curved razor blades, which may be held in the hand or mounted on a handle. Scoring may be performed with other sharp, straight blades, even with a straight razor. Some bakers prefer serrated blades. Some examples are pictured below:


This is a “lame,” the French term for a razor blade used to score bread. This one is permanently mounted on a handle. Others are made with replaceable blades.

This lame holds the blade in a curved position. Others hold the blade straight. The curved lames are generally used for long breads like baguettes which are scored with cuts parallel to the long axis of the loaf. The cuts are made with the blade held at a shallow angle to the surface of the loaf, about 20-30 degrees or so. The blade is held with the concave surface facing up (away from the loaf). A flap of dough is created that will lift up to create an “ear” as the loaf expands and, by lifting gradually, slows the expansion of the loaf. This prolongs the time during which new areas of dough are exposed to the direct heat of the oven and results in greater overall expansion – a larger “bloom.”

Serrated knife

Serrated knife

Tomato knife

Tomato knife

These are examples of serrated, straight bladed knives. The first one is made expressly for scoring breads. The second one is manufactured as a “tomato knife,” but it is very sharp, holds its edge well and has been found to work very well for scoring bread.

Straight bladed knives are preferred for cuts made with the blade held perpendicular to the loaf's surface. This sort of cut is generally used for round loaves (“boules”). However, they can be used for the same kinds of cuts described above as well.

The angle the blade of the knife makes with the surface of the loaf is important in determining how the cut will open up. If you want the cuts to spread equally from the cut and to open quickly, the knife should be held vertically – at 90 degrees to the surface of the loaf. This type of cut is usually made ¼ to ½ inch deep.

Wrong lame position


If you want the cuts to spread more slowly and create an “ear,” the knife blade should be held at a shallow angle with the surface of the loaf, like this:

Correct lame position

This type of cut should be shallower than the cuts made with the blade vertical to the loaf – about ¼ inch deep. A deeper cut will result in the flap closing from its own weight rather than separating from the surface of the loaf to form an “ear.”

The scoring stroke should be firm, rapid, smooth and decisive. For the beginner, it may help to take “practice swings” or to visualize the movements and totally focus one's attention before making the cuts. Understanding the functions of scoring and the effects of the variables described can help, but there is no substitute for experience. In this respect, scoring bread is no different from an athletic skill or any other art or craft. (Tourist: “Please, sir, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?” New Yorker: “Practice, practice, practice.”)


The effect of scoring on loaf shape

Michael Suas, in his book "Advanced Bread & Pastry," provides some information about how scoring patterns influence loaf shape. Scoring is not just to make a visually pretty design on the top of a loaf. It is also how the baker controls the direction in which the loaf expands. This impacts the shape of the loaf cross section (rounder or more oval), the height of the loaf and, for a boule, whether it stays round or ends up more oblong.

According to Suas, long loaves like bâtards and baguettes are traditionally scored parallel to their long axis. This may be a single long cut or multiple cuts that are almost parallel and overlap somewhat (for ¼ to 1/3 of their length, generally).

Classic cuts

Classic Cut – Single and multiple cuts

However, for breads with high-rye content which have lower gluten and less oven spring, the traditional objective is to encourage a higher rise in the oven spring resulting in a rounder cross section. This is achieved by "sausage" or "chevron" cuts.

Sausage cut (on the left) and Chevron cut (on the right)

Sausage cut (on the left) and Chevron cut (on the right)

Boules are scored in a variety of patterns, again with differing effects on how the loaf expands. The common "tic-tac-toe" pattern and a simple cross will direct the expansion upward. More complex patterns like diamonds result in a relatively flatter loaf.

Boule with tic tac toe

Boule scored with “tic-tac-toe” pattern

One of most interesting effects is that scoring a boule with multiple parallel cuts encourages expansion at a right angle to the cuts. This results in an oblong loaf shape.


What's the point of an ear? Controlled bloom!

This topic is not about the auricular anatomy of elves (or Vulcans). It's about scoring breads.

Scoring loaves creates a visually pleasing pattern, and it helps control the expansion of the loaf as it bakes.

These San Francisco Sourdough breads illustrate a more "advanced" aspect of scoring that is alluded to by both Hamelman (in "Bread") and Suas (in "Advanced Bread & Pastry.")

San Francisco Sourdough Breads (from Peter Reinhart's "Crust & Crumb")


Detail of bâtard crust, with "ear," grigne" & "bloom."


What Suas called "the classic cut" is parallel to the long axis of a baguette or a bâtard. The cut is made with the blade at a shallow angle to the surface of the loaf. The cut should be shallow - about 1/4 inch deep. Paradoxically, this shallow cut results in the flap lifting better than a deeper cut would, thus forming a nice "ear." Hamelman (pg. 80) points out that "a deep cut will simply collapse from its own weight."

The angle is also important. "If the angle is not achieved and the cut is done with the blade vertical to the loaf, the two sides of the dough will spread very quickly during oven spring and expose an enormous surface area to the heat. The crust will begin to form too soon - sometimes before the end of oven spring - penalizing the development of the bread. If the cut is properly horizontal, the sides of the loaf will spread slower. The layer of dough created by the incision will partially and temporarily protect the surface from the heat and encourage a better oven spring and development." (Suas, pg. 116.)

The second photo, above, illustrates a fairly nice "ear," but it also shows that the bloom occurred slowly, as it should. Notice that the color of the crust in the opening has 3 distinct degrees of browning, decreasing from left to right. The darker part on the left obviously opened first and was exposed to the direct heat of the oven for longer. If the bloom occurred too rapidly, it would have a more even coloration.

This boule was slashed with the blade held at 90 degrees to the surface of the loaf. Note the even coloration of the bloomed crust.

In summary, in order to achieve an optimal bloom in baguettes and bâtards, one must attend to 3 variables when scoring them:

  1. The cuts should be almost parallel to the long axis of the loaf.

  2. The blade should be held at about a 30 degree angle to the surface of the loaf.

  3. The depth of the cut should be shallow - about 1/4 inch.

Variable shading of the bloomed crust confirms that the desired slow but prolonged opening of the cut during oven spring occurred.

Happy baking!


P.S. I have made a video version of this tutorial. It was my first attempt at editing a video. I am not delighted with the quality, but I hope I can show it and, maybe, get some help improving it. Here is the link: (for slow connections) (for broadband, e.g., DSL or cable)


SylviaH's picture

I printed out a recipe for this Danish Pastry dough and made the recipe:  I was not happy with the way the dough came out at seemed way to stiff from the beginning and it had some brown sugar in it...which seemed strange....the dough just did not handle easily for me.  They did not bake right for me at all.  After making these I went back to the site where I 'thought I had copied the recipe'...It had a different recipe on it!!  I looked at my copy of the recipe...only to discover I had printed out a recipe from another site...Ooooh!  I knew there was something odd when I saw the brown sugar ingredient!!  Though these are very tastey...they are not what a Danish should be at least to me anyway...though they used my good butter,organic flour, ect...I will not repeat this recipe or mistake copying again...hopefully!  This recipe below is from Epicurious.  The one I wanted was from 'Joe'  I have not made it before and wanted to try it....

I also have another recipe for Danish Pastry that I have the dough almost finished...I will post pictures later today...hopefully..they will turn out to be a little I'm just a novice baker... the recipe is not from Joe's another different recipe...I know it makes a nice Danish Pastry!!  I just hope I can have a successful bake with the next batch!  I have made Danish Pastry once before it was a sourdough recipe...I made bearclaws and fruit danish with was pretty good!

Danish Pastry is made with yeast.  I used Cherries and Apricot for the topping with a sugar fondant drizzle.

The dough just before rolling out and cutting>>>you can see the butter peaking through>>>not good!! 
The dough was started last nite.  One good thing my new camera now automatic sets the image size...that's a big help posting.

We ate some and they are really good!!  But as I said not what they should be like!!

I hope the next recipe turns out more like a Danish should....this seemed more like a puff pastry than a danish pastry....


SylviaH's picture

Thanks for the help, explaining and incouragement 'dmsnyder' from your post on this subject......I was having a little practice run on slashing...on Susan's Sourdough little boules...I was asked earlier to post before bake photo's..they were beginning to open up on the slashes from sitting to get this photo...the only thing I have maybe improved a little on is I'm slashing without much hesitation...I would like to take a loaf and make about 20 slashes in it just for practice... it's one of my favorite things to do when making bread!!  I haven't decided if I like my little red tomato knife or my double edge razor best for slashing...I'am leaning towards the razor...because I don't tend to go as deep...the knife seems to make the slashes a little wider and I tend to go cut deeper!! And then there's all the other things that come in to play with how the slashing turns out...steaming, dough ect., ect....practice!! : ) 


 MEOW!!!  I still need a lot of practice!!  Looks like two cats ears!! : )  Sylvia 

dmsnyder's picture

On Decembeer 31, 2008 ...

Norm's Onion Rolls

Norm's Onion Rolls (and a lone kaiser roll)

and ...

Apple Crunch

Apple Crunch, from the Summer Shack Cookbook

And, on January 1, 2009, I baked ...

San Francisco Sourdough from Reinhart's "Crust&Crumb"

San Francisco Sourdough from Reinhart's "Crust & Crumb"

The sourdough was delicious with lentil soup and a salad.


ejm's picture

Happy New Year!!

festive bread

In past years, I've made sweet saffron buns for Christmas. But after tasting the recently made semi-wild challah, we both agreed that while the saffron adds a lovely colour and flavour, it doesn't add quite enough flavour to merit the expense of using the saffron. We decided to forego the saffron and make plain sweet bread (we used the saffron in our shrimp for New Year's Eve dinner instead).

Saffron-less bread is delicious!! (Saffron shrimp is equally delicious!)

And I must say that I'm awfully pleased with myself for managing to do the six strand braid correctly - after reading, rereading, testing with string, reading, rereading the braiding section in Blessing of Bread by Maggie Glezer.

I had planned on putting together a little photo essay of the six strand braiding but right now, I think I neeeeeed to head down to begin New Year's Day celebrations. Hmmm, shall we start with Festive bread?


braiding festive bread

If you can't wait, please look here:

chahira daoud's picture
chahira daoud

Hello dear fresh loafers, I really did miss you all!!

I wanted to wish you all a very happy new year!!

I was totally busy,but always in my kitchen , I am always have a recipe for Mr. Peter Reinhart to test , I had also my first "daring bakers" challenge, It was horrible challenge, you can check my blog to read and watch some pics of my final product!!

I want you also to congratulate me, my second attempt for wild yeast started to look sucssesful one , but I have to start using it and bake!!

Yesterday , I made a chicken and vegetables pie, and I want to share the pics with you , it was really delicious!!

Here it is a slice for the first reply on my post!!



I also made some japanese melon buns, here you are some pics..

But still do not know why it is called " melon buns"???

Anyway it was not really very distinguished, nothing special in it....

I made at the same day some baguettes...

I am also planning to start my first sourdough baguettes...

Wish me good luck!!

Happy new year for all and wish to you all the best !!!



SylviaH's picture

I made 4 Sourdough Boules today and totally messed up the recipe '

'big time' making the first two large ones in the back of the photos...the ones with the nice cracks.  They sang loud and clear!  I rescued them by just going pretty much on the feel of the dough and cheated with a little added yeast... My husband said that they were his favorite kind of bread to eat!!  Go figure!!  Well they did have a very crunchy crackly crust and a very tender light crumb...the flavor was very mild sourdough flavor with the nice flavor plus from the new 12 grain flour KA mixture I been using for a little extra fiber and flavor.  They went nice with the chili con carne made with small red beans I soaked the nite before...I got a new camera for Christmas and wanted to try out these photos...hey I did pretty good...but I think I still better read the instructions!!  Just not enough hours in the day!


SylviaH's picture

 I used K.A. Organic 12 - Grain Flour Blend...Wheat, Amaranth, Quinoa, Sorghum, Brown Rice, Spelt, Barley, Millet, Oats, Rye, Buckweat, Corn.  to replace some..about a cup of the bread flour in P.R. Italian Bread recipe with a Biga...  I thought it's time to start sweeping out some of the Holiday feasting and this would be a beginning!  The bread tastes has a sweet toasty flavor.


PMcCool's picture

Time to catch up a bit from the Christmas whirl.  Last weekend, I baked Leader's pain au levain again, from his Local Breads.  I keep coming back to this bread, because of it's lovely flavor.  It is only mildly sour and the rye and whole wheat components add to the depth of flavor.  Since temperatures in my kitchen were hovering in the 63-65F range, it also benefitted from a long, slow fermentation.  Here is a picture of the finished loaves:

Leader's pain au levain

The slashing suffered from a lack of mental mise en place.  I'l have to pay better attention to that in future.

Here's a shot of the crumb:

Crumb of pain au levain

The crumb is great for sandwiches and for holding spreads, but a bit fine-grained for this style of bread.  I'm still working to get all of the factors done right in a single loaf.  This one has great flavor.  I thought it had ample hydration, but it could probably have been pushed a bit higher.  And my handling during shaping was a bit ham-fisted.  One of these days . . .

The second bread on the agenda last weekend was Reinhart's New York Deli Rye, from BBA.  No complaints about the bread itself; it is a moist, flavorful (I substituted dill seed for caraway seed), sturdy bread and makes wonderful sandwiches.  The only quibble, which is purely cosmetic, is the blotchiness on the crust caused by the oiled plastic wrap that I draped over the pans to keep the dough from drying during it's final proof, as seen here:

Reinhart's NY deli rye

And, since I was on a sourdough kick and had company coming, I also made the sourdough English muffins from the KAF 200th Anniversary Cookbook.  I never got around to snapping a picture of those.  They turned out very well.  I think I finally got the right combination of hydrations, time to rise, and griddle temperature.  They ballooned up to more than an inch in thickness, without trying to turn into spheres.  There are plenty of nooks and crannies for trapping melting butter or juicy jams.  They are so moist that they require a second pass through the toaster to brown up enough.

Sometimes it is hard to decide which is better: the enjoyment of making bread, or the enjoyment of eating it.

SylviaH's picture

I used my Buttermilk Bundt Cake recipe and added fresh/frozen cranberries and topped with cinnamon, brown sugar streusel with a sprinkel of swedish pearl sugar.   RECIPE CORRECTION:  Should read 1 1/3 Cups of Buttermilk in the Batter!

Happy Holidays, Sylvia 


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