Come, trusty sword;
Come, blade, my [bread] imbrue
– William Shakespeare (mostly)
I don’t know why it came as such a surprise to me to recall that it was I who signed up for the BBBs’ August 2020 project! (You’d think I would have learned by now to mark these things in my calendar. It’s not as if there isn’t plenty of room on each day….)
At the time I signed up, I had a great idea about what we would bake. And of course, when it came to telling the others what we would actually do this month, I’d forgotten what that was…. But no matter. Back in June, in the BBBabes’ FB forum, Judy posted this fabulous scoring tutorial:
I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
So much so that, even though I have a stunningly beautiful curved lame already, I looked into how to get a straight bladed lame (short of actually taking the risk of holding a naked razor blade).
I considered using a box cutter. I also considered using a straight razor – why yes, we do have several straight razors, ever since T decided that buying disposable razor blades was too expensive. (Let’s just pretend that we don’t know that his obsession with straight razors could easily have funded several years worth of disposable razors….)
June got warm. T loves popsicles. We wilted our way to the corner store and, masked, entered to buy a popsicle – the kind with two sticks, so we could make our own handle for a straight bladed lame. (There are beautiful wooden handles available online but all of them are exceedingly expensive for an experiment that may fail.)
With a few little nuts and bolts from the hardware store, T joined the sticks together. The top part of the blade seemed quite dangerous. Electrician’s tape is the perfect solution. And a container for hanging the straight edged lame on the wall? A container for picture-hanging hooks is perfect.
Using his knotting skills, T tied the sticks together. We were going to just go with that (dipping the ends of the strings in glue to stop them from unravelling), but then we suddenly neeeeeeded to go to the hardware store to get little nuts and bolts.
We decided that the popsicle sticks needed staining. How handy that we have brown scuff coat for shoes!
Also, the top part of the blade seemed quite dangerous. Electrician’s tape is the perfect solution.
And a container for hanging the straight edged lame on the wall? A picture hanging hooks container is perfect.
BBB Adventures in Scoring diary:
5 June 2020: I looked in various books on our shelves (Carol Field, Susan McKenna Grant, Maggie Glezer, Rose Levy Beranbaum, David Norman) to see how others made ciabatta. I made copious notes. Then I got distracted making the BBBabes’ Pain de Mie for June.
19 June 2020: At last I got back to the scoring adventure. I had fun drawing my pattern for a round slack dough to be baked on the pizza stone on the barbecue.
Executing the pattern on the bread seemed very easy. The blade went right through like butter!
We baked the bread on the stone in the barbecue. But oh dear. I see I scored the stems of the wheat sheaves a little too deeply.
The heat got away from us….
Ooops!! A little black on one side, and pitch black on the bottom. Time for the grater – the technique that we thought we had invented….
Then draw them out, and either rasp them with a rasp or chip them with a knife, but the former is the most convenient, and is done with the greatest expedition. When you work it up with the second liquor, you may, if you please, break in two ounces of butter.
– W. A. Henderson, The Housekeeper’s Instructor, or Universal Family Cook, 5th edition, c. 1795
[R]olls are baked very hard, then the burnt crust rasped off, as a method of making bread of a special and peculiar sweetness.
– ‘The Bakers’ ABC, ed. John Kirkland, 1927
Take a gallon of fine flour, and a pint of good new ale barm or yeast, and put it to the flour, with the whites of six new laid eggs well beaten in a dish, and mixt with the barm in the middle of the flour, also three spoonfuls of fine salt; then warm some milk and fair water, and put to it, and make it up pretty stiff, being well wrought and worked up, cover it in a bowl or tray with a warm cloth till your oven be hot; then make it up either in rouls, or fashion it in little wooden dishes and bake it, being baked in a quick oven, chip it hot.
– Robert May, The Accomplisht Cook, 1685 (first published 1660)
29 June 2020, 13:17: I mixed dough for Ciabatta at 75% hydration. At least that was my plan at first. Maybe it was a little more than 75% because the dough seemed dry before I mixed in the salt.
29 June 2020, 13:48: I’ve been reading about adding water drop by drop to up the hydration. I added 35 grams more water to make it 85% hydration. I may have neglected to add the water drop by drop. Or rather, the drops were BIG drops. The dough is pretty sloppy….
15:27 It is still pretty sloppy and there is no sign of any bubbles.
17:37 Oh oh. maybe it was a big mistake to make things so so sloppy! The dough is more like batter than ever and there are hardly any bubbles.
Ooops! Too much flour….
At 85% hydration (or more, considering the little bit extra before adding the giant drop by giant drop of water, the dough was extremely slack. Extremely. I don’t recommend it….
19:07 I put way too much flour on before scoring and didn’t manage to cut through the dough because the flour was so thick. Hence the unintended split.
Not my finest hour.
But, I’m happy to report that the bread itself wasn’t terrible.
5 July 2020: Fougasse – the dough was fantastic – not too wet, not to dry, ju-u-u-st right.
Alas, the scoring was not quite up to spec. The bread was good though….
15 August 2020, 18:02: What?! How can it be the middle of August already?! I have too much time on my hands and can’t quite grasp onto any sort of schedule…. Not to mention that I have been distracted by the ridiculous heat.
I had great plans to improve my slack dough scoring skills before the 16th. I was so thrilled at the idea of acing this.
I’ve just shaped 75% hydration dough into a triangular loaf to try my hand at decorative scoring again. I’ll endeavour NOT to add too much flour to the top of the bread!
20:51: Waaahhhh. Back to the drawing board for me.
While the scoring didn’t go so well, I’m happy to report that sitting in the garden was lovely. It was quiet and still with only the raucous noises from the cicadas to interrupt the stillness.
And. The bread tasted delicious dipped in herbed olive oil and served with barbecued chicken, charred green onions (maybe a little too charred??), Ontario corn, rapini, and zucchini ribbon salad garnished with nasturtiums from our garden. The nasturtiums were from our garden. Not the zucchini… we got them from the farmers’ market that is FINALLY open.
I must say that I’m tempted to simply use Chad Robertson’s method of letting the bread find its own place to split. But, we do have two stunningly perfect lames! As well as ridiculously sharp paring knives. And good kitchen scissors too.
Therefore, I guess I had better re-read the relevant part of Michel Suas’ book Advanced Bread and Pastry. It has a terrific section on traditional scoring, using either straight or curved blades.
But for this month’s decorated bread, it’s not really about creating an ear or directing the rise. It’s about about decorating the bread with shallow knife cuts. Please use whatever slack dough recipe you like. Here is a suggestion that can be made into a boule, ciabatta, or fougasse:
Slack Dough Bread for Decorating
Overnight Leavener (start around 9pm)
- 50 grams whole wheat flour
- 50 grams water
- dessert spoon of starter from the fridge (about 40 grams)
9am until noon Leavener (because starter is too active to make bread for dinner without firing up the barbecue in the middle of the day)
- All of above
- 15 grams 100% whole wheat flour
- 15 grams water
- 320 grams unbleached all-purpose flour
- 10 grams wheat germ
- 5 grams malted barley chops
- sploosh olive oil (about a tablespoon, or roughly 15 grams)
- 220 grams water (plus more if it seems too dry)
- 20 grams water + 7 grams salt
- all-purpose flour
- Leavener: In the evening of the day before making the bread: Put the starter, flour and water into a smallish bowl. Mix with a wooden spoon until the flour is stirred in well. Cover the bowl with a plate and set aside overnight in the oven with only the light turned on. Unless it is ridiculously hot in the kitchen. In that case, leave the oven light turned off.
- Leavener, continued: In the morning of the day you will be making the bread, if it is ridiculously hot in the kitchen: Using a wooden spoon, stir 15 grams of whole wheat flour and 15 grams of water into the leavener bowl. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter until about noon
- Mix the dough When a small forkful of the leavener floats in a small bowl of room temperature water, you can go ahead and mix the dough: Put flour, wheat germ, malted barley chops, olive oil, all but 20 grams water, and the leavener into a large mixing bowl. Use a dough whisk or wooden spoon to mix these ingredients together to make a rough dough. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter for about 30 minutes.
- Adding the salt: In a small bowl, whisk the salt into the final 20 grams water. Pour the salt mixture over the dough.
- Kneading: Use one of your hands to squoosh the salt and water into the dough; use the other hand to steady the bowl – this way you always have a clean hand. At first the dough might be a bit messy and seem like it’s coming apart. Persevere. Suddenly, it will seem more like dough than a horrible separated glop. Keep folding it over onto itself until it is relatively smooth. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 30 minutes.
- Stretching and folding the dough: Turn the bowl as you fold and re-fold the dough into the center. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave on the counter (or if the kitchen is cool like ours in winter and spring, into the oven with only the light turned on). Repeat the folding step about 3 times in all at 30 minute intervals. You’ll notice that after each time, the dough will feel significantly smoother. After the final time of folding, the dough is probably ready to pre-shape.
- Preparing the Pattern: Draw a circle on a piece paper and roughly sketch the design you would like to achieve.
- Pre-shaping: If you are going to make a round loaf (if you are making ciabatta, skip this step): Scatter a dusting of all-purpose flour on the board and gently place the dough on the flour. Fold the dough over in half, gently patting off any extra flour that might be there. Continue folding in half until the dough is shaped in a ball. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for about 30 minutes.
- Round Loaf: Without breaking the skin, use the dough scraper on the sides to tighten the dough ball further. Once it has been tightened, put the shaped loaf seam-side down on a parchment papered tray.
- Ciabatta or Fougasse: Scatter a dusting of all-purpose flour on the board and very gently place the dough on the flour. Fold the dough over in half, gently patting off any extra flour that might be there.
Cover with the tea towel or an overturned mixing bowl and let sit for an hour or so to allow the loaf to almost double. “Almost” is the key here….
- Preheating the oven: To know when it’s time to bake, run your index finger under water and gently but firmly press it on the side of the bread. If the dough springs back immediately, recover the bread and leave it on the counter for another 15 minutes of so. If the dough gradually returns back after being pressed, leave the tray on the counter. Put a baking stone on the middle shelf of the oven. Place a large stainless steel mixing bowl on the sotne and preheat the oven to 400F.
- Scoring: When the oven is preheated about fifteen minutes later, lightly spray the loaf with water, then using a sieve, scatter all-purpose flour over the loaf and gently pat away any excess. Using your design as a guide, score the loaf. Remember that the deeper the score, the wider the final opening will be. (For fougasse, be sure to cut right through to the bottom in at least 2 places.
- Baking: Using a peel, transfer the bread to the stone and immediately put the hot overturned mixing bowl on top as a lid. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and, without stopping to stare in amazement at the fantastic design, close the oven door to continue baking for another 30 minutes, until the crust is a lovely dark golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when knuckle-rapped on the bottom.
- Cooling: When the bread has finished baking, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool on a footed rack before slicing and eating; the bread is still cooking internally when first removed from the oven! If you wish to serve warm bread (of course you do), reheat it after it has cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.
Measuring units: It’s significantly easier to measure ingredients by weight. A digital scale is ideal, but a spring scale also works. If you do not have a scale, please look at this excellent online resource from Gourmet Sleuth: Cooking Conversions Calculator
Salt: There’s a very good reason to weigh the salt, rather than use volume measures. For more raving about this, please see Salt is salt, right?
Leavener: Our starter (aka culture) for making the leavener is a 100% hydration, liquid levain. It takes about 5 days to create. (Please see our take on Jane Mason’s Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.) In the hot summer, we’ve learned that our leavener can be quite active. We find that with the extra warmth in the kitchen, dough made with it tends to rise very quickly. Therefore, we feed it late at night and again in the morning.
Scoring Implement: As long as it is sharp sharp sharp, any blade will do, whether it is a bonafied lame, a paring knife, razor blade, or scissors. For decorative scoring, apparently it is best to have a straight blade rather than a curved one.
Baking: If the weather is painfully hot, the bread can be baked in the barbecue: Put a pizza stone onto the grill and preheat the barbecue to high. Using a peel, transfer the shaped and scored bread onto the hot stone that is sitting over direct heat and close the lid to the barbecue. Cook for about 10 minutes, and check to see if the crust is getting too dark. If so, turn the heat down to medium high. Use the peel to turn the bread around from time to time – to account for uneven heat. (Hot Spots!!!). Then move the stone over to cook with indirect heat (lid down again) until the bread is done …our gas barbecue can be turned off on one side. Watch for hotspots and turn the bread around to keep it from burning on one side. If the bread is on the thin side (like fougasse), it will take about half an hour at most.
Bread Baking Babes
Congratulations for enduring to here! As you know, I am hosting August 2020’s Bread Baking Babes’ project.
And we know that in spite of fear of slack dough and/or sharp blades, you’ll want to experiment with scoring too! To receive a Baking Buddy Badge to display on your site: score slack dough in the next couple of weeks and post about it (we love to see how your bread turns out AND hear what you think about it – what you didn’t like and/or what you liked) before the 29 August 2020.
Here’s how to let us know:
- email me
» Remember to include your name and a link to your post
» Please type “BBB August 2020 bread” in the subject heading
Please note that it’s not enough to post about your bread in the Facebook group. Because of the ephemeral nature of Facebook’s posts, your FB post may be lost in the shuffle. Please email if you want to be included.
If you don’t have a blog or flickr-like account, no problem; we still want to see and hear about your bread! Please email me with the details, so your scoring adventure can be included in the roundup too.
For complete details about this month’s project, the BBB and how to become a BBBuddy, please read:
- BBB Kitchen of the month: Me, blog from OUR kitchen | August 2020
- BBBuddy guidelines
- about the BBBabes
Please take a look at the other BBBabes’ August 2020 Scoring Adventures.
- Aparna, My Diverse Kitchen: Baker’s Percentage and Scoring Adventures
- Cathy, Bread Experience: Take the Plunge into Decorative Bread Scoring #BreadBakingBabes
- Judy, Judy’s Gross Eats: Adventures in Slashing and Scoring
- Karen, Karen’s Kitchen Stories: Decorative Bread Scoring: First Attempt
- Katie (BBBBB), Thyme for Cooking: Bread Baking Babes Score Bigly
- Kelly, A Messy Kitchen: #BBB Get Fancy with Decorative Scoring
- Pat (aka Elle), Feeding My Enthusiasms: When Life Gets in the Way; A Golden Bread With Scoring
- Tanna, My Kitchen in Half Cups: BBB ~ Beet Bread
Things I’ve learned about scoring so far
Michel Suas writes that there are three main reasons to score: 1.) “overall aesthetics”, 2.) to purposely create weak points on the surface of the dough to cause the loaf’s oven spring to be greater, and 3.) to create specific places for for CO2 to escape during oven spring.
Suas also notes that many different blades can be used, from curved lames, razor blades (Suas says this is most common), knives, and scissors. He adds that sharpness and blade cleanliness are the keys to the best result. He suggests storing the blade in a cup of clean water by oven at scoring time.
[S]coring bread dough with decorative cuts serves an important purpose: it guides a loaf to rise in a consistent, controlled, and optimal manner. But from there, let your creativity run free. As the old saying goes: we eat first with our eyes. A single or double slash promotes a large opening but a series of small, delicate slashes creates a more intricate design. Stars, leaves, flowers, geometric shapes of all kinds […] Dusting the top of your loaves with flour prior to scoring will ensure maximum contrast between white flour and dark, baked crust. I prefer to use a mixture of 50% white rice flour and 50% all-purpose flour. White rice flour has a higher scorch temperature that helps it retain a stark white color, even after prolonged time in the oven.
– Maurizio Leo, King Arthur Flour | Flourish: Bread Scoring Techniques: Creative, Decorative 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 cuts should generally be 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. A wet, sticky dough requires a more shallow cut than one would make in a dryer dough.
– David, The Fresh Loaf | Scoring Bread
Most loaves are scored just before oven loading, but […] [d]oughs made from flour with poor gluten quality, like rye flour, should be cut after the shaping to avoid deflating dough that is more fragile after the final proof. Dense doughs, like multigrain, can also be cut after shaping to better hold the design on the loaf surface after the baking.
– Michel Suas, Advanced Bread and Pastry
[T]he scoring of the bread isn’t only about controlling the direction. […] [P]atterns are used for two main reasons. First, you do that for creating pleasing visual patterns. […] Second, patterns are used to identify the types of bread.
[I]t is challenging to score a warm dough. […] The best thing you can do is to put it in the fridge and let it be cold. The cold dough is firm. You can score it creatively and in any specific way you want. The difficult patterns you usually see on the bread are made on the cold dough.
[C]uts should be firm, rapid, and smooth. Scoring the bread slowly will only devastate its whole appearance. […] [T]he cuts should be 1/4 to 1/2 inches deep only. It is possible to go more than that, depending on what you are making, but this is the average ratio you should opt for.
When it comes to scoring the round loaf, the knife should be held vertically. This is the more appropriate position for the round loaf. In other words, the blade should be at 90 degrees to the surface. On the other hand, if you are working on a long loaf, in a way, you are trying to create an ‘ear’. The angle of the blade should be 20-30 degrees. This will lift up the bread as the loaf expands.
– George, Breadopedia | How Do You Score Bread?
It may help to wet the knife blade between the slashes, especially if your dough is sticky. […] You can also draw a pattern on a sheet of paper before you try to apply it to your bread dough.
Some scoring is completed with a straight blade. Many bakers prefer the straight blade when they make cuts perpendicular to the top of the dough. This cut is mostly used for round-shaped bread.
A curved blade will work better on other shapes, such as the long-shaped loaves. Scoring on a long-shaped bread is normally done parallel to the long sides of the loaf. […] Scoring impacts the shape of your bread, how high it will bake, and for some varieties whether or not it will stay round or become oblong.
An example of scoring for long-shaped loaves should be in the direction of the long side of the loaf. By scoring a long-shaped bread somewhat parallel to its side will promote sideways expansion.
– George, Breadopedia | The Purpose of Scoring Bread
Tools that can be used to slash loaves must be very sharp and include straight or scalloped (but not serrated) knives, a baker’s lame […] held in a tool called a grignette, or even an actual razor blade. If using the latter, a dirt cheap grignette can be made using one of those wooden stirrers found in coffee shops. Whatever you use, please be sure to keep your fingers safe from deep and painful cuts, when fixing the blade or slashing the dough.
– Chris Young, Slow Dough: Real Bread, Equipment, p23
To make proper scores you really need an ultra sharp razor blade and something to hold it. The holder is called a lame or a baker’s lame. There is no practical reason to get an expensive or specialty lame, […] [Y]ou can easily tinker one together with two round pieces of wood, a screw and a nut. […] The last thing that’s important is to be able to maneuver the dough around so you don’t have to score at weird angels. It’s much easier to from the top to the bottom, than trying to cut from the bottom to the top with the lame upside down. A cake turntable or a lazy susan is great for this. […] A way to learn how to practice sourdough bread scoring is to practice the movements that go into actually doing the actual scores, but without using a dough. It makes it easier to practice often, if you only bake once a week.
– Food Geek, Sourdough Bread Scoring Tutorial
English professional bakers don’t use any special knife for making the cuts in their loaves. The French usually use razor blades of one kind or another. The essential is a sharp, short blade, say 4 inches or 5 inches for the average loaf. Use the knife decisively, making the cuts with firm clean strokes. Second thoughts are seldom successful. Once the dough has been cut it will show timid or wavering knife marks – provided, that is, that the cuts take at all – and the crust of the baked loaf will look like a map. And it is not much help at this stage in the life of the dough to attempt pressing and pulling and shoving it into a different shape. As French bakers say, ‘Le pain n’aime pas être tripoté’ bread dough doesn’t like being [pawed or fiddled with]
– Elizabeth David, English Bread and Yeast Cookery, Bread | The Cuts on the Crust, p265-266
Ha. Maybe one day, I’ll master scoring. In the meantime, I’ll take comfort with Salvadore Dali’s words:
No tengas miedo a la perfección; nunca lo alcanzarás. [Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.]
– Salvador Dali
edit 31 August 2020: Please see the BBB Scoring Adventures followup: More Scoring Adventures (BBBuddies and BBBabes August 2020)
» Lame Scoring
» more lame scoring
» Wordless Not-Wednesday: scoring experiment
» A box grater isn’t just for cheese….
» Wordless Not-Wednesday: Birds of a Feather
» Pear Bread (bookmarked recipe) (2010)
» Catching up: Coccodrillo one more time (BBB March 2008)
» fougasse IS different from focaccia! (BBB October 2011)
» Barbari Bread: hand-kneading fun (BBB June 2013)
» Ring! Ring! Bread with Flaxseed Soaker and Prunes (BBB May 2015)
» Kneading Slack Dough by Hand Revisited
» And we have a new pet…. (successfully capturing wild yeast)