Scoring Bread Dough: How, When & Why Do It

A blade or sharp knife is used to score the dough to allow it to expand when baked.

Basically, you’re trying to control the direction the bread expands during “oven spring.” Easier said than done.

As soon as I scored my first loaf, I realized that. It got worse after that. Confidence is key to scoring bread.

There are times when you feel confident and other times when you don’t. If you hesitate, your loaf will tear, so you can forget about picking it up by the ear.

You can help yourself with these tips:

  • It’s best to hold the knife blade at about 0.6 cm deep, at a shallow angle (about 30 degrees). That’ll make an ear.
  • Let the knife handle it. Make sure the dough doesn’t get pressed down.
  • If you’re working with sticky dough, wet the blade between slices.
  • Make sure you have a sharp blade or knife
  • You need to make swift, confident cuts, while being gentle at the same time.
  • Put in the work, practice, practice, bake, bake, bake, score, score, score!

Why Are Artisan-Style Loaves Of Bread Scored?

When dough isn’t enriched with milk, sugar, oil, or eggs, it tends to rise quite a bit in the oven. Oven heat causes the dough to expand and produce even more air bubbles.

As the crust is forming, it’s often broken open by this rapid expansion called “oven spring”.

A random rupture of the crust can be quite beautiful, and that’s actually how whole rye bread and cornbread are usually made.

When making artisan-style, strong-gluten loaves, people usually score the dough with a razor just before baking with a lame, a holder that holds the razor.

Here are some tips from other bakers:

You should draw out your pattern on paper before you use it. It’s like someone did it with a paper towel roll before they tried it on a baguette.

Just before scoring, some people spray their knives with oil or cooking spray. You should give this a try; it cuts just that little bit easier through the dough with spray oil.

It’s easier to score with a serrated knife if you’re new to baking, but a razor blade is better. When you cut the dough, the blade should be at about a 45° angle.

If you shape your loaves carefully before proofing, you might be able to develop surface tension.

There’s no explanation of how to shape the dough before putting it in the t8m for proofing. If your current method doesn’t work for you, try a couple of other shaping techniques.

What’s The Point Of Scoring Bread?

Whenever you bake bread at home, there’s a vague step right before you put the loaf in the oven:

Make a score on the bread. What’s the point of scoring bread? What’s the best way to score bread? Why would you score? How does it work?

Let’s start with the basics. Basically, scoring is cutting into the dough before you bake it. You know, the kind of bread that has a crackly crust and a tender interior, like crusty white bread or sourdough boules.

Oven spring is what happens when the loaf expands in the oven.

Food & Wine interviewed Tartine baker Chad Robertson in 2017 about how not cutting the dough leaves the loaf with a blowout.

“If you cut it, it will expand to its full volume, so the slash keeps it from expanding as much.” Scoring can also be an aesthetic thing.

Various bakers use different markings to score their loaves, so they become artistic signatures.

During an email interview, Martin Philip, a baker with King Arthur Baking Company, explained scoring in more detail.

“Scoring tells the dough where to open, creating a more beautiful loaf and ensuring the loaf expands to its maximum.” Yay! That’s what we want in a loaf of bread. The question is, how?

What To Use To Score Bread

It’s easiest to score bread with a sharp tool. You can snip lines into the unbaked bread ball with a paring knife or kitchen scissors.

You can also use a bread lame, a tool professional bakers use to score bread. A razor blade is attached to a handle so you can maneuver it easily.

As long as you’re careful, you can even use a razor blade without a handle. Like King Arthur’s black walnut lame or double-sided lame, Martin Philip prefers a simple lame with a metal or wood handle.

Here’s How To Score The Bread

You’re ready to start scoring your dough and baking your bread now that you’ve got your scoring tool. Slash marks into the bread slowly and steadily in a simple pattern.

Make sure you cut it all the way through. When I bake sourdough bread at home, I’ve often tried scoring it, but a little crust has popped up somewhere else. There’s a tendency to score too lightly.

According to Philip, it’s essential to cut at least a quarter inch deep into the skin, whatever the type of loaf.

Do you want to recreate those super-attractive loaves you see on Instagram? You don’t have to make fancy patterns at first.

Scores are primarily for releasing the loaf. Many people focus on decorative patterns that don’t release the loaf,” Philip said. “For best results, cut a cross, box, or crosshatch pattern.”

How Should I Score?

How you score depends on both the dough’s characteristics and what you want the final look to be.

How much a dough will open or “bloom” along its cuts depends on the strength of its gluten, how moist it is, and how long you let it proof.

There’s usually a lot of oven spring in dough with a lot of gluten, or when the dough is dry or under proofed.

When paired with a decorative design of small cuts, such as one deep slash and a shallow series of cuts like a wheat stalk, big cuts can absorb the force by themselves.

You’ll see your pattern burst open if you don’t make a deep cut if you do an intricate pattern.

It’s usually less springy when the dough has low gluten, is wet, or is over proofed. Despite their lack of explosive force, these doughs can still be scored with small and shallow cuts, often in intricate patterns.

Surfaces that have seeds or oats on them are hard to score with a blade and work best with scissors.

What Are Some Tips And Tricks To Scoring?

Use parchment paper if you’re new to scoring or doing something complicated.

Take the dough out of the proofing basket and put it on parchment paper instead of the baking vessel’s base. By doing this, you won’t have to rush or worry about burns.

For intricate patterns, you can mark evenly spaced sections with string.

Cooler and dryer dough is easier to score.

If you’re doing an intricate score, chill the dough after the final proof, and then flour the surface once it’s flipped onto parchment paper.

Brush water on your dough after scoring it if you want a brown crust instead of a floured one. It’ll help steam the crust and remove excess flour.

There’s often a big cut down the middle of a loaf that is 90° to the surface, which makes a “belly.”

You can also cut straight into the dough if you want a grid pattern or a square of slashes.

An ear is often formed by a large cut off-center of a loaf at a 35-45° angle to the surface of the dough.

The peeled-back nature of the ear can be enhanced by running your blade under the top edge of the cut.

Stencils are another great way to decorate your bread crust. When you’re done applying the stencil, make a big score to soak up the oven spring.

The Bottom Line

Play around with designs once you’ve mastered scoring and adding smaller, less functional marks as decoration. In Philip’s words, “breadmaking has a lot in common with pottery or learning a musical instrument.”

You’ve got to look at the process, listen to the music of the bread cooling – eat your mistakes and try again! In time, your hands will remember what works.”

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