I always get drawn to the intricate designs on loaves in a bakery.
Bread scoring patterns can vary from just a simple cut along the side, creating what is known as the ‘ear’, or, others can be as complicated as flower patterns, leaves or impressive wheat stalks.
The way bread is scored certainly separates the pros from the novices. Me? I am definitely a novice as I still have not mastered the art of scoring.
But why score bread? What is the benefit?
Scoring bread isn’t just a way for a professional baker to put their own creative touch to their beautiful masterpiece.
There’s so much more to it, and if you want to go from being a bread novice to a bread master, it’s time to learn the skills of how to score bread dough.
Why Score Bread?
Scoring bread became common practice in the 19th Century in France.
Bread was only made by the wealthy in Paris and scoring bread was a way for every baker to ‘trademark’ their baked goods so they knew which baker made the bread.
Now, scoring bread is much more than just a ‘trademark’ for each baker. Aside from purely aesthetic reasons, scoring bread plays an important part in the bread structure.
When you shape dough properly, it will have a very tight structure.
When the bread is baking in the oven and the heat begins to expand, the gas looks to escape from somewhere, so the surface of bread will begin to erupt from all different directions.
Without an incision, your loaf can burst and erupt all over the bread, making large and ragged holes (this eruption is also known as an ‘oven spring’).
You might also get large bulges all around your loaf from where gas has tried to escape.
When you score bread, you are essentially controlling that eruption by creating a weak spot in the dough.
The gas created will escape through the incision you’ve made, without going nuts all around your loaf.
Whether you are going for the aesthetic look for your loaf or simply slashing the centre with one single line, the main purpose for you slashing the dough is to allow all the carbon dioxide to escape.
How To Score Bread Dough
Learning how to score bread is definitely a visual learning experience rather than something you can learn by reading an article.
This video shows you all the different ways you can score bread and is my go to when I want to try new scoring techniques.
I will take you through some important tips and tricks to keep in mind while scoring bread.
- Make sure your blade is sharp otherwise you won’t be able to get a clean cut.
- The number 1 reason why most people fail with scoring is confidence. Own that dough! Slash it with confidence and authority.
- Be fast with your movements. If you go for it slowly you will mess it up – again, confidence and authority.
- The tighter the dough, the better it will slash. It might also help to refrigerate it before you carve the dough so it’s firmer and easier to cut.
- Oil the blade before you carve the dough so it’s easier.
- Make sure you have your oven preheated and are ready to put the dough straight in the oven once you’ve carved it. Since you’ve just made a cut in the dough, it will start to deflate, so baking it straight away is vital.
Decorative Bread Scoring
Scoring bread can be done with either a really sharp knife or a special tool called a lame.
This is what a lame looks like:
As we mentioned earlier, you can either go for a simple cut down the side or you can go wild and do all sorts of patterns.
The way you score your dough depends on the shape. A round shaped dough, or a boule, is usually carved with a cross or hashtag in the middle.
These cuts should be evenly spread so the dough expands correctly.
For a longer loaf, like a batard or baguette, you should score lines parallel to the length of the batard and not as deep as you would with a boule.
The most popular bread scoring design is the ‘ear’, like we talked about earlier. Once you perfect this technique, you can literally do anything!
The ear is a slash going down the side of the bread that you make by using a curved lame or blade as a 30 degree angle.
Once the bread has baked and expanded, your loaf will have a ridged crust that looks like a handle.
Simple, yet elegant, the ‘ear’ also produces the crispiest crust along the ridge – everyone loves a good crispy crust!
Start with the simple techniques first to build your confidence. Watching and following along with YouTube videos is very helpful.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to scoring bread and as long as you follow a few tips, you can go wild with creativity.
Scoring bread shouldn’t scare you. It might be a bit difficult at the start, but once you get the hand of it and use the right tools, you will become an expert.
Carving your own designs on bread dough is therapeutic, arty and is another thing to add to the long list of ‘new things to learn during lockdown’.