We’ve all seen those gorgeous pictures of scored bread art. Whether a single score showcasing the “ear,” or an intricate pattern, scoring takes the beauty of a baked loaf of bread up a whole other level.
Bread beauty pageant aside- why do we need to score our bread anyway?
While scoring your bread doesn’t necessarily have to be pretty, one decent score is needed for baking to permit the gasses to break free in a controlled and aesthetically pleasing way. A deep score can measure anywhere from ½ an inch to 2 inches (1 ½ – 5 cm) deep. A 30° angle works best for a long loaf of bread. A round loaf of bread should have evenly dispersed scores across the top, holding the lame at about a 90° angle. If the dough isn’t scored, you run the risk of the bread splitting open unreliably as a result of the gasses being trapped and finding their way out.
Knowing the why and the how of scoring bread, along with using the right tools and a few tips, will make bread scoring a lot less intimidating. If anything, it’ll make you a lot more keen to getting started and creating your mark, I mean score.
Why Do I Need to Score My Bread Dough?
A score on the surface of the dough allows for moisture to escape as well as allowing proper expansion without the risk of cracking the crust during the baking stage. Imagine this: the tight netting of the gluten structure is being pushed against by the many, many air bubbles that are forming rapidly in the oven without a way out, a score provides a way out and helps control the shape of the baked loaf. In a nutshell, the underlying reason you should score your bread is to control how the gasses exit during baking, ultimately leading to oven spring.
What is Oven Spring?
Oven spring occurs within the first ten minutes of baking and is when the bread rapidly rises, rising above its original size by as much as thirty percent. Bread with good oven spring will be attractive, light, and crusty.
Back to the Score
So, you score your bread to optimize oven spring because:
- When the shape and gluten of the dough are well developed, a tight gluten network surrounds the dough helping it to stay together during the baking stage. Adding a score to your dough creates a point of weakness, allowing the bread to expand where you want it to, rather than wherever it wants thereby giving you a great oven spring.
- The oven spring you get as a result of the score enables the crumb to have an airy texture, ultimately leading to those coveted large holes.
- A beautiful result – a nice bread score gives your bread a stunning and professional appearance.
The score doesn’t have to be excessively intricate more often than not, a simple slash is all that’s needed. The beauty of the score is that no matter what, it is stunning, whether simple or elaborate.
Tools & Methods
There are times when you can compromise and find alternative tools, and then there are times when you really should use the right tool for the job. Scoring is one of those jobs that require a specific tool for optimal results – the bakers lame. A lame is equipped with a very sharp double-edged blade and is the only way to achieve professional results. The lame doesn’t have to be the most expensive one out there. (This one is fairly priced I think) If you aren’t ready to spend a lot, you can start with an inexpensive plastic lame, which provides equally good results as one at a higher price point.
In a pinch, for example, if your lame is dull, you can try using a sharp knife, razor blade, or box cutter. For some, however, of the more tell-tale scores found in loaves of bread like a baguette, a curved blade is required and so a lame (with replaceable razor blades) is a worthwhile investment.
Regular kitchen scissors are another great tool to have on hand, in general, and particularly for bread scoring. You’ll find using a lame on dough laden with seeds and grains challenging. Using scissors in such scenarios is ideal, providing precision cuts that open up nicely in the oven.
Preparing the dough with a dusting of flour before you score your dough ensures a distinct contrast between the darker baked crust and the white flour. Rice flour, because it has a higher thermal burn than regular white flour, is often used in combination with white flour or as a stand-alone to dust the top of bread dough to be scored. Flouring isn’t necessary, but without it the flour the bread score doesn’t stand out as much.
If you choose not to flour, many bakers opt to spray their dough lightly with water after scoring and just before it goes in the oven. Doing this allows the crust to produce a golden blistered look that is often sought after by bakers.
TIP: Place your dough on top of something that can turn. You can use a lazy susan, or if you can manage, plop it on a piece of parchment paper on a surface that you can easily turn it around on. Just use something that will make it easier for you to turn the dough around as you need it.
It’s noteworthy to mention that without at least one deep score to your loaf, permitting the gasses to exit, the loaf is likely to rupture. A deep score can measure anywhere from ½ an inch to 2 inches (1 ½ – 5 cm) deep to work as a steam release. The more shallow a score, the more decorative it tends to be – benefitting leaf, wheat stalk, and chevron type patterns for your loaf.
While it’s best to be quick about it if you make a score and it isn’t perfect, don’t worry, you can always go over it cutting deeper, or cutting what’s missing.
Once the dough has been scored, it’s imperative that you get the dough into the oven as soon as possible. By scoring, you have effectively punctured a hole into the gluten network which will cause the dough to deflate quickly.
Getting that oh so coveted, sometimes envied, much desired “ear” on your baked loaf isn’t as hard as you might think. To get an ear, you start the score at the top on an angle, holding the lame at about a 30° angle, cutting down to the bottom of the loaf quickly and confidently. You can go over the cut to expand it further, ensuring it will open up and develop that beautiful ear, showcasing the magic that is a perfectly fermented bread.
As I mentioned before: Scoring your dough at a 30° angle works best for a long loaf of bread. A round loaf of bread should have evenly dispersed scores across the top, holding the lame at about a 90° angle, and executed quickly.
When to Score Your Dough
As usual, with bread, timing is everything. That doesn’t necessarily mean a set range of time, but rather ensuring enough time is given for the science that is bread to do its work. When you’re about to score your dough, you want to make sure that the gluten is very well developed.
The work begins before the bulk proof, making sure to do a windowpane test is key. Once the bulk proof is complete, the dough should be light and bubbly, as well as having visibly risen. It’s beneficial to shape the dough well, securing a tight gluten network on the surface of the dough. Retarding the dough in a banneton, proofing basket, or something that helps the dough retain its shape also helps keep the structural integrity of the dough.
You score after the final proof. You can do a poke test to make certain the dough is properly proofed and ready for baking. If it’s a go, score away and get it into the oven right away.
There are loads of scoring styles to choose from. To be frank, the more you score, the better you get, and the more likely you are to experiment and create your own style of score. Some of the basic styles include:
|Baguette / Bâtard Scoring
Modified Leaf Cut
Leaf with Center Cut
Double / Triple French Cut
That’s it, the nitty-gritty details to the sometimes intimidating, yet functional and artistic skill of how to properly score your bread. With a little bit of practice, and the right tools, you’re sure to get some beautiful results. Now get to it, and score yourself a gorgeous loaf of bread. Revel in your mastery of bread baking, and share with friends and family.