A soft, warm loaf of bread with gorgeous score marks is aesthetically pleasing, but those slashes offer more than beauty. Here’s why—and how—to slash your bread.
Whether a baker adds a single slash or creates an elaborate design, scoring bread dough is a way for an artist to make his or her mark. Aside from striking beauty, scoring the dough controls the way gas escapes from your bread. We’ll explain below.
The Purpose of Scoring
When bread dough is placed in an intensely hot oven, it begins to rise (and bake) rapidly. As gasses are quickly produced in a loaf, the dough naturally springs up. In turn, it will crack open along the weakest surface spots.
That’s why, rather than allowing the dough to tear on its own, most bakers use a lame to score it and create their own weak point. By scoring or slashing it yourself, you can direct the rapid expansion and create little works of art.
In addition to guiding a dough’s expansion and rising process, slashing and scoring also allows a baker to add his or her “signature” to the final product.
What Is a Lame?
Lame (pronounced LAHM) is French for “blade.” It’s a long, thin tool with a razor at the end used for scoring bread dough to help control expansion.
The razor on the end can be either straight or curved, and each function in the following different ways:
- Straight blade: Best for decorative features and creating more shallow cuts for more elaborate designs, like leaves and wheat stalks. If you hold it perpendicularly, it will create cuts that help the dough open smoothly, rather than peeling back to form an ear (a raised ridge of crust). This gives your bread a crunchy edge.
- Curved blade: Helps create a pronounced ear on top of a loaf, or you can use it to produce multiple small slashes (and ears), like those on the surface of a baguette.
While using a blade to slice the top of bread might sound simple, after spending hours crafting, kneading, and rising, you want to make sure you do that final step correctly. Let’s take a look at some tips that will help you do it perfectly.
Tips for Scoring Bread
Now that you know a little more about scoring, and the fancy tool used to create those pretty slashes, are you inspired to give it a shot? If so, here are some more tips:
- The way you position the loaf in front of you can either make the task of scoring easier or more challenging. Before you cut, make sure you have an idea of what you want to do, and position the dough so that cutting away or inward is comfortable.
- Don’t be nervous, just do it! Scoring dough should be a quick, smooth cutting motion to ensure the blade doesn’t drag through.
- Change your lame blade often to ensure a swift and easy slash. Here’s a beautifully crafted kit to get you started. It includes 10 extra blades, a blade cover, and a wooden storage box.
- Let your sharp blade do the work, as your slashes move through the dough swiftly, without having to push down.
- Your blade should go about a 1/2 inch deep when scoring to ensure your bread doesn’t fuse back together. Again, there’s no need to push down hard to achieve this depth.
- Use your arm to make swift slashes, rather than using your wrist.
- Score your dough right before you put it in the oven. Don’t let it sit out after scoring, as it might start to deflate and lose its structure.
A Helpful Video
In this excellent video from King Arthur Flour, baker Martin Philip demonstrates how to score a baguette properly. Notice his swift, authoritative slashes—these take some time and practice.
It’s pretty incredible that just a few humble ingredients—flour, water, and yeast—can create culinary art. Take your bread skills to the next level with scoring the next time you’re feeling particularly inspired.