The popularity of artisan bread is rapidly growing and along with it is the art of scoring or slashing bread dough to create various patterns from rustic lines to elaborate and decorative patterns such as wheatears or flowers.
But it’s not all about decoration, there’s also a practical reason for slashing dough too. So, what is the best way to score dough and why do we do it?
Bread dough is scored (or slashed) before baking to break the outer skin of the dough and allow it to rise up further as it bakes in the oven and without it bursting in the wrong places such as the sides. Scoring it also improves the look of the bread and helps to create more crust texture. It can be done with a tool called a bread lame or a knife.
Read on to find out more about everything you need to know about scoring dough, including; why we score or slash bread dough, easy scoring tips, techniques and patterns along with which pattern you should use for each bread type shape.
How to Score Bread Dough Before Baking
Scoring bread can be as simple or complex as you want to make it, the important thing is to do what you feel comfortable with and to perform each cut with confidence.
Bread dough is best scored with either a bread lame, a small serrated knife or a bread knife. A smooth-edged knife doesn’t work well because it can drag the dough causing some collapse in the bread structure.
It can be tempting to press down on the dough with your hand when you’re scoring dough, but try to just use your hand as a guide without putting any pressure onto the dough.
Make each cut with a quick and confident action without using a sawing action, this way the blade won’t drag the dough and you’ll have a nice clean cut.
At What Stage Should You Score the Dough?
The dough should be scored after it has been shaped and proved for the second time. The oven will need to be pre-heated and up to temperature when you score the bread so it can be baked straight away.
If there is slight deflation following scoring it will not harm the dough to let it recover for 15 minutes before baking – providing the yeast is still fermenting.
If you score the dough before it’s proved, the proving process will stretch out the cuts and they will be barely visible by the time the dough is ready to bake.
What Is a Bread Lame and How Do You Use One?
A bread lame is a type of serrated razor with a handle, some have rounded edges and some straight.
You don’t have to have a lame to make slash lines in bread, but they’re good if you want to make patterns which require a little bit more precision.
A lame is also good for controlling the depth of the score and for creating a rounded line, whereas a knife is really just good for straight lines.
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Why Do Bakers Score Bread Dough Before Baking?
We know how to slash dough, so let’s have a look at the benefits of dough scoring (apart from making it look pretty).
Here are the reasons it’s good to slash dough before it’s baked:
- When you shape dough with a tight top the bread can burst open in parts as it bakes if the top crust isn’t broken first.
- Slashing the dough allows the bread to expand and rise up as it bakes in the oven and before the crust firms up.
- Bread which has been scored will have a more interesting and crispy crust texture than a smooth loaf.
Spraying the dough with water and/or using steam in the oven complements the scoring process by making the crust more crispy along with a glossy looking finish.
A moist environment will also help the dough to expand, especially if the dough has been scored.
Decorative Bread Patterns
The Best Dough Scoring Patterns for Each Bread Type
Ultimately the pattern you choose as a home baker is entirely up to you, bread making is all about experimentation and each bake will produce unique results.
The images below show a # shape in a cob loaf (left), a lengthways slash on a tin loaf (centre) and a bloomer loaf with some slanted slashes (right).
The table below lists some bread types which generally produce better results if the dough is slashed before baking along with a good shape pattern to use for the best expansion:
|Bread type||Best pattern|
|Tin loaf (any flour type)||One large slash lengthways|
down the loaf
|Cob shaped loaf/Pain de champagne |
(or any round loaf)
|4 or 5 straight or slanted lines,|
a # shape or a cross will all work
|Bloomer loaf||Straight or slanted lines across|
the shorter side around 1 inch apart
down the length of the loaf
|Baguette||Slanted lines a few inches apart down|
the length of the loaf
|Sourdough||Any pattern you’d use on a yeast|
bread in the same shape –
good for something more elaborate
such as ears of wheat
|Soda bread||A traditional cross shape on a|
|Crusty dinner roll||One slash down the length of |
|Small oval-shaped loaves||One slash off centre and at an angle|
down the length of the loaf or 4 or 5
lines down the loaf on an angle or
Bread Types Which Don’t Need to Be Scored
Scoring or slashing bread dough doesn’t work with every bread type, here are a few examples of bread which traditionally isn’t scored and those which wouldn’t really work:
- Any kind of flatbread or pizza dough (for obvious reasons)
- Ciabatta loaves and rolls – traditionally have a smooth top
- Focaccia – traditionally has dips or holes to retain toppings rather than slashes
- Bread rolls for burger or sandwich rolls – work best with a smooth top
- Brioche bread or rolls – have a smooth glossy looking top
If you’re looking to make bread for sandwiches with a square-ish top you don’t need to slash the dough, many wholemeal loaves have a smooth plain top. It’s really down to the end result you’re looking for.
TIP: Not sure if you have all the necessary bread baking equipment at home? Check out my recommended picks below (Amazon links):
- Scale: Nicewell 22lb Digital Kitchen Scale
- Mixing Bowls: OXO Stainless Mixing Bowls Set
- Pastry Scraper: OXO Stainless Pastry Scraper
- Loaf Pan: OXO Non-stick Loaf Pan
- Kitchen Thermometer: ThermoPro Digital Thermometer
- Stand Mixer (optional): Kenwood Kmix Stand Mixer
Using Flour to Create Pattens on Bread
Another way to create patterned effects on bread is by using flour, you can make the following effects in conjunction with scoring for really pretty looking bread:
- Gently rub flour all over the top of the dough before scoring, this way the scored area of the crust will be a different colour.
- Sprinkle flour over the loaf after scoring so that some collects in the scored areas
- Use flour with stencils to create patterns such as wheat on top of the bread along – can be used as well as scoring.
Take care when using flour because it can burn when it’s baked if the oven is very hot or you’re looking to produce a very dark crust.
More Bread Dough Scoring or Slashing FAQ’s
When you slash or score bread dough there can be a slight deflation, especially if the dough has been proving for some time or large air bubbles have formed on the top.
If the dough does deflate a bit and there is still life in the yeast, leave it to prove for another 10 or 15 minutes to improve the strength before baking the bread in the oven.
In general, a slash in bread dough should be around 1/2 cm deep. For slashes down the middle of a loaf or across a bloomer, a deeper cut works well whereas a shallower score works well for patterns such as wheat or flowers. Any cuts into the dough will expand as the dough bakes in the oven.
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I hope this post has helped you to understand more about slashing dough and when to do it. You might also find the following posts helpful as creating steam and a moist dough work well with scored dough:
What does steam in the oven do for bread dough