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Scoring Tools and Technique

You can score a loaf of bread with just about anything sharp: a curved or straight lame, scissors, razor blade, serrated knife, or even a scalpel, but that doesn’t mean you should. There’s always the best tool for the job, and sometimes that’s the one that you have. Some tools definitely work better than others — you can see our recommendations below.

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Why bakers score dough

As you know, your dough is full of water. And what happens to water when it’s heated? It turns to steam. If you didn’t score your dough, the steam would find the weakest spot – the path of least resistance – to find its escape. This is what bread bakers call blowouts, and we all hate them.

When you score your dough, you’re creating a weak spot, basically telling the steam where to escape. You’ll notice that most scoring patterns that you see are symmetrical, so that as the dough expands and the steam escapes, it’ll expand evenly so that the shape of your dough stays the way you intended.

The best tool for the job

When scoring your dough, our recommendation is to use a curved lame for batards and other dough shapes where you want a pronounced ear and a straight lame for boules and other dough shapes where you just need to give the steam a place to escape. Besides being decorative, scoring your dough before you put it into the oven is an essential step for most lean breads.

Tips for the perfect score

  1. Use your free hand to gently, but firmly, pull the surface of the dough taught so that your blade moves cleanly through it.
  2. Insert just the tip of the blade into your dough first and use just the tip to cut through the dough. If you use the entire length of the blade, you’ll find that it’ll snag more easily.
  3. You can start with your blade away from your body and pull toward you, or you can start with the blade close to your body and push the blade away from your body. We tend to like push away because it lets you see the insertion and the angle more clearly.
  4. The speed of your slash is critical. If it’s too fast or too slow, the blade is going to snag in your dough. Don’t be tentative. Envision that path of your blade and score it. If should take about 1⁄2 second to score your dough. If you said out loud, “And ONE,” you could breathe in on the “and” and breathe out and start your slash on the “one.” This would be about 1⁄2 second. Modernist Bread had another brilliant suggestion besides this one: download a metronome app for your phone. Set the tempo at 120 which makes each click 1⁄2 second. It works. I tried it.
  5. The depth of your slash should be 1/8” – 1⁄4” / 3-6mm.
  6. The angle of your score should be between 22°-45°
  7. Scoring and scoring patterns are normally symmetrical. If you want to make asymmetrical patters, you’ll want to ensure that the depths add up to being equal.

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