Explore the art of bread scoring dating back to the 19th century. Aside from baking breads with cuts on their surface that improves the appearance of the bread, is scoring bread necessary? Read on to know how you approach your bread with this unique technique.
If you have not heard about the term ‘bread scoring’, it is simply the art of making shallow cuts in the tops of an unbaked bread dough right before it goes into the oven. In the 19th century, a French scientist named Vaudry, had explained that cutting a bread on its surface was both an artistic and science-grounded step for a successful baking operation. According to him, having the cuts on the bread, could help to improve the bread’s appearance making it more expressive and captivating to look at. As such, that’s when some bakers who took pride in their craft began to find ways to make their bread stand out by scoring it.
Looking from a historical viewpoint, scored breads at that time were something luxurious; and they had a status too as they were baked specially only for wealthy families and well-known restaurants in Paris. It only makes sense that bread scoring too, played in huge role for setting prices and standards for identity and weight. Since each bread scoring was done uniquely and differently by its baker, it was considered a distinctive trademark that allowed for the tracking of baked goods made by those specific bakers… which brings us the question “Is scoring bread necessary?”
Scoring the bread.
Some breads are not scored. For example, many loaves baked in pans are usually left unscored. However, almost all free-formed hearth breads are scored. The term ‘hearth bread’ is used to describe a traditional baking method where a fermented dough piece is baked on the floor of an often wood-fired oven. Though now, instead of using such traditional baking methods for hearth breads, most bread scoring is done for sourdough breads—a type of bread that is gaining its own name and popularity around the world. That said, not everyone scores their own sourdough bread. And it’s something they should start considering。
Why should you score your sourdough.
Instead of having a plain looking sourdough bread, you get to put our own artistic spin on its final appearance. Since scoring your loaf is about making cuts on top of the dough before it meets the over, you can control the bread’s final appearance.
Nonetheless, scoring your sourdough bread also gives it the main benefit of controlling where the ruptures occur so that the gases can escape as the loaf bakes in the oven, without destroying the actual bread. If the sourdough goes in the oven without a deep score, what it does is trap gases in it; the bread would eventually score itself (and not in a good way) or burst open without warning.
Now while some bakers like to keep things simple with just basic scoring—such as creating a single slash or a double slash, some bakers would go for the artistic route and use their knives as ‘paintbrushes’ to design beautiful and intricate designs. Now you are your decision maker, and in the end of the day, if you are happy with what you put out—no matter which option you choose, that is probably all that matters, and we are positive that your bread will come out of the oven looking like a winner… because it was created by you.
Should you flour your dough before scoring it?
There really isn’t a definite answer as to whether you should dust your loaf with flour or not. Ultimately, it is up to your personal preference, but we will still talk about what flouring your dough does.
By dusting flour on top of the dough, you get a nice flour-coated dough that when you score it, it opens to the undusted dough underneath it. As a result, you get to create a striking a contrast for the scores to stand out beautifully. And it’s a choice most baker would prefer to go with when they are scoring their sourdough. If you, however, choose not to flour your dough, that is fine too. Your loaf will still have its gorgeous golden-brown color but its scores will not be standing out as much. If that’s something you can live with, then this step is optional.
The dough preparation and dusting it with flour.
Dusting the top of your loaves with flour prior to scoring will ensure maximum contrast between white flour and dark, baked crust. A preferred method by some seasoned bakers is to use a 1:1 ratio mixture of white rice flour (50%) and all-purpose flour (50%). Because white rice flour possesses a higher scorch temperature than the all-purpose flour, it can retain its stark white color even after a lengthy period of being in the oven. The addition of the all-purpose flour is supposed to create a scattered color for your dough. But if you prefer your dough with an all-white surface, then you should just use white rice flour completely without the all-purpose flour.
To start things off, place your proofed dough from its proofing basket out onto a parchment paper piece; you can also place it into a preheated baking vessel—whichever one works for you. There should be some residual flour on top of the dough. Give that a gentle brush so an even layer of flour remains.
Then, with fine-mesh sieve in hand, you are ready to dust the dough (Of course, you can skip this step of dusting flour if you wish to). Fill the fine-mesh sieve with the dusting flour. Holding it high above the dough, you just need to tap the side of the fine-mesh sieve (gently so) as you move around to coat the dough surface uniformly.
Remember to be especially gentle with the dusting otherwise you will end up having too much flour caking on the dough. At this stage, you are ready to start scoring your dough and bake it.
Getting ready to score.
Let’s have a quick recap. What we have managed to cover so far is that:
- Scoring the bread dough with decorative cuts helps to guide the loaf to rise in a controlled, consistent, and optimal manner.
- It increases the attractiveness of the loaf’s final appearance.
You know how that old familiar saying that we first feast with your eyes before our mouth goes? This makes a lot of sense in this scenario. After all, you are using your own creative ideas and letting those ideas run free as you carve the dough. The dough is your blank canvas that is ready to be worked with.
Now logically, a single or double slash can create a large opening for the dough. Ah, but what if you want to show off some creativity? You’d be happy to know that with just a series of small and delicate cuts on the dough, you can create designs of various intricacies. The possibilities are limitless—from leaves, flowers, stars, to geometric shapes of all sorts by using the implementing the right technique.
Depth and Speed in Bread Scoring Techniques
The key to a successful design for your bread lies in scoring the dough deep enough to cut through the dough’s skin that is formed during shaping, but not so deep that it starts to affect its structural integrity. It’s all about finding that balance in cutting in just right.
Other times, you will also need to score with more depth, especially for a single and double slash. But for the more intricate designs, you should just score it enough to break the dough’s surface, its outside slowly splaying open, and you can see the interior of the dough.
Once you are done with a pattern you have in mind, don’t just pop it into the oven directly. Take a closer look at the scored dough. See if there are any shapes that look like they are not cut deep enough. If there is some, just lightly run your blade over it the same direction you did as before and cut it again. This way you can be sure that it spreads properly in the oven.
Types of Blades used for Scoring.
For scoring, the blade that is most used is called lame (pronounced “lahm”)—it means “blade” in French language. Some bakers would score their doughs with either a straight blade or curved razor blade, either held in the hand or mounted on a handle. While some bakers may go for serrated blades for a specific design they want.
Bread Scoring Tips.
Like anything else we do, our best ones are the ones where we have confidence in. Bread scoring is no different, it has a lot to do with our own faith in ourselves. There are days where we will feel more confident than usual. But there are also days where a slight hesitation or overthinking can cause us to score the dough poorly. So, here are some tips for you to keep in mind:
Using a blunt blade or knife simply won’t cut it (pun intended). You want your blade to be sharp so you can make swift and confident slashes. That way your dough can be cut open nicely as it should. Just remember to gentle too when you are making the cuts.
Without using too much pressure, ease yourself and let the blade or knife to do its job. You shouldn’t press down on the dough any further. Instead, just like tip no. 1, gently run through the blade on the dough for clean and precise cuts.
Especially when you are working with sticky dough, get into the habit of wetting your blade in water between the slices. This helps to keep your cuts clean each time you begin one.
What can bread scoring teach you about life? That practice makes perfect, and if you try something once, it probably won’t be perfect, and you have to keep working on it if you want to be good at it. Keep scoring… and score!
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