Why are loaves slashed before they go in the oven?
There are two reasons. The first is a practical one – when making bread, there are three rises. The first is called, well, the rise. The second rise is called proving, and this comes after we have knocked the air out of the dough and then shaped it. The final rise is called the ‘oven spring’, and this happens, funnily enough, in the oven. Because of the intense heat, the yeast/leaven will suddenly go into overdrive and get super productive, before they are eventually nuked. The result is that the dough will rise significantly. We score the dough before it goes into the oven to allow this oven spring to happen in a controlled way, otherwise it will have a volcano-like effect with odd lumps and bumps.
The second reason why we score our loaves is for aesthetic appeal. Back in the day, there was a communal bread oven in the village or town, and the bakers would have their own ‘signature’ slashing pattern to recognise their own loaves. Today, it is a great opportunity to add another bit of artistic flair to a loaf.
There are lots of styles to choose from:
What do we use?
The main tool is a double edged disposable razor blade. These can be picked up in packs of ten from any pharmacy. It is then fixed to a splint to create a lame. These can be bought quite cheaply online, or you can make your own. Bakers get extremely possessive of theirs – some having made them as an apprentice and used them ever since. If you are scared of razor blades, fear not: a serrated knife can work fine too, but with less accuracy on the more intricate designs.
How do we score?
We are channelling our inner Norman Bates here. The key is move the blade in single, clear, deliberate movements. If you have shaped your dough properly, the ‘skin’ of the dough will cut open and move apart slightly. See? I did mention Norman Bates for a reason…
There are no limits to your imagination!
In One Mile Bakery classes, we go over this and attendees can really satisfy their artistic skills: here is a sourdough student using a pair of scissors to embellish a wholemeal loaf: