Scoring bread dough: implements and techniques

Our eyes are drawn to beautiful loaves of bread with their dramatic “ear” from across the surface or intricate pattern on top. But aesthetics aside, there’s also an important purpose to cutting — or scoring — bread dough before it’s baked.Tips for scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflour

When we load dough into the oven, the intense heat causes it to rise rapidly by expediting the fermentation process. Through this rapid production of gasses, the dough is forced to spring up and push against the taut surface created during shaping. The weakest spots in the dough’s surface — whether intentional or accidental— will give way and crack open.

Most bread bakers score the dough with a blade (or lame) to create a weak point and direct the rapid expansion. Without this step, dough can open in unexpected areas and in a rather chaotic manner. We sometimes desire this type of ragged opening, but if you want the optimal height in a controlled and consistent manner, scoring is the way to go.

Scoring bread dough is yet another part of the baking process where we can each leave our own individual touch on the final baked loaf. Some bakers opt for a single, long slash (my favorite), whereas others prefer lots of small slashes that together form a beautiful, artistic design. Regardless of the scoring choice, the goal is to guide the dough into rising predictably, consistently, and optimally.

King Arthur has a video on how to slash a baguette, but there are many other approaches, several of which we’ll tackle in this article.

Scoring bread with a lame? Knife? Scissors? Understanding each tool is key to making your mark. Click To Tweet

Tips for scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflour

General rules for scoring bread dough

In this post, we’ll talk about several dough-scoring implements, the strengths of each, and what type of dough warrants their use. However, as with many things in baking, there are no steadfast rules and each baker should experiment and decide what feels and works best.

For example, some bakers prefer to score with the cutting side of the blade angled away from the body, whereas others (myself included) prefer to score so the blade cuts inward toward the body. How we score partly depends on how the dough is positioned in front of us: if the dough is horizontal to the body it may be easier for us to cut away, and conversely, if it’s vertical (as mine always is) cutting inward might be a better choice.

As a general rule, it’s best to have a speedy, sure hand when scoring. I hold the blade lightly between my fingers, but in a firmly locked hand, and move with a single, smooth cutting motion. If the blade drags against the dough, don’t fret. Continue with the cut and things will typically smooth out in the bake. If the blade drags excessively, this can be a sign that the dough has most likely proofed for too long and has started to lose structural integrity. Proof the dough for less time, or at a lower temperature, next time.

I also find that warm dough can be slightly more challenging to score than cold dough proofed in the fridge. The cold dough has a tight, firm surface that holds its shape as the sharp blade cuts through.

Also: change your scoring blade often! A sharp razor glides through properly fermented dough in a swift, satisfying cut.

In this post we’ll look at bread that was baked using my recent Fresh Milled Spelt Sourdough Bread recipe. Let’s first discuss using a curved blade.

Scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflourCurved blade

Use a curved blade to score dough when you desire to have a pronounced ear, or raised area of the crust (as seen above). The curve of the blade encourages a flap of dough to form when sliced, and it’s this flap that gets pushed upward and peels back as the dough rises in the oven. We can choose a single, long slash for a dramatic opening or a series of slashes that slightly overlap each other for multiple ears, as with a baguette.

To score using a curved blade, I prefer to hold the tool securely at about a 30-degree angle to the dough surface. This angle, in concert with the slight upward curve of the blade’s cutting edge, will promote the formation of the small flap of dough.

Tips for scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflourThere is no need to press hard and score excessively deep, but the cut does need to be deep enough so the surface of the dough doesn’t fuse back together when baking —somewhere between 1″ and 1/2″ deep. Note that if we score the dough too deeply, the final loaf will show signs of caved-in sections as the opening is too large to support the surrounding rising dough. Tips for scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflourAfter making the cut, quickly look into the opening and ensure it goes in and below the taut “skin” formed during shaping. If there are areas where the cut doesn’t quite dig down below the skin, lightly score over this area again with the blade to cut just a bit deeper.

Tips for scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflourStraight blade

To score using a straight blade, hold the blade perpendicular to the surface of the dough. This cut creates a splayed opening as the dough rises, rather than dough that peels back forming a distinctive ear. Additionally, a straight blade can cleanly create a few, or many, decorative cuts, or even rustic-style boules with a few scattered slashes.

If you wish to make many small, decorative cuts it’s best to cut more shallowly but also more often; in this way, pressure is alleviated evenly across the entire dough surface as it expands in the oven. Conversely, fewer, deeper cuts (closer to 1/2″) allow the loaf to open more dramatically in those few spots, rather than evenly in many spots.

To score using a straight blade, hold the blade lightly in the hand and at a 90-degree angle (perpendicular) to the dough. If doing few cuts, score slightly deeper than a curved blade and after doing so you’ll notice the dough relax open and outward.Tips for scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflour

In the dough shown above, I’ve used a combination of these techniques by cutting deep for the center “cross” while more shallow for the smaller cuts at the diagonals. This promotes the center to splay open rather dramatically while the diagonal slashes open in a less pronounced way.

Tips for scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflourScissors

Use common kitchen scissors to score dough that’s laden with nuts or coated with grains or seed. Using a curved or straight blade with these doughs can be difficult as the blade will catch on the additions, causing an uneven and ragged score. Scissors, however, provide clean and precise cuts that open beautifully in the oven, forming a series of ridges for a rustic and unique appearance.

Hold the scissors in your hand with your fingers through the loops, then angle them to about 15 degrees to the dough surface. Perform a series of snips from the top of the dough to the bottom in a single, straight line where each snip starts where the previous one left off.

Tips for scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflourThe goal is to create a series of flaps at each cut rather than cutting in deep to the dough. These flaps will pull back when the loaf rises in the oven, creating the unique zig-zag appearance seen above.Scoring bread dough via @kingarthurflourThere are of course numerous other ways to score dough. But, equipped with these three implements, we can not only effectively score a myriad of dough shapes, but also impart our own unique style and a measure of consistency to each baked loaf.

Happy baking (and scoring)!

Maurizio Leo

Maurizio is an engineer-turned-baker who bakes from his home kitchen in Albuquerque, NM. He bakes, writes and photographs for his blog, The Perfect Loaf, which focuses on naturally leavened sourdough bread. Maurizio's passion for baking ensures his hands are in dough just about every day.


  1. Lauren

    Hello from La Luz, NM! I have been baking sourdough for a few years now and never purchased a lame. I can’t decide which would be the best for me. I try to do a graceful curving line down the center and the small slashes for leaves. My razor blade drags the dough more than slicing. Your article is wonderful. I got a few good pointers that I will try. I wish I could bake a loaf every day! I never loved baking bread this much before sourdough!

  2. Patty Hill

    When do I score the bread? When I form it for the final rise or right before I put it in the oven. It seems like I lose some of the rise when I do it right before I put it in the over.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      That’s a great question, Patty! While there are a few specialty types of bread that are scored earlier, most loaves are scored right before putting them in the oven. It’s okay if it loses a little bit of the rise, as it will gain it back as soon as it hits that wall of hot air. Using a sharp lame instead of a knife also helps avoid excessive deflation, but a lot of it comes down to skill and practice. The more you score, the better you’ll get at it. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  3. Nila Alexandre

    What do I do if I forget to score my bread? I made a loaf of sourdough bread for the first time and I guess I was so excited that I put it in the oven before scoring it, and now I don’t know what to do, is it too late to score once it’s already been in the oven?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Nila, we wouldn’t worry too much about it! Scoring can help to prevent your loaves from breaking open randomly, which many bakers find unsightly. The big secret, though? Those “ugly” loaves typically still taste delicious. We’ve found that setting our lame or knife out after shaping our loaves is a good visual reminder to score the bread before it goes in the oven, but if you forget, it’s not the end of the world. Just call it modern art and enjoy it with some butter. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

  4. Sylvia Strahan

    Slashed one bread recipe you said to, ad loved the rise! Can I slash any bread — the yeasted banana for instance? My favorite now!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Sylvia. You sure can score any kind yeasted bread you would like! Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi there, Waffa! You most certainly can score just about any kind of bread you would like. Doughs that have a higher hydration can be a little difficult, but with a little practice, it’ll be no problem at all! Happy baking! Morgan@KAF

  5. CT

    I read that you are meant to use only the corner of the razor blade. Are you using the whole length of the blade? And have you used the feathered blade? I have not. When you score a boule with the straight blade and you say to make the main cuts deeper, do you mean deeper than one inch? I can’t imagine doing that on my often-sticky (from rye or hydration level) fully-proofed dough, so I wonder if my dough is over-proofed. I don’t think so because sometimes there are areas that look like they could have gone longer. How do you size your dough and basket so that it doesn’t rise so high in the oven that it hits the top of the lid? Your basket looks tall for a 3.5 qt combi cooker but it is flat-bottomed.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi CT! We recommend using the corner of your blade to prevent any dragging. The corners of feather blades also work great! We recommend scoring your dough between 1/4″ and 1/2″ deep; 1/2″ if you’re making those deeper main cuts. The basket is a standard 9″ x 3″ brotform that generally holds recipes using between 3 and 5 cups of flour. We hope this helps! Annabelle@KAF

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