Bread scoring techniques: Creative, decorative cuts

With a blade in hand and a shaped round of dough on the workbench, bakers have an unexpected blank canvas before them. First and foremost, scoring bread dough with decorative cuts serves an important purpose: it guides a loaf to rise in a consistent, controlled, and optimal manner. But from there, let your creativity run free. As the old saying goes: we eat first with our eyes.

Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflour
A single or double slash promotes a large opening but a series of small, delicate slashes creates a more intricate design. Stars, leaves, flowers, geometric shapes of all kinds — when utilizing the correct scoring implement (see my last post on scoring implements and general techniques), creativity has no bounds.

I recently attended a week-long baking workshop and after spending the good part of two days hands-deep in dough — admittedly, my favorite part — everyone seemed most excited to score dough. As we lined up in front of our loaves-to-be the wide grins were hard to ignore. There’s satisfaction in cutting dough you’ve spent time coercing from nascency to maturity, like a painter’s first brushstrokes on an all-white canvas brimming with potential.

In this post, we’ll look at various scoring techniques using my Fresh-Milled Spelt Sourdough Bread recipe. Each technique listed below is merely a starting point, a springboard for you to invent your own personal mark. But first, let’s talk about how to set the stage and prepare the dough for scoring.
Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflour

Preparing the dough

Dusting the top of your loaves with flour prior to scoring will ensure maximum contrast between white flour and dark, baked crust. I prefer to use a mixture of 50% white rice flour and 50% all-purpose flour. White rice flour has a higher scorch temperature that helps it retain a stark white color, even after prolonged time in the oven. I add 50% all-purpose flour because I do like scattered color, but if you prefer an all-white surface, go with 100% white rice flour.

First, turn your proofed dough from its proofing basket out onto a piece of parchment paper or (carefully) into a preheated baking vessel. The top of the dough might have flour from the basket; brush off the flour gently so only an even layer remains.

Using a fine-mesh sieve filled with the dusting flour, hold it above the dough and tap the side as you move around to evenly coat the surface. Be light with dusting as too much flour can quickly cake on the dough, transforming it from blank canvas to messy chalkboard.

At this point, the dough is ready for you to score and bake.

Depth and speed in bread scoring techniques

The key to success in each of the designs below is to score deep enough to cut through the skin of the dough formed during shaping, but not so deep that structural integrity is compromised. Note that a single and double slash do require a little more scoring depth, but the others should just break the surface so you see the interior of the dough, with the outside slowly splaying open.Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflourWhen finished, take a look at the design. Are there any spots that don’t look like they’re cut sufficiently deep? If so, lightly run the lame (blade) over the same cut line again to ensure spreading in the oven.

Swift, controlled movements with the lame yield the straightest and best decorative dough cuts Click To TweetDecorative Cuts via @kingarthurflour

1. Many small cuts

This design is one of my favorites for boules: a series of small cuts along the sides intended to emulate leaves or wheat stalks. The size and number are up to you, but I prefer larger cuts spaced regularly.
Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflour
The preferred scoring implement for this design is a straight blade. A straight blade cuts straight into the dough at a 90° angle, perfect for the straight cut for each leaf.

Start at the top of the round (the side farthest from you) and begin making diagonal slashes in series from top to bottom. I like to add a gentle curve as the cuts progress from top to bottom; this curved set looks nice when the loaf expands up and outward in the oven. Then, repeat for the other side of the stalk where each cut matches its pair to the side.

2. Cross

In this design the center cross is cut slightly deeper than the other slashes, encouraging the center area to open more dramatically.
Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflour
Similarly to the first design, the cross and side slashes are best done with a straight blade angled at 90° to the dough’s surface.

As seen above, start with the cross and cut in slightly deeper than for the secondary cuts to the side. If you want to take this even further, the cuts to the sides of the cross could be replaced with small wheat stalks as seen in the first design. This leads to an incredibly detailed score!
Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflour

3. Box top with design

The preferred scoring implement for this design is again a straight blade. However, if you want the “box top” to lift up and off the rest of the dough, a curved blade could be used to create a small lip for each edge of the box.Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflourStart first with the perimeter box by making four straight-edge slashes. Because this area will remain mostly flat during baking, score any design you wish at the top. Feel free to be creative! I choose to score a wheat stalk in the box top with a curved line running down the middle.  Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflour

4. Batard with double slash

It’s no secret that my favorite shape for a loaf of bread is a batard. While I’m partial to a single, long slash allowing the loaf to open up beautifully, there are times a double slash can be equally stunning.
Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflour
The preferred scoring implement for this score is a curved blade. The curve helps create a lip at each cut that peels back when the dough is baked. Start at the side farthest from you and make an angled cut to about the middle of the batard. The beginning of the second cut should overlap the end of the first. Additionally, the closer the two cuts are to each other the smaller the separation when they expand.

This design can also be useful for dough you know won’t spring up high when baked — perhaps it’s a whole wheat recipe or there’s a large percentage of mix-ins. The double score usually opens nicely even with these types of breads.

Decorative Cuts via @kingarthurflour
These designs are only a starting point for you to develop your own unique and creative mark with decorative cuts. Let the lame be your paintbrush — be creative and have fun!

Maurizio Leo
About

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.

comments

    1. PJ Hamel

      Danielle, sometime try letting the loaf rise uncovered, so the sticky dough develops a bit of a dry skin. This will give the lame or blade some “purchase,” resulting in a cleaner slice. Be sure to add steam to your oven during the baking process, to soften up any of the dryness. If you’re uncomfortable trying that, stick with your very sticky dough but be sure to make firm, quick slices; being gentle or slow allows the blade to get caught in the sticky dough and drag, rather than cut. Hope this helps — PJH@KAF

    2. CJ McGeachin

      I was also having this issue, however I found that it was mostly as a result of my poor shaping technique. Make sure that your final shaping builds a lot of tension on the top (bowl bottom) side of your dough ball before putting it in a banaton or bowl for your final rise. In addition, I find that an 8-12 hour final rise in a refrigerator really helps with the scoring process.

  1. Carole

    My sour dough boules often burst beyond the intended score marks. For example, the “box top” lifts up and off, the coloring is pretty, there are lots of blisters, the flour marks from the banneton are symmetrical, the bottom is smooth and even, and I can hear the loaves “singing loudly” on the cooling rack. Yet, there is jagged “blow out” elongating the cuts. (The loaves are proofed overnight in the refrigerator, scored while cold with a curved serrated bakers pocket knife, and baked in a preheated covered dutch oven at 460 F (20-25 minutes with the lid on and 40-45 minutes with the lid off). The crumb looks well distributed.) Is this a reflection of erred scoring, proofing, both?Other?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Carole, blowouts are often an indicator that the dough hasn’t been left to rise for long enough. You might want to try extending your final rise time by about 20% to see if that helps with the final structure and shape of the loaf. Another potential cause of blowouts is improper shaping. To be sure you’re shaping the dough in a way that builds structure and integrity, consider watching this video on our website to see it demonstrated. When the seams are strong, they’re less likely to blowout during baking. We hope that armed with both of these tips, you can make your next loaf look perfect! Kye@KAF

  2. Kris

    Thanks! Somewhat related but my sourdough loaves, mix of white and whole grain, don’t get golden brown like these. Even when they’re enriched with eggs and butter (brioche like). And it’s only when I use sourdough starter. What gives?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Kris, we’ll start off by saying it’s very normal for sourdough loaves to be paler than regular loaves, so don’t think it’s something you’re doing wrong. (The yeast consumes the sugars in the starches of the flour during the long fermentation period, which would otherwise caramelize and turn brown.) Some tips to help remedy this is are to add about 1-2 additional tablespoons of sugar (per 3-4 cups of flour) to the dough, and/or you can try brushing your loaves with an egg wash before baking. Leaving the loaves in the oven longer can help to a certain extent, but at some point you begin drying out the dough, which you want to avoid. Once the loaves reach about 200-205°F, you want to take them out of the oven. We hope this helps, and good luck! Kye@KAF

  3. Hoppy (Terence Hopman)

    love your comments, and impressed that you were an engineer first, makes much more sense now, Recently taken to baking bread seriously. we own a B&B and this will be a great conversation pc.
    Glad i discovered your blog.

    Hoppy

    Reply
  4. Walter Houle

    Regarding lames. The dulling of razor blades is a result of corrosion or rust on the cutting edge. Today’s disposable razors and the flex able blades sold today are made with low level steel and rust quickly. Even in the package. I recommend always start with a new blade and never use one that has been around for more than a few months. Also a lame with a fixed blade is to be avoided.
    Thanks for your advice. It will be a big help slashing.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      You’re welcome to give it a try, Jen! Most of the gluten-free bread recipes on our website have more of a batter-like consistency rather than dough, which can make slashing difficult. If you do have a recipe that produces a stiffer dough that can be slashed, try some fancy slashing designs and see what happens. If they don’t turn out to be very visible, consider using a stenciling technique for visual appeal. Kye@KAF

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