One of my favorite parts of baking bread is scoring. It’s like a baker’s signature — a special touch showing the loaf was made with love by hand. But it goes beyond just looks — proper scoring controls the way bread expands in the oven. Basically, you’re creating weak spots in the dough where the steam will escape (otherwise it’ll just burst out of any weak spots created during shaping). An unscored loaf that’s allowed to burst at will has a certain rustic loveliness, but usually I opt to do a little playing with sharp objects because it’s just so fun!
Like every other part of bread baking, scoring takes practice and it can take awhile to get comfortable with it — especially when you just get maybe one or two chances to try it each week. I’m certainly no scoring expert, but I’ve definitely seen my designs improve after learning a few tricks over the months.
Start with cold dough
It is much easier to score dough that is well chilled. The surface is firmer and less fragile. I typically proof my loaves overnight, so this isn’t a problem. If you’re proofing at room temperature, try sticking your loaf in the fridge (I’ve heard some folks use the freezer too) when it’s nearly ready for at least half an hour. Additionally, I like to uncover my loaves (and keep them in the fridge) while the oven is preheating. This dries out the surface just a little, which also helps make cleaner cuts.
Always use a sharp blade
There are several different tools you can use to score, but my favorite by far is the traditional lame. I like this Mure & Peyrot lame because it’s inexpensive and you can easily rotate and change out the razor blade. I usually flip or switch out the blade every few loaves so I’m always working with a really sharp razor. If you use a dull razor your blade is more likely to snag and you won’t get a nice, sharp design. Additionally, I like to dip my blade in water right before scoring as this seems to help the blade move more smoothly as well. If I’m doing a lot of cuts, I’ll dip every line or so just to clean off any flour or residue that the blade might pick up.
Dust with rice flour
This is optional, but if you’d like your design to stand out, use a small sieve to dust your loaf evenly with a thin layer of rice flour before scoring. This will create contrast, and rice flour has a high burning point so your loaf won’t taste like burnt flour. You can see an example of me dusting a loaf (and doing a single score) in this Instagram video.
Score according to the dough
I don’t usually plan my scores out ahead of time; instead, I try to judge what type of score will best suit the dough. For example, if I have a lot of add-ins like nuts and dried fruit, I’ll usually opt for a simple score like a single slash. Same thing if the dough feels especially weak — perhaps due to high hydration or overproofing (too many cuts can cause these loaves to collapse and spread).
If the dough is well developed and proofed, it can handle more intricate scoring. While I don’t have a signature score yet, I tend to favor a large slash with some type of leaf pattern. I like the contrast of the large and small cuts, and I love the way the leaf pattern blooms in the oven. This Instagram video shows me doing both a large slash and some leaf pattern work.
Know your angle
If you’re trying to get ears, hold the blade at a shallow angle (about 40-45 degrees) to the dough and score about 1/4″ deep. If you’re not, hold the blade perpendicular to the dough. The amount of steam you can generate in your oven coupled with the development of your dough will also affect how well your cuts bloom.
My scores turn out best when I move quickly and, honestly, don’t think about it too much. Trust me, the dough can sense your fear and if you are tentative with your cuts your blade is more likely to snag. Try to keep your wrist still as you move the blade, and think in terms of long lines rather than individual cuts when scoring things like leaf patterns. When you’re first starting out, it’s helpful to hold the lame closer to the blade (like choking up on a bat) as you’ll have better control. As you get more used to scoring you’ll figure out a position that’s comfortable for you.