What Happens If You Don’t Slash Bread?

Slashing or scoring bread refers to making shallow cuts or incisions on the surface of the dough before baking. When it comes to baking bread, this seemingly small detail plays a crucial role in the bread-making process and greatly influences the final outcome.

In this article, we will explore the importance of scoring bread and discuss the potential consequences of omitting this step.

Here's an explanation of what happens if you don't score bread dough:

• Without scoring, the bread may not rise evenly or expand to its full capacity.
• Without slashes to release expanding gases during oven spring, the bread may burst or collapse in unpredictable ways. The slashes serve as vents, allowing steam to escape from the dough, which helps prevent the bread from becoming too dense or developing a gummy or irregular texture.

The Function of Slashing Bread Dough

Scoring, also known as bread slashing, one of the 12 stages of breadmaking, serves multiple functions in the baking process. It allows for the controlled release of gases trapped inside the dough, helps control expansion, and adds decorative elements to the bread. By scoring the dough, we can direct where it opens up during baking and prevent random bursting along its weakest points.

Scoring is particularly important for bread baked at high temperatures, while enriched bread requiring lower temperatures, such as brioche or challah, does not necessarily require this step.

1. Control Oven Spring

Slashes play a crucial role in controlling oven spring, which is the final burst of rising that occurs in the early stages of baking. When bread dough is exposed to the high heat of the oven, the yeast produces a last burst of gas, leading to an additional rise. The slashes on the dough’s surface act as release points for this gas, preventing the bread from cracking or bursting irregularly.

2. Aesthetic Appeal

Scoring adds visual appeal to bread by creating patterns on its surface. Bakers often employ specific slashing patterns, such as diagonal cuts, crosshatch designs, or single long slashes, to give bread a distinctive appearance. These patterns not only enhance the loaf’s aesthetic appeal but also help identify the type of bread.

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If you sprinkle flour on top of the bread before scoring, it can create a special decorative pattern as a color contrast forms on the crust. For baguettes, it is typical to make 3, 5, or 7 parallel slashes, depending on their size.

Oval-shaped batards are usually scored with one long slash or two to three shorter ones. Round boules can be scored in various ways, such as forming an X with two perpendicular slashes, creating a star (à) pattern with multiple slashes, making parallel cuts, or using a crosshatch design.

How to score baguettes

3. Influence Crust and Crumb Texture

As the dough bakes, the surface dries out and forms a crust. The slashes expose the interior of the bread more directly to the heat, allowing moisture to escape and resulting in a crisp crust. The depth and angle of the slashes can also impact how the crust expands and cracks, leading to variations in texture and appearance.

Deep, wide cuts can encourage more crust formation, leading to a higher crust-to-crumb ratio. This can result in bread with a relatively thicker and crunchier crust compared to the crumb.

The cuts provide a release point for steam generated by the dough’s moisture, allowing it to escape and prevent excessive internal moisture. This controlled release helps create a more open crumb structure, with larger air pockets throughout the bread.

When and How to Slash Bread Dough

The ideal time to score the dough is right before baking. However, it’s important to ensure that the dough is not over-proofed. Over-fermented dough will deflate when scored, resulting in a smaller volume that cannot recover during baking.

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For oval or round loaves, the cuts can be made vertically or at an angle, with a depth of around ½ inch / 17mm. When scoring baguettes, always hold the scoring tool at a 30-45 degree angle for the best results. The cuts on baguettes should be approximately ¼ inch / 5mm deep. A slash that is too shallow will close up during baking, while one that is too deep will cause the bread dough to collapse.

A baguette

Scoring has the advantage of promoting a well-structured and perfectly risen bread dough, as it helps it expand evenly during baking.

Be cautious when scoring weaker doughs, such as those with a high rye flour content. Make small incisions to prevent them from deflating during baking.

To achieve a nice scoring pattern, a steady hand, and a sharp tool are necessary. Make quick and confident cuts into the dough, without pressing down. If the initial cut is not deep enough, you can run the cutting tool along the same line once again.

You can use curved or straight blades for scoring bread dough. With a curved blade, you can create an “ear” on the dough, which rises upward during baking.

Tools for Scoring Bread Dough

When it comes to scoring bread dough, there are several common tools that bakers use to achieve the desired effect.

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Bread Lame or Grignette

A bread lame is a small, handheld tool specifically designed for scoring dough. It typically consists of a handle and a replaceable razor blade or scoring attachment. The lame allows bakers to make precise and controlled cuts on the surface of the dough.

Razor Blade, Scalpel, or Utility Knife

If you don’t have a bread lame, a simple razor blade, scalpel, or a sharp utility knife (such as a Stanley knife) can be used as an alternative. These thin, sharp blades are ideal for making clean cuts on the surface of the dough.

Scissors

A pair of kitchen scissors work well for scoring bread dough. Scissors provide good control and are suitable for creating various patterns, such as a regular zigzag pattern or the distinctive wheat stalk bread. Once baked, such bread can be easily pulled apart along the scoring lines.

Bread Types That Don’t Need Slashing

Not all bread requires slashing before baking. The decision to slash or not slash the dough depends on the type of bread. Here are a few types of bread that typically don’t require slashing:

Enriched Bread

Bread like sandwich loaves, brioche, challah, braided bread, or other enriched doughs that are meant to be soft and tender usually do not need slashing. These breads have a higher fat and sugar content, which helps inhibit excessive oven spring, and they are baked at lower temperatures. Slashing could disrupt the structure and result in a less desirable texture for these types of bread.

Brioche

Flatbread

Flatbreads like tortillas, pita bread, or lavash generally do not need slashing. These bread types are typically rolled thin and cooked on a hot surface, such as a griddle or a stone, where they puff up naturally without the need for slashing.

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High Hydration Doughs Such as Ciabatta

Ciabatta is prized for its characteristic crust and open crumb structure. The lack of scoring allows the dough to expand freely, promoting a more irregular and rustic appearance. Without the constraints of scoring, ciabatta forms cracks along its surface, resulting in a unique texture and a crust that is both crispy and chewy.

Quick Bread and Batter Bread

Quick bread like banana bread or soda bread is leavened with baking powder or baking soda rather than yeast. Since these bread types do not undergo the same fermentation process as yeast-based bread, slashing is not necessary. The same goes for batter bread like muffins.

These examples provide guidance for bread that typically does not require slashing but always refer to the recipe instructions for the best results.

Final Thoughts

In summary, slashing bread is a crucial step in the baking process. It helps control the rise, shape, texture, and appearance of the loaf. Omitting it can lead to undesirable outcomes such as uneven cracking of the crumb and a loaf that doesn’t fully expand.

While there are exceptions, such as certain types of bread with high hydration or enriched dough, the majority of bread recipes benefit from scoring.

Understanding the importance of slashing and its impact on the final product empowers bakers to create tasty and visually appealing bread. By mastering this technique, bakers can achieve consistent results and enhance the overall quality of their bread.

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It’s important to note that scoring is just one factor among many that contribute to bread texture. Other factors such as dough hydration, fermentation, gluten development, oven temperature, and baking time also play significant roles. Therefore, while scoring can influence bread texture and appearance, it is just part of the overall baking process that contributes to the final result.

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