Have you ever wondered why there are designs and patterns in the crusts of artisanal breads? It’s a technique called ‘scoring’ and it’s not purely for aesthetics. Scoring proofed dough helps control how the bread will expand during baking.
A lame is used to ‘score’ (cut) the top of the proofed dough right before it’s loaded into the oven. Lame is a French word for blade, many bakers use a razor blade, some use a small sharp knife. They come in many different styles! Curved or straight blades, single and double sided blades, metal, plastic and wooden handles, there is a lame for everyone!
We use the lame on the left, just a razor blade on a flat metal stick, the way the blade is put on gives it a slight curve. These other two lames are ones that we have tried in the past; but the simple razor on a stick seems to be the preferred lame.
Scoring proofed dough not only helps control how bread will expand appearance-wise while it bakes, it also controls how the crumb (interior) will expand, which can change the texture and flavor of the bread. I asked the bread team to bake some improperly scored baguettes to demonstrate how scoring effects the appearance and texture. First, we’ll start with exterior appearance, then follow with the crumb. In the baking world, ‘crumb’ refers to the interior texture; how coarse or fine and the quality and size of the holes.
The front baguette is a perfectly scored baguette, the middle baguette has been scored too deep and at the wrong angle, the baguette at the back has not been scored at all. Below I’ll discuss each baguette separately.
This baguette is perfectly scored, you can see the almond shape associated with Classic Baguettes and the dark edge of the ‘ear’ (a raised flap of crust on the edge of a cut, most commonly seen on baguettes and batards). Baguettes are traditionally scored almost parallel to the long axis (a handful of very slightly diagonal cuts going down the length of the baguette). A properly scored baguette will have well defined ears and the angle of the score will allow the baguette to widen as it bakes. After baking, our baguettes are almost 3 inches wide.
As you can see here, this baguette has a great crumb! Big airy holes, with smaller ones throughout. The texture is soft, light and spongy. Look at the detail and beauty of those holes; a promise of great bread! If you click on these photos you can see a larger image; you can see there’s almost a thin membrane of dough moving throughout the big holes in the baguette. It’s not just a hole in bread, it’s so much more!
This baguette has been scored horizontally. You’ll notice that the cuts didn’t expand much, just opened a little where the scores are; there are no crusty ears. In fact, there wasn’t any real ‘crustiness’ to the crust. This baguette widened only slightly after baking, it measured barely over two inches wide. It’s not awful looking, but it’s definitely not the perfect classic baguette.
You can see there are still a number of holes, but they don’t vary in size or character. This baguette had a much denser crumb. It was chewier, and not in a pleasing way.
The baguette with no scoring is pretty boring, no crusty ears, no variation in the crust at all. After baking this baguette measured around 1 3/4 inches wide, the size increase was negligible. When you don’t score bread, it either has blow-outs (expands and bursts through the crust where you don’t want it too), or it doesn’t expand at all. This baguette stayed small; without the scoring it didn’t have anywhere to expand to. The scores in the dough encourages the bread to spread and sort of grow before the crust forms.
With this baguette, you can see that there all some very small holes; but nothing even remotely approaching complex. In our baguettes, there will always be at least some small holes, our recipe is excellent, but without the scoring the bread can’t fully expand and develop; each step is important! This bread was extremely dense, tough and very chewy. It was not something you’d want to serve with cheese or make a sandwich with.
This was just a basic overview of what scoring accomplishes with crust and crumb. When scoring, bread bakers have to take a few things into account, such as how wet or dry the dough is (this affects how deep they need to cut), or how they angle the lame when they score (this determines how the cut will open when it bakes). Scoring is all done free-hand, it’s not something people can master on their first try! It’s a technique that takes a lot of practice!
With a handful of our breads, employees use can use the number of scores to help determine which bread it is:
The Pullman on the left has 3 vertical scores, this tells us it’s Sourdough. The Pullman on the right has 1 vertical score down the center, this tells us it’s French Country. I don’t know how we would ever tell Raisin Walnut and Cranberry Walnut Pullmans and Batards apart if it wasn’t for the different scoring!
While scoring does serve a very important part in the development of the bread,that doesn’t mean it can’t look good too!