Scoring a Sourdough Batard
I’m going to explain how I score my sourdough batards functionally to maximise the oven spring and create an amazing ear.
At the bottom of the page, you can watch the video which shows the process from many different angles.
- Why do we score the dough?
- What do we use to score the dough?
- How do we score the dough?
- How temperature and hydration affect scoring
- Watch the video
Why do we score the dough?
Scoring the dough enables it to expand or “spring” to its full potential in a controlled manner during baking. If the dough isn’t scored it’s likely to burst open in random places, possibly without achieving maximum spring.
This type of scoring is functional, it serves the purpose of allowing the dough to expand. But you can also get a little artistic with the cuts which will create beautiful patterns.
Before homes had the luxury of domestic ovens, people would take their loaves to the local bakery for baking in the giant ovens. They would score the dough to create an individual signature to help them identify which loaf was theirs after baking.
What do we use to score the dough?
The best tool for scoring sourdough is a razor blade. They are extremely sharp and make light work of cutting through the dough.
The blade can be held “bare” in the baker's hand. In fact, I spent several years using this method. But the blades can be easy to misplace and when my daughter started toddling around in the kitchen I decided it was time to get a lame.
A lame is a piece of equipment that holds the blade securely making using and storing the blade safer. These are made of various materials, some with compact designs and others with long handles.
There are two different styles of lame. One which holds the blade in a straight configuration and one which holds the blade in a curved configuration.
If you are just starting out then I’d suggest starting with a lame which holds the blade straight. Some people find the curved lame tricky to use but it can be used with the same technique as a straight-bladed lame. You can see this in the video down below.
It's important to find a lame that fits your hand comfortably and gives you maximum control while scoring.
Traditionally the blade was mounted on a long handle but modern lames have evolved into compact designs. UFO lames are extremely popular now and are made of two disks which sandwich the razor blade safely together.
My favourite lames on the market are made by Wire Monkey. They are beautifully crafted from black walnut and fit the hand perfectly. They stock a variety of designs so you’d be sure to find one to suit you.
My favourite lames are the Wire Monkey UFO Nux, the Poco and the new Goose lame.
You can check them out on the Wire Monkey store and using this link will give you an automatic 10% discount at checkout.
How do we score the dough?
The best piece of advice I can give you is not to over-complicate this process. There is lots of talk about the “perfect” angle to hold the blade but the real key to success in creating great spring and a beautiful ear is to get the fermentation process correct before you score.
If your dough is under-fermented or over-fermented then there is no scoring technique that will help you out.
After my dough has been fermented correctly and cold-proofed in a proofing basket I dust the top of the dough and turn it out gently onto a baking peel. The dough is positioned lengthways away from me.
Whether you are turning your dough out onto a peel, a baking stone, or a baking pan, the process will be the same.
I hold the lame comfortably in my hand and hold it at an angle which is around 30-40 degrees. Don’t get too caught up on this though. If you hold the blade so that the bottom edge is pointing towards the bottom edge of the dough you will be in the right ballpark.
I confidently score the dough from the furthest edge of the dough to the closest edge maintaining the angle. After the cut is complete I make sure that the ends of the dough have been scored halfway down (you can see this clearly in the video).
I score at a depth of about 5 millimetres but many people like to make a second pass through the cut to make it deeper. On the occasions that I have tried this, I’ve found the dough to open out more and create a loaf with a lower profile.
Experiment with the depth of the cut and see which produces the style of sourdough/ear that you are looking for.
While most people will tell you that the cut needs to be perfectly straight… I seldom score in a straight line. As I’m drawing the lame back towards me I favour my right-hand side so I normally end up with a slight curve in the cut.
This slightly curved line still produces a great ear and allows the dough to spring perfectly, but most of all it's comfortable for me.
How temperature and hydration affect scoring
I always cold-proof my dough in its basket overnight in the fridge. This helps with my scheduling, improves the flavour, and the drop in temperature firms the dough up.
This makes the scoring process easier as the blade cuts cleanly through the dough without snagging.
If you don’t cold-proof your dough then it could be worth giving it a flash chill in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm the dough up. You’ll be amazed at how much easier it is to score.
High hydration doughs can also be tricky to score as the blade is more likely to snag while you are cutting. I like to use a quick, confident and very deliberate cut with high-hydration dough.
If you are struggling you can reduce the hydration of the dough a little to see if that helps. Cold proofing or flash chilling your dough in the freezer for 30 minutes covered in the basket will help make this process easier.
I don’t think there are right ways or wrong ways to score your dough (within reason). The important thing is to find a style that suits you and feels comfortable.
As long as the dough has been fermented correctly and you have scored from one end to the other you dough will open up in the oven.
Don’t get too caught up on angles and being too exact. Sourdough is an art and you are allowed to impart your own artistic expression!
Have some fun, experiment with different techniques and find one that suits you, and produces the result you are looking for.
Ah, and once the dough is scored… don’t admire it for too long… get it in the oven as quickly as you can!
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