7

I've got to the point where my bread springs beautifully (I can see it grow). Unfortunately, no matter how I score it, the score always spreads open gently, then hardens along with the rest of the crust. Then, 5 minutes later, the bread splits open at the side.

I usually bake a batard shape, with 80% hydration. I make a single score, using a kitchen knife, about 0.5 to 1 cm deep cut straight down. I spray the oven walls three or four times with a plant sprayer after I put the loaf in.

What can I do to get better results? Should I invest in a razor, should I angle the cut a bit more?

Since the answer is a combination of the things mentioned, I'd thought I'd edit the question to summarize my findings. I've tried most of the things mentioned below. The following things stand out:

  • It's perfectly possible to get a properly opening score without a lamé.
  • There's a spectrum ranging from doughs that immediately open up when you cut them, and those that stay firm and re-seal immediately. This mostly depends on hydration. If you have the first, you'll want to make very horizontal cuts. This gives you a kind of flap that holds the cut closed long enough to keep it from hardening during the first minutes of the oven spring. This is why the score looks asymmetrical after baking.
  • I resisted the method of putting a dutch oven inside my oven for a long time. I have a small oven and this reduces the effective space a lot. Also I can't watch the dough spring anymore, which I find the most magical part of baking bread. But I tried it and, holy cow, what a difference it makes. Of all the tricks mentioned, this one made by far the biggest difference.
  • 1
    Try multiple slashes. – Optionparty Mar 30 '15 at 22:59
  • 2
    Sounds like your slash is very shallow. 0.5 to 1 cm is really not that much. I typically slash mine almost an inch down. I also second what @Optionparty says about multiple slashes. – Johanna Mar 30 '15 at 23:00
5

I agree with many elements of the previous answers -- it could be due to the wet dough "resealing" and/or to the crust hardening too early and preventing further expansion. Doing a more horizontal slash than a vertical one is helpful to get good "ears," and extra moisture will keep the crust softer for a little longer to get more oven spring.

Frankly, although I did it for years, I don't find the plant sprayer method to do very much -- and if you're opening the oven periodically to spray in the first few minutes, you could be losing significant heat that could actually reduce oven spring. I concur with the steam pan method or using an enclosed pot. Note that pots don't have to be cast iron: any enclosed pot will significantly improve your crust as long as it is oven-safe at the baking temperature.

That said, I think this particular problem is difficult to troubleshoot without observing your specific loaves and slashing technique. Slashing deeper (whether vertically or horizontally) is definitely NOT always the answer and can actually deflate your loaves significantly if done incorrectly. With proper hydration, shaping, and oven steaming, it's very possible for quite shallow slashes to lead to great expansion. (As an aside, serrated knives are also about preference -- if you don't keep your straight-edge knives very sharp, serrated may be a better choice. However, they can leave your slashes jagged on the final loaf, which may not be as pretty and may result in unevenness for shallower cuts. I keep some of my straight-edge kitchen knives really sharp so they can be used for things like this.)

A lot of it depends on shaping and the stage of proofing your dough is in when you bake it, as well as the hydration. If you do a very thorough shaping (i.e., preshaping, bench rest, then very tight shaping of the final loaves), the outermost skin of the loaf may be very taut. Even a shallow slash could be enough to allow the loaves to open up significantly. If, on the other hand, you do a very gently shaping (little or no pre-shaping, trying very hard not to deflate the dough at all), the "skin" will not have the same characteristics and deeper slashes may be necessary. (As an example of this, you might consult the different advice given by Peter Reinhard and Jeffrey Hamelman -- the latter emphasizes detailed and tight shaping and thus advocates very shallow slashing; the former encourages gentle handling when shaping and advocates somewhat deeper cuts.)

The stage of proofing is also critical here: a loaf that is somewhat underproofed will likely have a more taut skin but will also hold its shape better even with deeper slashes. If the loaves are somewhat overproofed, they have a better chance of deflating or at least losing height with deeper slashing. The apparent moisture of the dough and its susceptibility to "reseal" the cut will also change depending on proofing stage.

Again, there are a lot of factors to consider. I would pay particular attention to the behavior of the loaves right after you slash them. Do the slashes spread significantly immediately (indicating a taut surface)? Or do they just remain close together (and thus risk re-sealing)? If you slash more deeply, does the loaf deflate? And if it does so, does it seem to reinflate in the oven, or do your permanently lose height? These observations can help troubleshoot the exact issue. A final concern -- sometimes if the dough is likely to reseal, waiting too long between slashing and getting the loaf into the oven can be a problem. A few seconds should not be an issue, but if you're taking a few minutes to slash and load a few loaves before getting them to the oven, that can be enough time for some cuts to close up again.

  • Thanks for the thorough answer. Most recently, with the high-hydration ones, the cut opens up very wide immediately after slashing. It's the polar opposite of re-sealing. Then the opened up part just hardens along with the rest of the crust, and a few minutes later the split happens in a random place. So far I've tried cutting deeper, but then I do lose some height. – Peter Apr 3 '15 at 14:58
  • @Peter - based on your comment, I might try a few things: (1) use more intense steam (either steam pan or bake in pot), which might keep the crust softer for a slightly longer time, (2) the dough may be slightly underproofed -- try waiting a little longer before baking, (3) shaping technique may be off -- either the dough isn't shaped thoroughly and doesn't have an adequate "skin" to prevent bursting OR the shaping could be too tight leading to the gluten breaking apart when stretched in the oven. – Athanasius Apr 7 '15 at 17:16
  • @Peter - also, have you tried varying the location and/or number of your slashes? Sometimes one central slash isn't enough, and making a series of parallel cuts or four cuts in a square (depending on loaf shape) or something could help release the extra tension. (I find more cuts often works better than just slashing deeper.) – Athanasius Apr 7 '15 at 17:21
  • The combination of a dutch oven and a more thorough shaping did the trick. I'm varying between one big cut, or three smaller ones. The first works perfectly, the second requires a bit more practice to achieve the proper look, but the bread doesn't split at the side any more, however I cut. – Peter Apr 8 '15 at 14:53
4

What seems a straight cut at the finished batard often started as horizontal deep cut:
Hold the blade almost horizontally and make a cut that basically creates a flap of dough or "overlap" of 1.5 cm or more. Oven spring expands the overlap, giving these wide "bands" on the surface.

High hydration doughs are a bit "sticky", so vertical cuts are prone to be re-sealed by expanding dough: the cut is not "weak" enough to open. With horizontal cuts the pressure is way less, leaving it open or " expandable".

If you want to experiment with a lamé de boulanger, get a razor blade (the old-fashioned rectangular refills with the odd-shaped holes down the center), bend it slightly cross-wise and stick a thin chopstick or skewer through the outer holes. Handling it needs a bit of practise.
My preferred knife is a really sharp serrated one, sold as "tomato knife", but every knife that's reasonably sharp should do. A wet blade sometimes helps with sticky dough.

  • 1
    The top right picture on the first answer here shows a baguette that was obviously slashed horizontally with a wide opening of the cut during baking. Note the "ear" on the higher side. This Q/A discusses the influences of diferent slash patterns nicely. – Stephie Mar 31 '15 at 9:16
2

What's happening is that your bread crust is hardening before the expansion is done, and the crust splits at the weakest point. You need moisture to keep it soft and pliable until it stops expanding. The options are:

  • Put a pan of boiling water in your oven at the start of your bake, then remove the pan once your bread stops expanding
  • Put your bread in a large cast-iron pan with a lid, I bake my crusty breads in a large le creuset pot for 25 minutes, then remove the lid. The lid keeps the steam in, removing it then allows the crust to harden

It's a good problem to have really as it shows you have a good, moist dough, and it's easily solved.

  • I use the otherwise rarely used enameled roasting pan that came with the oven, and have done a few test runs so I know how much water to put in so it just boils dry after 15 minutes or so. Just watch out for the first burst of steam when you open the door if you've done the time and volume of water to start while the oven is preheating - and then don't open the oven until after it's done steaming. – Ecnerwal Apr 3 '15 at 0:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.