Scoring

The most important factor for ear formation is to have the dough in an optimal condition prior to baking. If our dough doesn’t rise, how do we achieve ears? With so many great resources available addressing dough matters, there really isn’t a need to cover it here. However, there is a huge void when it comes to literature available regarding scoring. It is for this reason, I will be sharing my own studies and observations, touching on the basics of scoring and covering factors which I feel need some addressing.

There’s actually an overwhelming amount of cross-linking information needed to fully understand scoring. Every aspect of scoring has a function:

  • Score angle
  • Depth
  • Length
  • Curvature
  • Direction
  • Placement

These are all best applied in tandem with dough condition, to maximize bread potential. Therefore, a solid understanding of the bread making process is essential for producing an ideal loaf with good ears.

Most sources will state that you should score dough at a 45° angle. Whilst that is helpful, there are two issues that need to be further explained.

  1. If we score at 45° to the table/floor, the curvature of our dough surface changes from area to area, making that score angle much wider than 45° in some areas. It is best to adjust the score to follow the surface area of the dough as depicted in the diagram below. Be mindful about overall loaf shape. Baguettes will have a more dramatic curvature while a Boule will have a gentler slope. Observe the curvature and adjust to that, rather than follow a set angle.
  2. While scoring at 45° is generally accepted, there are certain dough conditions which benefit from a different angle.  If ears are a priority, very broadly speaking, lower protein, high bran, gluten free, and lower hydration loaves benefit from a deeper and thinner angled score (filleting).

While a million things can go wrong in the bread making process, it’s highly likely that we will come across a dough which is not optimal.  Given said dough, it makes perfect sense to limit the damages as opposed to adding to the problem. Score selection can accentuate or minimize a flaw, bring out the best in a dough, or hinder it. 

The diagram below is a quick reference for various dough conditions, with suggested score angles, positions and depths to maximize the dough at hand.  The idea is to give enough ease for the dough to perform. Not too much ease that it will compromise structure and deflate, but also not too little where it will limit crumb, warp, crack and pucker at the ear site.

*please note there are other factors which affect the efficiency of these scores

How do we determine what angle we are scoring at? We can look at our most recent bakes, and those will give us an indication of our scoring tendencies.  Look at the ear formation, with particular interest to the angle at the ear tip. Reverse engineer it, and we can determine if our score angle is too thin or thick (refer to the diagram below). 

Generally, an ear that is thick (wide angle), will be weighed down by a thicker base (which acts as an anchor or breaks), therefore will experience less potential to lift and curl.

Scoring the opposite side to roll direction affects ears – or does it?  

It’s generally accepted that final shaping roll-direction should be scored from the opposite direction to encourage ears due to the recoil factor. There are other factors to consider. This technique was devised for general bread making with commercial yeast where loaves are typically lower hydrations, using a shorter time frame, with a short proof when compared to sourdough.

Knowing our hydration and timing will assist in determining if this method is, in fact, applicable to our specific dough. 

In sourdough, very broadly speaking we:

  1. Ferment / retard for long periods of time
  2. Work at higher hydrations 
  3. Encourage a relaxed dough

All these factors work to negate the effects of roll direction due to increased gluten activity and less tension. Perform a stretch and fold on your dough and see if you can successfully unfold it within a couple of minutes.  The degree of how cleanly it comes apart is indicative of how effective the roll-score method will be to your specific dough. As a gauge, a typical Tartine country loaf is generally not affected by scoring in the opposite to roll direction unless your gluten strength was increased drastically with late tension development. 

Below is a short video to show how different parts of the razor blade affect your score.

Using the Whole Blade

Author

Hi! My name is Hằng Lai, and I am a seminomadic Aussie expat currently stationed in Malaysia. We have a very multicultural family, something I’m extremely proud of. My bread journey started when a very close cousin, Rosemary Pham Fogliani, was diagnosed with stomach cancer. I recall spending a lot of time researching and reading about gastric cancer when sourdough sparked an interest and later became a refuge and distraction during difficult times. Before I knew it, sourdough had became an outright obsession. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with so many bakers globally. It’s amazing how sourdough has no boundaries.