Bread Education

Good slashing is easy when you know how!

The final touch to your dough just prior to entering the oven is one of those moments that gives the inexperienced home baker performance anxiety. Understandable really, since many a nice loaf has been made to appear pretty average on account of the slashes.

Slashing is a bit like engraving or Japanese ink art on silk. Once you’ve executed it you can’t change it. It’s there for everyone to see, good, bad or ugly! There’s no fixing it, you just have to live with it.

Why do we need to slash the dough anyway? Surely if it causes so much angst and is easy to mess up why not just forget about it.

The answer lies in the fact that good quality sourdough will inevitably expand in the oven during the early baking stage. This expansion needs to be controlled and slashing allows us to control where the expansion occurs. If we didn’t slash, the dough would crack and distort which makes for ugly bread. Even the uninitiated who may not know why recognise that it just doesn’t look right. There are times when we want the dough to crack in the oven and use it to our advantage but that’s for another post.

Further, expansion is exactly what we want in most cases, since this expansion has a profound positive influence on bread volume, crumb texture and of course mouthfeel of the bread.

So what is the secret to making your slashes look as good as your bread tastes?

Here are few things to help you improve your slashing techniques.

Firstly, it helps if you have the right tool. Although sharp knives will do, I believe a lame fitted with a sharp razor blade will make a big difference. Alternatively a scalpel is sharp, easy to get from a chemist and will last a life time, like the lame pictured, it has interchangeable blades.

Of course lames are easy to make if you don’t want to buy one and in fact that’s what I did. A thin strip of stainless steel that can neatly fit into the gaps of double sided razor blades is just the ticket. File down one edge so its width is a little narrower and a blade can be easily ‘threaded’ through the gap either end of the blade. The end filed to take the blade should have a moderate curve. This will mean the blade will be curved once it’s threaded to the handle. See the picture below.

The curve in the blade should correspond with the curve in the handle
The curve in the blade should correspond with the curve in the handle

Second thing is that we don’t use the word ‘slash’ for no reason. It’s executed quickly so we really are slashing! This helps reduce the dough holding or sticking to the blade preventing the soft dough distorting or tearing. Another subtlety is that almost no downward pressure is used. Let the blade do the cutting, not the force of your hand.

Thirdly, slash at the correct angle.  This means placing the beginning and ending of the slash in the right place relative to the top and sides of the dough piece. For instance when slashing a baguette a 45° angle relative to the side of the dough is too steep. The slash will not open sufficiently to prevent distortion, and will fail to achieve a pleasing appearance.  Slashes need to be almost less than 20° to create the result we are looking for.

See below in the photo and the diagram.

Note the angle of the slashes - 20° to 30° to assist with maximum expansion
Note the angle of the slashes – 20° to 30° to assist with maximum expansion

It goes without saying that slashes should be in proportion to the dough size and to each other if indeed you intend to have more than one.

The depth of the slashes should be just deep enough to get the best out of the dough expansion during the initial baking. This will also depend on how mature your dough is and how much ‘ovenspring’ you expect to gain (ovenspring is what we call dough expansion during the initial baking period – as the dough warms the leavening organisms accelerate gas production). The general rule is that we want enough during final proof, but not so much that there is little or no expansion in the oven.

Slashing dough

Of course there are lots of ways to slash different shaped loaves for different aesthetics and or for the quality of the crust formation. There really are many ways to achieve good expansion with a beautiful appearance. You can be creative to make your mark on your own bread.

Here are a few examples:

Dusted loaves to accentuate the crust colour and appearance





Just one more important thing: when using a lame, use just the leading edge of the blade, it helps if you raise your elbow. This changes the angle of attack of the blade and avoids the dough catching on the blunt inside end closest to your hand. Nothing worse than having a great dough that you’ve moulded perfectly and you screw up with the lame catching on the blunt end, tearing the dough and spoiling  it.

Good luck and don’t fret over the slashes, practice with a pen and paper to get the angles and lengths right before you ‘paint’ your next canvas!

7 replies on “Good slashing is easy when you know how!”

Cheers, glad you’re enjoying it. We are trying to make it informative so they can make good quality bread without over-burdening readers with excess technical details.

Can you explain why some slashes decorate the loaf and some rip the loaf apart? Is it the depth of the cut? Or is it the location? You touched on this a little bit with the illustration and the 20% angle. My boules, unfortunately, rip apart no matter if the slash is shallow or deep.

Hello Julie,

The expansion of the dough in the oven during the initial, or early baking stage can be controlled by the type of slashes, the depth, the angles and the number of slashes.

If your boules are having ‘too much expansion’ no matter what technique you’re using and all things being equal, I’d say your dough pieces need more final proof.

Final proof is the time your dough is in the final phase of rising prior to entering the oven.

Final proof time will vary depending on the following:

– type of flour you use
– maturity of your dough (total DTO time)
– ambient proving temperature (temp of your kitchen)

But having said that, I’d guess you could give the dough more time prior to entering the oven.

Good luck.

My dough’s final proof is almost 24 hrs in the fridge and it goes right from the fridge into the oven. I’ll keep working at it. Thank you for responding.

Now that would just prove to me that you need to leave it out of the fridge for a few hours before entering the oven.

The temperature during final proof will dictate the time frame. And 24 hrs in the fridge is technically called retardation not proof. Without any time for the dough to warm a little will mean all the expansion will be in the oven. Some expansion can occur prior to entering the oven. In fact a good balance is better, some out of the oven and some in the oven.

If you want to bake straight from the fridge your dough needs more time prior to entering the fridge. But there are subtle details that you’d need to be aware of and adjust or control for.

These subtle variables are too difficult to go into with a comment.

But in general, every dough has an optimum maturity that is within a specific range of time. This is dependent upon the variables of flour quality, sourdough verility, dough formula, dough and environment temperature and dough development character.

We want our dough pieces to enter the oven at the time the dough is at its optimum maturity for the type of bread we are making.

Maturity is accelerated or retarded by temperature. We have some choice on when in the process we want to achieve net maturity in the earlier stages or, in the latter stages or, a combination of both. But as I said, learning to recognise the subtlety of the details requires some experience.

Good luck, enjoy the stimulating journey of bread baking, it’s a noble skill to learn.

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