The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Slashing Dos and Don'ts?

hefetc's picture

Slashing Dos and Don'ts?


I just wanted to see if I could get a thread started about some slashing do's and don'ts. Nancy Silverton got me to appreciate its importance, but her technique has never quite worked for me.

I'm a relatively new sourdough baker, though I've been baking regular yeast breads (and other baked goods) for years. I recently acquired some King Arthur sourdough starter, and have been experimenting. First with Peter Reinhardt's basic formula (though I love his yeasted recipes, this didn't work out so well) and then with Nancy Silverton's (better) and then combining approaches. Then a little foray into no-knead adapted for sourdough starter (loved the Dutch Oven idea, but didn't like the gummy crumb). Now I've found Jeffrey Hammelman, and wish I'd read him first (though perhaps to appreciate the fact that he answered most or all of my lingering questions, I had to have those questions raised by Peter Reinhardt and Nancy Silverton).

My current example is with an overproofed batch of Vermont (or, rather, DC) Sourdough. (An impromptu trip to a movie resulted in a much longer bulk fermentation than is recommended.) I followed Jeffrey Hammelman's Vermont Sourdough formula, but ended up with a 5 hour bulk ferment (folded once after 60 mins). I then shaped and immediately retarded in the fridge overnight. Hammelman writes that as long as the loaf has reached its proper volume, there's no reason it can't be baked right out of the fridge, since, from the perspective of a 450 degree oven, 40 degree dough is not that different from 70 degree dough. Mine hadn't reached their ideal volume, but I didn't want to overproof them any further, so I Baked Loaf A right out of the fridge (in a 5 qt cast iron Dutch oven). Took Loaf B out of the fridge when Loaf A started baking, so Loaf B had a little more time to come up to room temp (though it was still pretty cool when it went into the oven and wasn't much bigger than Loaf A).

Now comes my point... I think the main difference in the way these 2 loaves turned out is the slashing pattern. Loaf A was slashed (per Nancy Silverton, with shallow cuts because of the overproofing) with 2 semi-parallel (but slightly curved) slashes. This resulted in a slightly oval-shaped, "confined-looking" loaf, with some tearing at the outside ends of the slashes. (I'd had the same experience with a single C-shaped slash earlier on, also probably on an imperfectly proofed loaf.) The internal hole structure wasn't as dense as my first loaf or so, but it didn't have the nice open hole structure of some of my more recent efforts.

I slashed Loaf B with a square (with which I've had the most success in the past, as it seems to encourage the loaf to stay circular, and gives it enough room to grow). Only this time, I tried fully connecting the corners of the square with the slash marks, to give the loaf the most possible room to spring. I think this was a mistake, because I ended up with the funny little "mortar board" effect, and the square section on top is much more dense and thick. I think if I had _not_ completely "connected the dots" at the corners, the top would have stretched with the loaf, and resulted in the nice thin, flaky but chewy texture of the rest of the crust (see the final picture at the bottom). Loaf B did, however, end up with a much nicer crumb structure than Loaf A.


So, I've seen some info about slashing/docking and how it can be used to ameliorate proofing problems, etc, but I thought these pictures would be interesting. I wanted to get people talking about (and posting images of) different slashing techniques and how they affect the results of the beginning/intermediate baker. Clearly master bakers can do beautiful things with their slashes and their bread will turn out more or less the same. But I'd be interested in the trial and error experiences of others like myself (with less controlled environments).

Loaf A (left) and Loaf B from topLoaf A (left) and Loaf B from top

 crumbLoaf A (left) and Loaf B: crumb


Previous (more successful) square slashing (leaving corners "unconnected")Previous (more successful) square slashing (sides of the square not fully connected at the corners)



(This is my first post... Such a great site! Thanks to FloydM and all who make it possible for me to spend hours of otherwise billable time thinking about bread! :) )


Squid's picture

Welcome, hefetc!

Well, I can't really help b/c I think I suck at slashing bread. But I sure hope we can gain a lot of insight from your post. It's a great idea to talk about all things "slashing" b/c for me, it seems the most difficult thing to get a hang of.

Since you want to get people posting images of their slashed bread, here's mine. I should have taken a shot of my bread today b/c it did look a bit better. It seemed easier to slash for some reason. 

Critique away!


hefetc's picture

There goes my theory about the hard, thick square on the top of my "Loaf B" being caused by the fact that the corners weren't left attached. Your square is its own little island, too, but it didn't get thick. Nice looking loaf!

Maybe my problem was more the depth or the angle of the cut. The cuts I made were fairly shallow.

chiaoapple's picture

Hi, I hope I'm understanding this right, but is the difference in interior crumb between the two loaves due to different slashing techniques? Oh my!

I'm always trying to improve my slashing technique, but w/o much success (how good the slashes are seem to depend entirely on the densisity of the dough). I've read somewhere that a good surgical scalpel is a good slashing tool, and am thinking of getting one.

If the crumb differs this much due solely to slashing, then I must think about slashing more seriously.

browndog's picture

The second loaf with the airier crumb went into the oven after the first loaf, so it had longer to warm up and proof. My guess would be that those are the bigger factors in creating the difference. Really interesting topic!

hefetc's picture

If I had known the differences would be so interesting, I would have kept all the conditions constant and not warmed up the second loaf.

I think the better crumb probably does relate in part to the fact that it was a little bit warmer and more proofed when it went in.

But mainly I wonder, since Loaf A seemed like its oven spring had been cramped by the way it was slashed (there was tearing at the ends of the slashes), whether the less restrictive slashing on Loaf B gave it more room to spring.

Maybe I'll be more controlled with my next batch. (Have to decide whether I should intentionally overproof to reproduce the experiment... this batch is really pretty tasty, so maybe there wouldn't be much harm in it.)