Tag Archives: slashing

The perfect baguette

IMG_2932Although I’ve  been baking bread, by hand, for three and a bit years now, I had yet to crack the perfect baguette. Or indeed, any sort of baguette. I suspected – and I was correct – that you needed a couche cloth to make a sourdough baguette and after I got a couche cloth as part of my birthday presents (I’m not a girl who needs an underpaid worker to go into a mine and get me a diamond) I set to work.

The first thing making baguettes taught me is that you really do need to nail your shaping. If you don’t properly prepare the dough for shaping (give it a final knead, then let it rest for about 20 mins before shaping it) it won’t shape so easily and if you don’t shape it properly, it won’t have the surface tension to hold its form. If it can’t hold its form properly then it will be hard to slash and if all those things happen you will get bread that is perfectly lovely and edible. But it won’t look good as it could be.


My first four baguettes, tasted great but shaping and slashing not great.

IMG_2403Next two. Better but not there yet.

Dan Lepard and the lovely Joanna from Zeb Bakes helped me with shaping and other tips. Joanna linked me to some shaping and slashing videos on line. Dan reminded me to put the bread into the hottest oven possible for the maximum amount of oven spring.

[The shaping video is here and the baguette shaping starts at 2.25. The scoring baguettes video is here.]

Because I really do think a baguette has to be made of white flour, I don’t really attempt to make it too healthy. But I did have, what I thought was a master stroke of genius and (because I just really struggle with adding 100% white flour it seems so unhealthy) I added 50g-ish of rye to my 450g of white flour. Okay so it’s not much but it stops it being made completely from white flour. I say this is a master stroke of genius in this way because after I did this, I read that Dan also recommends doing this to add a bit of nuttiness and flavour to an otherwise white loaf. So, you know, I felt really very clever.

Adding a bit of other flour doesn’t detract from the white-ness but it does add a certain something. I also find that sprinkling both the baking tin with polenta (so that it coats the bottom of the baguette), and the top of the baguette, lends even more certain somethingness.

The other thing to note is that with baguettes, I’ve found I really do need my grignette. So I had to find it in the back of my drawer. The videos I link to above show you how to do the slashes, as they’re quite particular. I can’t use a bread knife slashing baguettes.

Anyway. I’ve now got it so that I wouldn’t say I’ve perfected the art of the baguette, not by any means, but I’ve got it so that I can make a pretty good one which, with some butter and apricot jam and a bowl of caffe latte, makes a pretty perfect breakfast. A bit naughty, without descending into something so bad for you, you want to start slashing at yourself.


Do look at the videos for shaping and practise. It’s really worth it.

[The recipe I use is Dan’s standard white sourdough recipe from his The Handmade Loaf book, with 50g of rye added to the 450g of white bread flour instead of 500g of white bread flour.]

Slashing – do you need special tools?

The subject of slashing is big in the bread world. Before I started baking bread, I had no idea that those slashes were there for anything other than decoration.

Oh how simple my world must have been.

If I’ve understood it correctly, and it’s entirely probable I haven’t, you slash your bread so that it can rise to maximum height without exploding. This is because the heat of the oven causes something caused “oven spring”-  that final push upwards. Because the bread has a certain surface tension, you want the bread to rise as much as possible before the crust bakes hard and doesn’t allow any further growth. So in this respect slashing helps, (but so does causing a moist environment in the oven – steam. More on this another time).

If you slash, you control where the bread expands. If you didn’t and it needed to expand, it might burst in an uncontrollable fashion. So slashing can be decorative and serves a purpose. Btw, you only really need to slash with certain types of bread. Some bread that don’t rise much, such as a pure rye, don’t need slashes.

But how to slash?

People are nervous of slashing the dough, with good reason. You’ve spent the best part of a day making your sourdough baby and when you tip it out on a (preferably pre-heated) tray or stone you don’t want to muck about with it anymore than you have to. Slashing takes a bit of confidence and good slashing also depends on the proving. If you’ve overproved, slashing is more likely to make your bread deflate, for instance.

When I first started slashing I used a really sharp knife. I found this dragged and it made me panic, because the bread seemed to deflate (although it seemed to recover fine in the oven).

I never need a reason to buy a new gadget or a specialist tool so I looked up what you could use.

  • A razor blade – no good for me as I have young children and I wasn’t going to risk a naked blade escaping from the drawer.
  • A grignette or lame – a posh Stanley knife.

Naturally, I decided, I needed one of the latter.

You can get ones with rotating blades (so you can use both sides, although there’s nothing to stop you swopping hands and doing it but I guess that requires some dexterity), ceramic blades, steel blades, replaceable blades. They are used “by the professionals”.

I got this one:

Mure and Peynot Panette Professional Grignette, £9.99, close up of curved blade
Same, seen side on and full length and with safety cover.
It has a replaceable blade and a safety cover as seen above.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, in his lovely little book on bread suggests you can use a bread knife. If you’ve ever tried to slice a tomato with a regular (even really sharp) knife and a serrated bread knife, you’ll know the latter makes the job so much easier.
Surely a bread knife couldn’t be as good as, or better, than a special tool?
Well actually yes it can. I’m sure if you’re a proper artisan baker who makes all sorts of fancy patterns on their bread, then I’m sure that a grignette, in your hands does amazing things. But I can’t get the slashes to go deep enough.
The bread knife does a far better job.
Slash made with grignette on potato bread. Nice, but see how shallow it is? Although you’ll see the bread knife is already starting to muscle in.
This morning’s bread, white sourdough, slashed with a simple bread knife. Better, no?
Yesterday’s bread: three flour mill loaf, with bread knife slashes. 

Conclusion: it may not be a wallet-busting exercise, buying a professional grignette, but I think a bread-knife does the job better. With the money you save you’d be better off buying a banneton, which is worth the money. But, more on this another time.