When I started this blog I was faced with a wall of writer’s block. I have not much to say about recipes, since I play by ear and feel. There has been plenty written about method of fermentation, shaping and baking, so that was also off the table. And yet… And yet I did feel that I had something to say. Scoring is undoubtedly something that I have been obsessed with for quite a while, but what can you write about scoring? I felt it was an area that didn’t need words. Well, that was a while ago, and now… drumroll…
I will soon release a book on scoring!
Yay! As it turns out, the more I write about scoring, the more there seems to be yet unwritten. In the impatience-ridden process I have been itching to share some of the work with people who like to read what I write and care to hear what I have to say, so I decided to share an excerpt here. A sneak-peek, if you like!
My choice landed on a short piece dealing with the most frequent question I have ever been asked – How to prevent bread from cracking? The answer to this is complex and complicated. There are many things that influence the way your bread behaves, but let’s see if we can simply some of this. Here we go:
The bread cracked
This is, by far, the most common issue. Many have asked me what I do for the bread not to crack and burst, or what recipe I use, as if it is only a particular kind of dough and a specific kind of method that lends itself to scoring. In fact, there is nothing new that you have to do. All the stages and components are the same, except that they need to be done very deliberately, because a meticulously scored loaf is less forgiving that a wildly slashed one. There is no simple answer to why did my bread burst, but the character of the crack might help us figure out what went wrong.
Irregular crack with thick, dark and ragged edges — while unlikely to happen with bread baked in a dutch oven, this is characteristic for hearth loaves baked in firewood stoves, or on a stone. The thick, rough crack is a sure sign of insufficient steam. The crust wasn’t moist enough to be flexible, so it hardened and set before the loaf was done expanding. Another possible reason is that your baking temperature was too high, resulting in the same effect. Steam your oven properly next time or lower the temperature a bit.
Dainty crack following the outline of your scoring — not enough cuts to accommodate growth. Your scoring was either not deep enough, or there weren’t sufficient elements. Think of the bread needing a certain amount of expansion – whether it is to be achieved in one wide slash, or in fifty smaller cuts. If you only made thirty of the said small cuts, the loaf will claim its space by ripping open one of the scored elements. If your bread only needed a little extra room the crack will be neat and almost pretty, as if one of your wheat stalks got unzipped. Next time add an extra stalk if there is space for it, or make your cuts a bit deeper and longer.
Burst, exploding loaf — distant relative of the dainty crack, except that it doesn’t look pretty by any measure. If in the previous case you only needed one extra stalk, or take a few of the cuts a little deeper, the bursting loaf is an extreme case of insufficient scoring. This usually happens when most, or all of the scores were shallow, or when you really underestimated the potential of your loaf and scored way too little. This also happens with inexperienced, shy scoring when the blade barely grazed the surface. You need plenty of deep scores for the bread to have enough room to grow.
Straight, long, wide crack along a scored line — this is not exactly a crack – you just made a straight cut longer than an inch. That kind of cut is an invitation for the hot air to come through and is difficult to control. You will also see that the adjacent scores didn’t really open because there wasn’t sufficient tension as air was escaping freely. Whenever you make a pattern that consists of longer lines, be ready for them to spread beyond your control.
A spiderweb of fine cracks all over the surface — this is a sign of a crust that was a tad too thick. Low hydration might be a cause, but another typical culprit is flour. If you flour your bread too much, and, especially, if your crust is moist when you flour it, you will end up with a thick dry layer on top. This will not be elastic and will just shatter, creating a web of cracks. Use a moderate amount of flour and brush it off with your palm.
Bread peeking out of a scored line — sometimes in small marbles, but usually in a large domed piece, bread seems to be escaping through a crack along a scored line. All other scores have opened up just fine, or maybe slightly short of enough, but there is one that ripped open and dough has squeezed out through it. You will also see that the cut expanded not only in width, but also cracked lengthwise. This happens when you tried an exotic pattern that wasn’t all planed through. The scored pattern wasn’t flexible and stretchy enough. Refer to the chapter on how to create your own patterns.
There it is! Now I’m nervous… Did you like it? Was this useful? Can you now say what went wrong with the loaf in the picture?
Thank you for reading, and I hope you’re just as excited about my book as I am!