What you see on this page used to be a paid course. I would like to thank immensely everyone who took it and supported my work and I hope you found the knowledge was worth your money. At this time I would like to make the information freely available to everyone. This might not have the interactive interface of an online course, but rest assured that what matters is still here. Enjoy!
My name is Anna, I am from Moldova and I have been baking since the fall of 2016, making anywhere in between 1 and 4 loaves per week, balancing baking against a full-time job. I’m sharing this so you know I am not a professional baker and sourdough is not how I earn my living. I hope this does not put you off, but rather shows you that you can definitely learn what I am about to teach you. An intricately scored loaf might seem daunting only at first glance. Once you know how it’s done – you can master it!
Another thing you might want to know about me is that I have four years of art school and graphic design experience under my belt. I have been meticulous and deliberate in trying to make my bread look beautiful and intricate, applying principles of symmetry and negative space, but also physics to account for the expansion of the dough “canvas”. I have scored hundreds of loaves, tested concepts and made mistakes, so you don’t have to. If your pretty loaf doesn’t come out of the oven that pretty, it’s okay. We’ve just started!
What we are about to learn is part baking, part art. This is a tricky intersection of precision and improvisation, science and magic, blueprint and creativity. I am happy to guide you through.
Let the journey begin!
What dough do you need?
One of the questions I am often asked is What kind of dough works for this scoring? The answer is good dough. What does this mean?
With a few exceptions, any kind of recipe or formula will work great as long as it is done correctly. If you want to score reliably beautiful and precise patterns, you have to make sure you have covered and perfected the essential stages of bread-making – mixing, fermentation, shaping and proofing. Most of the times the scoring fails because the dough was subpar. Although I will specify the most crucial aspects, I will not focus on teaching you how to make good bread. There are many wonderful courses that can help you with that.
So, what matters and what doesn’t?
One of the things with, surprisingly, little importance is flour type. I have scored all-white bread, 100% wholewheat, spelt, and any combination in between. I have seen my patterns scored on rye bread and on gluten-free bread. The effect is slightly different depending on the flour properties, but it is always beautiful. You do not need to compromise the bread taste for its aspect. Almost any kind of bread you like to eat, you can score!
What about hydration? Many are surprised to know that my bread is high hydration – in between 75% and 85%. Lower hydration will make your dough inflexible, so it will not spread sufficiently. Bread over 85% hydration will be too soft to work with.
Gluten development, as a result of kneading or stretching (whichever is your favorite), is very important. Artistic scoring takes in between 3 and 8 minutes and during this time a loaf can turn into a pancake if the dough isn’t strong enough to keep its shape. Speaking of which, shaping is another crucial component. You want to have a tightly bound loaf so that it holds its own and responds well to your blade.
Last, but not least, is cold proof. I always keep my dough in the fridge overnight and this results in a firm and resilient surface – perfect for scoring! If you proof at room temperature, at least pop the banetton into the freezer for 20 minutes so that your surface isn’t wobbly.
If you want to learn about the exact kind of dough formula I use, please visit my blog entry here. You can try using this first, but don’t feel like you need to.
As long as your dough is strong, well shaped and cold – you’re good to go!
It is my pleasure to tell you that making strikingly beautiful bread does not require anything that is rare or costly. You probably already have all the necessary tools and if, by chance, you don’t – they are cheap and easy to find!
The first thing you will need is a flour sifter or fine sieve. To allow our scoring to stand out we need to cover the face of the bread with a fine layer of white, all-purpose flour. The key word is fine. If you use too much flour you risk to have a thick layer of unpalatable, raw flour that will not taste good, and will be hard to score through. Sift a little bit of flour at a time and spread it evenly with the palm of your hand. Here is a short demonstration:
Another extremely important tool is razor blades. I tried scalpels, craft knives, tools for fruit carving – nothing comes close to the razor blade. The sharper it is, the more defined your scoring, so you will need to change your tool every 5 loaves or so. Purchase in bulk!
You can definitely make do with a blade held in your hand, but a dedicated blade-holder called lame (pronounced lahm) will give you a better grip and more security. I prefer to invest my money in supporting local artisans, not industry branding. This is why I get my lames from wiremonkeyshop.
Last, but not least, is the reason behind the existence of this course – something that sets my method apart from anything that anyone has done before – sewing thread! This simple, unassuming tool, will allow you to turn bread into canvas. A good part of the course will be dedicated to its use, but for now, simply get a spool of cotton thread and trust me that you are on the way to an exciting adventure.
Using the thread
The red line that you will notice all throughout the course is radial symmetry. The canvas of our art is a round loaf and this dictates the rule of the game. There are two main reasons why we want to maintain radial (round) symmetry and these come from different worlds.
Art- radial symmetry is visually pleasing because our eyes will follow the pattern naturally, around the loaf. It is also more forgiving. It is easier to hide small missteps in a pattern where you are not comparing left vs. right and where the attention is dispersed, and not focused on a single element.
Physics – we should always keep in mind that our canvas is not static. It will expand and stretch in the oven as it bakes. An uneven pattern will result in an uneven burst. As the bread grows we want it to do so evenly, so the cuts open up the way we want them to.The first move towards symmetry looks like this:
Holding the thread firmly in your hands, stretch it taut by wrapping it around your fingers. Use your thumbs to increase the tension as you place the thread onto the dough and make slight sawing motions to leave an imprint in the flour. Don’t press too hard! We don’t want to damage the surface or cut through.
The second line is very important as it determines the overall symmetry. The point where the two lines meet will be the center of our pattern. You should place this line carefully, paying attention to the angles and keeping them straight.
We will then have to imprint two more lines resulting in a total of eight sections. This is what the 4/8 section term stands for – 4 lines, 8 sections. The third and fourth lines will divide the four sections into equal slices with 45 degree angles.
Don’t worry if at this point the instructions sound a bit too scientific. The video will make everything seem much easier. Very easy, in fact! The truth is somewhere in between these two extremes.
Now that our canvas is laid out it’s time to take the blade in our hands. The main element of every pattern we are going to score is the wheat stalk. This is somewhat symbolic, but also very practical. The wheat stalk is easy to score, as it consists of short straight lines. It also acts like a spring, easily expanding in every direction – upwards and outwards.
Now is the time to dive the blade into the dough and this is where all our preparations pay off. If you did everything right, you will end up with the perfect canvas. The dough will be firm enough to not spread into a pancake. The cold surface will not resist the sharp blade, and you will be able to create something as beautiful as this:
Keep in mind that as you score, your cuts will open up and spread. This is something we should account for. Therefore, we will score “in layers”, starting with the most prominent elements all around, and then adding the smaller ones as we go. We want the cuts to be crisp and even, so as not to blur the pattern. To achieve this we need a very sharp blade and swift precise movements. The upcoming video will show you how to achieve this.
So what happened in the previous two videos?
While you were likely focused on what the blade did, you might have missed what the dough did. After you have read this short paragraph, go back and notice how the cuts of the first four stalks opened up, exposing the shiny fibrous structure within.
You know you did the right thing when you see that happening. This is a sign that the blade went deep enough to actually break through the top layer of dough. Many are shy with their first attempt and only scratch the surface. This kind of shallow cuts will not open up in the oven and the bread will claim its space by bursting elsewhere.
You will also notice how the pattern comes together. The lines of the thread now became the stems of the wheat stalks. In turn, the wheat stalks themselves create new ornaments where they touch. You might have noticed a 4-corner star in the middle, where the cuts join. Just as the individual bits of glass in a kaleidoscope make up new images, wheat stalks blend to make up patterns.
With every new layer, the complexity of the scoring increases. Having sufficient cuts also ensures sufficient growing room. If we had baked the loaf with only the four main wheat stalks, it would have cracked inevitably.
Now let us add the finishing touch.
We learned how to divide the boule into 8 sections with 4 lines, hence the 4/8 section name. We also learned how to use it or, better said, one way to use it.
Namely, we scored wheat stalks along the thread lines so that the lines formed stems. Whenever the space allowed, the stalk would start at the center of the loaf or thereabouts, and then descend to the edges. While the pattern created this way was beautiful and quite elegant, the individual stalks were easily discernible. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but to me the sign of a truly beautiful pattern is when you don’t see the wheat stalks in it. As an example, take a look at this lovely loaf:
It does not necessarily scream wheat stalk, although that is precisely what it is made of. Before I show you how it’s done I would like to once again lay out the rules we are going to break:
- Thread lines are stems
- Wheat stalks are as long as space allows
- Wheat stalks of different sizes serve as different layers
Abiding by these was essential for the previous pattern, but this time we are going to do things differently. Now the lines of the thread will initially serve as boundaries framing individual elements and these elements will not be nearly as long. They will stop halfway and shift around creating a beautiful chrysanthemum flower.
At this point you probably understand how the pattern will unfold. You have to go around in ever widening circles, alternating the thread lines as stems and as boundaries. This will allow you to keep the petals in place. Another thing you will notice as the perimeter grows naturally, is that it will become more difficult to keep the scores looking slender. You will have to either widen the angle between your cuts, “flattening” the elements, or to leave larger gaps between the petals, leaving a good deal of the surface unscored and risking a crack or two.
A good way to reconcile this dilemma is by balancing it out with the outer scores. What this means is that you will score the central petal and the two first pairs as usual, just widening the angle a bit. The third pair of the wheat “petals” will be longer, at a wider angle, but also deeper. This change of length and depth will result in a wider line post-bake, which will make up for the first lines not opening as much. Take a look at the upcoming video to see how it’s done.
This pattern is both easier and more complicated than the previous one, depending on how you look at it. What I see as its real beauty is that it gives you a glimpse of how versatile my scoring method is. You use the same layout and the same element, yet end up with a totally different result! Here is a review of the steps we’ve taken, and a printable form for your convenience.
One step further
I have used the word versatile a few times throughout the course and I would like to use it again now. My arts teacher used to say that you can only start breaking rules after you’ve learned to follow them. I hope you have practiced before getting here, so you can say with certainty that you know what happens to the scoring once it dives into the oven.
Among the things you certainly know by now is how to line out the 4/8 section grid and how helpful it can be. You can use it as a stem – to make straight, long wheat stalks; or as a frame for smaller elements. All of these things are useful, to be sure! However, once you have learned to abide by them, you can start stepping aside. For example, you might want to add four extra lines and turn the 4/8 section into 8/16, like this:
By simply adding more guidelines you change the landscape of your bread and sometimes this change alone can prompt new patterns. Take a look at this:
By now you are able to see how simple this pattern is. The upcoming video is the proof.
The previous pattern was very simple, but that nutshell holds its beauty and a promise of diversity. Take a look at this:
By simply flipping the direction of the wheat stalk you change the central ornament and, as a result, the aspect of the whole loaf. I encourage you to print the file and try out the two variations on your own.
When you add more guidelines you change the landscape of your bread and sometimes this change alone can prompt new patterns. Take a look at this:
Do you see the wheat stalks?
I hope by now you are confident with the blade and thread and that you are eager to try your own patterns! For your use and convenience is a blank printable where you can try out your inspiration. You can start out by mimicking what you’ve seen in the previous video and take it from there!
Before you make your own pattern, remember the simple components of success:
- Score deep
- Score in one motion
- Cover as much surface as you can
This is more or less it! You’re on your own now! Kind of… I’m always ready to answer your questions and help you out. Feel free to contact me here. I hope you enjoyed the course and that I will see you soon with other courses! Thank you for supporting my work.