How to Score Sourdough Bread Before Baking

By Amanda Paa – Updated November 15, 2022
Learn how to score sourdough bread before baking with these 7 tips! Scoring your sourdough bread with a bread lame is essential to the baking process. Slashing the dough with a sharp razor after the final proof and before baking allows the dough to expand in the oven and let the gasses release. This post helpful guidance for scoring bread with ease so that the cuts are smooth rather than ragged, and you can create the beautiful loaf of sourdough that you were hoping for.
rye sourdough with scoring on top, and bread lame to the right

You’ve made it through both the bulk fermentation and the final rise of your sourdough bread recipe. Now it’s time to score it, slashing the dough with a bread lame to allow it to expand while baking!

If you’ve been having issues getting clean cuts when trying to score sourdough, these tips will help you achieve the finished look you were expecting. First, I suggest starting with my beginner sourdough bread recipe and practicing on several bakes.

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Much of proper scoring has to do with practice, confidence, and swift movements. And remember, a simple score can be just as a beautiful as one that is very intricate. Although it may seem that the purpose of scoring sourdough is to add an artistic look to the loaf like you see on my Rye Sourdough, there’s actually more to its importance.

The Purpose of Scoring Sourdough Bread

When making sourdough, gases are trapped instead the dough during fermentation and are what leavens the bread via your sourdough starter. But eventually, those gases need to escape.

When the dough hits the heat of the oven it will start to rise rapidly, springing up and pushing against the tight surface. Without scoring, that energy would have nowhere to go besides bursting outwards at the seams, like a tire blowing out. It won’t rise as well either.

By scoring the dough, the gases have somewhere to escape and the bread can get a lovely rise just as we had hoped. Scoring will also give structure to how the end loaf will look.

HOW TO SCORE SOURDOUGH BREAD VIDEO:

rye sourdough rising in a banneton
sourdough before being baked

Top 7 Tips for Scoring Sourdough Bread:

  1. Cold dough is MUCH easier to score.
    90% of the time I do the final rise overnight in the refrigerator, which gives the loaf better flavor from the increased fermentation time, but also allows me to score the dough cold, straight from the fridge. Cold dough holds its shape better when it comes out of the banneton, and the blade guides through it much easier than warm dough. No dragging will be present, unless you’ve overproofed your dough.
  2. Do not use a knife to score sourdough, use a bread lame. A regular knife does not move as swiftly through the dough, and drags. It’s also difficult to be precise with the cuts, as a knife blade is much longer and harder to maneuver.
  3. Make sure to score deep enough, from 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch deep, erring on the later. This ensures the score doesn’t fuse back together when the dough expands in the oven. Pull the blade towards you while gliding the blade into the surface of the dough and continue to pull the blade through the length of the cut.
  4. Make confident, swift cuts with your sharp bread lame.
    One of the mistakes I see sourdough beginner’s is scoring very slowly, trying to be careful and create a beautiful design. In doing so, the lame drags and they struggle to get a decent score that will allow the bread to expand in the oven. Instead, the taut surface responds best to quick, assertive cuts, so worry less about the design, and more about opening up the dough.
  5. Dip the razor blade into water before scoring. This will help the blade glide and create smooth cuts, rather than dragging and leaving ragged marks.
  6. If you want an “ear” on your sourdough, score at a shallow 45 degree angle to create a lip that will open up as the bread bakes. You’ll also need proper fermentation and enough strength in shaping to achieve the elusive ear.
  7. Once the dough is scored, get it into the oven right away. If you let it sit, the dough will start to deflate and lose some of its strength because it has been cut open.

Visual Guide: How to Score Sourdough Bread

My Favorite Bread Lame:

Over the years I’ve tried many different bread lames, and the Monkey Wire Shop “UFO” bread lame is the best by far. You’ll see it in the above photos, a round wooden disk with razor attached. It makes scoring much easier compared to a lame with a longer handle.

Here are some of the reasons I like it:

  • Ultimate fine control over scoring.
  • Ambidextrous design.
  • Blade is easily stored inside for safety.
  • Easy to grip.
  • Changing the blade is simple.

Sourdough Bread Recipes to Try:

putting bread into a blue star oven

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June 29, 2022

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11 comments

  1. Debora Ogden-Kellington

    Hi Amanda, I have received my starter from you and I’ve been studying and watching your videos. I have a question, what size and type of baking pan do I use?

    • Amanda Paa

      Hi Debora! You can use a 5.5 quart dutch oven, or I personally really like this Lodge Combo Cooker because you don’t have to reach down into the hot pot to put the bread in and take out. And it’s very affordable, less than $50. If you are looking to invest in a specific sourdough vessel, the Challenger Bread Pan was a game changer for my baking.

      • Debora Ogden- Kellington

        Thank you so much😃

  2. Irina Stiles

    Hi, Amanda. Your blog is my absolute favorite! You are a true artist.
    What if I used the latest Le Creuset bread oven? Will it work?

    • Amanda Paa

      Yes, that will work!

  3. Marci Mosley

    Your tutorials are amazingly accurate and precise which is exactly what I need as I learn the correct methods you are teaching. My question is: I have a Griswald antique, well seasoned 10″ cast iron dutch oven which I have baked bread in the past with the cover. Is this cast iron appropriate for the round sourdough bread?

    • Amanda Paa

      Hello Marci! Yes, I just looked up what you have and it is definitely big enough for my sourdough recipes. Enjoy!

  4. Michelle

    Hi! Beautiful bread!! What type of flour are you sprinkling on top? I worry about a burnt taste if I use the wrong thing.

    • Amanda Paa

      I just use all purpose flour, no burnt taste!

  5. Jordan Russell

    First, I have to say your kitchen is gorgeous! That tile work is life! 😍 And thanks for posting the tips. I’m gonna buy that lame- my longer handle lame does make the angle awkward because I’m so short. But can I ask, if the dough is cold when you score it- that means that you’re baking cold dough immediately after scoring…? Does that affect the rise, shape texture of the baked loaf?

    • Amanda Paa

      Thank you, Jordan! Yes, I bake the loaves cold, straight from scoring to bake. This helps with sturdiness of the loaf for scoring and helps the dough hold its shape for better rise in the oven.