L is for… Lames

L is for … lames   (pronounced like lamb or la-muh) *

One of the most common questions that people ask when they make their own bread is how to get those lovely patterns on the top of the loaves and whether a special lame (blade) will magically transform their loaf into an artisanal artefact.

However, having been down that route myself, trying different lames, knives, blades, holders and so on for a few years now I can safely say that, the knife in itself won’t work the magic. The three magic words are, practice, steam and a sharp blade; and the key one is practice.

A professional baker will slash dozens of loaves a day, she/he will learn how the dough feels, the rhythm and speed of the cuts,  the pattern and the angle of the blade, and can practice over and over, and eventually it will feel like second nature. You don’t expect to be able to drive a car the first time you get in one and this is no different.

The home baker makes a handful of loaves – if that – in one go, so remembering from bake to bake what you did the time before can be tricky. That’s when taking photos really comes in handy and is one of the main reasons why I take bread photos. In the flurry and the stress of dealing with hot ovens and collapsing dough it’s all too easy to rush at this part. While you do have to be fairly quick, rushing doesn’t get you anywhere.

In my humble amateurish view it’s all about practice;  find a  lame or a knife that suits you and that you have confidence in. You can read all the advice there is out there, (and there is lots) and watch videos on YouTube, but really the best thing to do would be to find someone who is relaxed and confident and can show you how they do it, and then go home make a big batch of some easy dough that proves quite quickly, a plain yeasted white dough or something like that; make some shapes and play away.

An easy dough to slash would be something like.

  • 300 g water
  • 500 g flour
  • a sachet of yeast
  • 10 g salt

For practice purposes,slightly under-proved dough with a hydration of 55 – 60 % is best, the dough will spring more and the slashes will open up more than a fully proved loaf. The wetter doughs beloved of modern artisanal bakers can be tricky to slash beautifully. The dough often drags on the lame or the slash simply closes up as you make it.  You could also experiment with shaping the dough and then chilling it for a couple of hours or more and then seeing whether it is easier to slash. Try baking from cold and see whether you like the results. I think they can be pretty good.

The best slashes in the world need the magic of a steamy oven to do their thing as well as they can and open up into those coveted ears. Don’t get hung up about it, but do think about the angles and lines if you are trying your hand at baguette slashes.

[Edit: and I meant to say I am left handed and if you are right handed you might want to do these slashes in the other direction].

Have a look at these two sketches of mine and draw them out on a piece of paper and see if you can see the difference. Remember the oven spring curves and it is the curving of the dough that pulls the lines of the cuts across the dough. If you cut across the dough to start with they won’t open up in the same way. In this post I was trying to emulate Nils’s experimental technique of repeatedly spraying or painting water in the slashes in the very early part of the bake.  Maybe try and figure out a way to create a cover over the baguettes while they are in the oven. Lots of things to try…. [I have added an old photo at the top of the post of some very early baguettes I made, as you can see the slashes are too long and not the way I have drawn them in the sketch. I was quite proud of them at the time though they are not right at all.]

These are the lames I have, including a lovely one sent to me by the Weekend Bakery  in Holland;  they have all done a good job. Some people swear by razor blades, some people use a big solid bread knife, some people use tomato knives. The key thing is to have a sharp blade and somewhere safe to put it down. You always need to know where your blades are! Have a small bowl to chuck it in after you have used it, preferably on a shelf away from your working area, the last thing you want to do is to pick up a razor blade in your next batch of dough! I must admit I like the Mure & Peyrot ones which is why I suggested Bakery Bits stock them, I like the way they have bright handles and covers for the blades. Safety first!

Edit : If you want a curved blade which is useful for those baguettes you can take a chance and do it like this.

I made this one up the other day just to see if it works, but I didn’t have a chance to slash any bread with it yet. It’s quite anxiety making putting it together and you need to rig a cover to protect it. Brian uses wide velcro to protect his scalpels.

And if none of this interests you in the least here is a lovely video that Celia has offered for the Alphabet in August :  L is for La la la – that reminds me…. where have I hidden my stash of Danish Liquorice ?

Oh yes and …

 Click here and navigate to the L page to hear the word ‘lame’  being pronounced.

38 thoughts on “L is for… Lames

  1. Misk Cooks

    Ah! Is that how it’s pronounced?! Well, well.

    I’m still using a sharp (and extremely old) paring knife. I’ve tried on 3 occasions to make a lame from a razor blade and 2 wooden coffee stirrer sticks. I always glue them in place at jussssst the wrong angle. Some day I’ll get it right. It’s a challenge. I also found that your suggestion to paint some water on the slash helps to open it up. That worked very well last time on Sedrick’s first outing.

    Very nicely done, Joanne — great post.

    1. Joanna Post author

      It’s French – une lame – sounds a bit odd in English, but that’s the only way I’ve heard it pronounced by the bakers I’ve asked. I have heard about this thing with the coffee stirrers, I thought, maybe wrongly, that they poked the stick through the holes in the lame and then it was supposed to curve under tension (that is if it didn’t snap) I had some in the drawer when I pulled the knives out for the photo, but I chickened out of trying it. Edit: I’ve done it and added a photo above at the end of the post for you !

      Glad to hear you enjoyed it Misk :)

  2. emilysincerely

    ok, so first up, I never knew the thing you slash with had a name. Second mine are lames (pronounced lamb) are very lame (pronounced lAme). mostly lAme because I completely forget to do it. Great L. Very education for me. La la la la lame (lamb) Emily

    1. Joanna Post author

      There are lots of ways to finish off a bread without going anywhere near it with a knife. The couronne bordelaise has a pretty top with no slashing at all. Some of the rye breads get poked with holes. Some breads are turned upside down and have a wonderful crevasse look with random cracks. And then there’s all the braided breads. Lots of options to dress up (or not). It’s your bread you make it the way you like :)

  3. C

    Excellent post! I have tried using a razor blade, but without a holder it’s hard to wield safely so I’ve reverted back to a sharp bread knife, which seems to work well so long as the dough isn’t too wet, in which case I have no chance! Added advantage that I can’t pick up a bread knife in my next batch of dough… that conjures up such painful thoughts with a razor blade. Shudder.

    I like the idea of making a plain dough just to slash and mess around with. Perhaps I could feed it to the ducks afterwards if I don’t need it! I like the diagram – very helpful! I seem to remember ages ago reading in a bread book that the angle of slashing is due to the tension that you build when you shape the dough – the tension pulls the dough apart lengthways rather than across, so the closer to vertical your slashes are the more they will open, which is exactly what you’ve illustrated. I ought to think harder about my slashes, I just do it because otherwise the dough will do its own thing anyway!

    1. Joanna Post author

      You explained that much more clearly than I could have done, thanks C! I was trying to avoid getting into shaping and tension and gluten strands. To do all that properly I would need to make videos, and I am just not that good yet. Maybe in ten years time if I’m still baking.

      You could feed it to the ducks, or roll it out and make bread sticks :)

  4. Jeannette

    A very good and informative post, Joanna, for us breadmakers. Like you I have tried various types of blade or knife but the one I have settled on is a Kuhn Rikon tomato knife which seems to work well for me. It has a bright red handle too, which is handy in locating it amongst the other things around when making up a dough. I still haven’t perfected my slashes yet, but it is something to aim for!

    1. Joanna Post author

      I love those Kuhn Rikon knives, I have one of those too. I”m pleased you found it of interest. I still have that picture of your loaf in Bread Elsewhere, and I think your slashes are beautiful, and you impressed Mick too ;)

  5. emilysincerely

    Staying in the alphabet format. Many marvelous magnificent yahoos go out to your dad. Neat article. Great win! I don’t think I know what a “conservation area” is, but I would think solar panel (being all about saving in many ways – one could use the word conserve?) would be a good thing.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hi Emily, ‘conservation areas’ came in here in the UK in 1967. “They are designated for their architectural and historic interest.” More info here on English Heritage site.

      I think Dad was surprised he got permission too!

  6. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

    La la la la loooveerrllyyy… :)

    Lots to read and think about there, thank you. I seem to slash less and less these days as I move to ciabatta-style loaves (in fact, I rarely even have a second prove anymore), so I’m quite out of practice. I’m going to try baggies again though and take your advice and slash from 1 to 7. Actually, you puzzled me with the left-handed comment – I would normally slash right-handedly from right to left – to do it the other way I’d have to hold my blade quite differently and probably end up with a different angle into the dough with the finished cut. I’d love to see how you hold your lame when you wield it, if Brian’s ever in the mind to take an action shot for us please.. ;-)

    1. Joanna Post author

      There’s a pic of me holding a lame in the first link in the post Celia. I showed this to someone once and they complained it was the wrong way round for them, so I thought maybe I had drawn it as a left-handed person does it. I wouldn’t know how you rightees slash your baguettes, I don’t think it matters as long as you are comfortable with it. And, confession, I don’t make baguettes that often, they take up lots of space while they are proving. I like the Hamelman baguettes with poolish recipe and I like turning other doughs into baguette shapes too when I do get round to making them. I always think your bread looks fabulous ! :D

      1. Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial

        Oooh, that photo is very informative! So you slash sort of underhand – I usually slash overhand, if that makes sense. I’ll try that next time – I think my current slashes are too upright, so it would be good to be able to give them a bit of an angle. Thanks Jo!

        1. Joanna Post author

          Celia, I have just been back to Dan’s forum and reread an old post where I made the baguettes in the header pic. Guess what? I used to slash the other way round, from 1130 to 1730, somewhere along the line I’ve become a strange underhanded sort of slasher and now slash the other way. I think it’s a bit like watching people draw with charcoal, they hold that in funny ways too. The important thing is to have an angle, as you know, when you move the blade through the dough, something like slitting an envelope open. When I think about it, I often turn the dough sideways on the worktop too… Us lefthanders have a lot to think about. That’s why I like making round bread and don’t write many ‘how to’ posts :)

  7. emilydev9

    La la la…I remember that! Sesame Street is always good for the soul… Seriously, I’m bookmarking this post as it is so very useful. You have done so much good research and experimentation on this topic.

    1. Joanna Post author

      You have to thank Celia for the La la la! Sesame Street is creeping into this blog a lot lately ;) Thanks for visiting again Emily :)

  8. teawithhazel

    i get quite nervous when i’m about to do the slashing because after all the work of making a loaf i don’t want to muck it up..but that’s too silly because it doesn’t affect the taste..but there is something wonderful about a well slashed loaf so your tute was a bute (aussie slang for beautiful)..i had some blades left over from all my recent paint scraping renovation ordeal and so i’ve been using one of those..but it’s great to learn that there is a special implement for the job and how to pronounce it..jane

    1. Joanna Post author

      It’s just a sharp blade in some sort of holder and for some reason they get called by the French name for a razor blade. Mysterious are the words of bakers… ;) I get anxious too, especially when it is a dough that I have nursed along for seven hours or sometimes days. If it is a bread you want to give to someone it is worse… Trouble is that getting nervous means you get tense and then you are not ‘in the slashing zone’. So now I sort of sidle up to it and pretend I am not nervous… Does that make any sense? And if it goes wrong I say, ‘piffle’.

  9. spiceandmore

    I am always most envious of your slashing and beautiful looking loaves Joanna. I can’t say I have ever managed a perfect result. Sigh. Must practise more. Thanks for the tips.

    1. Joanna Post author

      You always see the ‘best side’ in the photos of course ;) Thanks for the compliment Spice!

  10. cityhippyfarmgirl

    I’ve just sat here for 5 minutes think which way I slash…. I think I go left to right. That being said, doesn’t matter in the slightest as I never even think of half the things you mention in this post, which is why it’s brilliant. Thank you!
    I’ve got just the one lame from Bakery Bits, I didn’t discover it swivelled until a couple of months in, and was very happy to find it did. I do like using it though…(just quitely, makes me feel like I know more of what I’m doing :-)… clearly.)

    1. Joanna Post author

      I think your slashing looks excellent. Analysing what you do is helpful if you get in a rut and they don’t seem to be getting better that’s all.

      I don’t have one of those swivellers, there are different versions of these. I think they are all a bit too pricey and I wish I could find a cheaper source. Anyone going to France this autumn? I was going to show a photo of a lovely handcarved one that someone made by hand that I got a while ago from a contact on Dan’s forum.

      I also need to add a photo of how to safely store naked razor blades. I will do that later today…

  11. Anne

    Vowww: “Old pictures of very early baguettes ” !!?? these are great ! You should send a post on them (were they sourdough baguettes).
    Also on using steam in the oven : I have tried steaming first and I have tried without steam and the results were the same ? does it really make a difference ? or is it just that my modern oven is designed to get rid off the steam quickly anyway ?
    Good post thanks. Anne

    1. Joanna Post author

      Thanks Anne! Those were made from a Dan Lepard recipe for a soyamilk and linseed loaf which is very delicious. I think that the slightly sticky quality of the soaked linseeds makes the dough easier to slash. Maybe give it a try? Here’s a link to the recipe.

      Fan ovens are supposed to get rid of steam so it is an on going battle I agree. Have you tried the baking in a closed pot trick? That can give good results for round boule shaped loaves.

      I wrote a post a while ago where I attempted to test different flours in the same recipe. What came out of that was the big difference between baking with steam and without. If you have a quick look at the pics towards the end of the post you will see some examples.

  12. Abby

    I learned so much from this post! Love all of the tips for better scoring…I’m afraid I usually don’t think about it enough and just grab a razor and slash-n-go. Must think and practice more. (And I love that Sesame bit!) :)

    1. Joanna Post author

      Snicker snack, angle the blade and slash down the centre of the loaf, that’s all you have to really remember. Celia is a big Sesame fan! We were mostly Muppet Show watchers so I am catching up on all the other Sesame Greats I have missed. Maybe we should beg Celia to post a top 5 Sesame Street moments blog post ;)

  13. chocvegveg

    what a collection! Don’t get stopped with them in the back of the car!
    Can you show us some slasher pics with the round plastic swirly ones please?!

    1. Joanna Post author

      Don’t worry, they’re all tucked back in the drawer. I threaded a razor blade onto the coffee stirrer this evening just to see what it felt like, and then unthreaded it, too much tension on the blade for comfort.

      I haven’t made brotchen for a while now, I just put them out to show there’s an alternative to using blades for pattern making. Well spotted ! :)

  14. Pingback: O is for.. « Zeb Bakes

  15. Pingback: in my kitchen… « Cityhippyfarmgirl

  16. edogirl

    For those hesitant to use razor blades, I recommend Thai vegetable carving knives. Inexpensive and deadly sharp.

    1. Joanna Post author

      Hello Edogirl, Welcome and thanks for visiting! I have never come across those here, but I am sure one could find them – I will have a google later. I didn’t know there were special knives for carving those vegetable sculptures. A knife for everything!

    2. Misk Cooks

      I just found these Thai veg knives online at Amazon, and they’re beautiful. They seem to be like Japanese Cloisonné enamelware. But can I turn my back on my wonky homemade lame with its razor blade and Costa Coffee wooden stick? Can I? Should I.

  17. theinversecook

    Excellent write-up! So much to take into consideration. I am currently baking in a Dutch oven.

    How is Zeb?


    1. Joanna Post author

      I miss your posts Nils! I keep sending people over to your blog to read about rye in particular. Lovely to hear from you though. Dutch oven baking – will we hear more about it one day? I do hope so!

      Zeb is fine. He still hops on my lap to watch the bread spring through the glass door. He knows I will sit still and watch it for at least ten minutes. Our reward :D

  18. Pingback: Weekly Sourdough Bread « Zeb Bakes

Comments are closed.