The Bread Baking Babes are baking bread as usual this month, but there’s a twist in the tale. Elizabeth set this month’s challenge which is less about the bread and more about slashing or scoring the dough. Quoting Elizabeth, “For this month’s decorated bread, it’s not really about creating an ear or directing the rise. It’s about decorating the bread with shallow knife cuts”. The recipe was ours to choose so long as it was made with slack dough (at least 75% hydration). We also had to score it decoratively. So I’m calling this post Baker’s Percentage and Scoring Adventures.
If you’ve tried working with high hydration dough and are not an expert at it, you know it can get difficult. A high hydration dough means it has a higher amount of water. That means a very sticky and gloopy dough. Handling a dough like this is difficult enough, but scoring it also? That’s a challenge and bound to be an adventure, if you’re like me.
However higher hydration dough is not impossible to work with. It just needs some practice. I worked with 75% hydration for this bread. It’s not sourdough but made with yeast. Since we’re mentioning hydration, let’s talk about that a bit. I’m all that great at math but if I can calculate Baker’s Percentage calculations, so can you. Since this post is about Baker’s Percentage and Scoring Adventures, I’ll briefly describe both.
The Baker’s Percentage
Why would you calculate Baker’s Percentage if you can just follow a written recipe? This is how professional bread bakers work. It makes it very easy to communicate the recipe to another bread baker. You also can maintain a level of consistency and reproducibility in the recipe. This is very important, especially in commercial bread baking. Recipes can be scaled up or down. Here, ingredients are always measured by weight.
Let’s start with the calculations. Basic bread needs just four ingredients – flour, water, yeast and salt. The first rule here is that flour is considered the most important ingredient. So it is always written as 100% and every other ingredient is calculated as a percentage of it. If you use three different flours, they must add up to 100%.
So let us say we are starting with 1kg or 1000 gm for ease of calculation. The calculation is always done in weight, as grams. So 1000 gm of flour is considered 100%. Let us say we are going to make a 70% hydration bread. So the water or liquid should be 70% of 1000 gm of flour. This is equal to 700 gm. If you add 2% yeast, that is 2% of 1000 gm which is 20 gm. Similarly for salt and any other ingredient you might wish to add to your bread recipe. This calculation works for all kinds of bread doughs including enriched ones. By this method, this is how I arrived at my recipe for today’s bread.
|100% Flour||500 gm x 100%||500 gm|
|75% Water||500 gm x 75%||375 gm|
|1% Active Dried Yeast||500 gm x 1%||5 gm|
|2% Salt||500 g x 2%||10 gm|
Why Score Bread Dough?
Scoring looks pretty, of course. Scoring bread dough creates escape points for CO2 created in the bread during rise. Also, it helps you to control the oven spring and allow it to expand more evenly. A single or double slash promotes a large opening while a series of small, delicate slashes creates a more intricate and aesthetically pleasing design. The cuts should generally be 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep. Slashes are usually deeper than the smaller decorative cuts. A wetter sticky dough requires a shallower cut than a less hydrated drier dough. Dusting the top of loaves with flour before scoring provides a visual contrast between white flour and a dark, baked crust. Professional bakers use particular scoring patterns to identify different breads.
What Blade to Use and How to Score?
There are bakers who use sharp knifes for basic scoring bread dough. Some even use scissors. Others use curved lames or razor blade. I personally use a plain razor blade. I find it gives me maximum flexibility. Scoring blades must be clean and sharp to score well. Using a wet blade and dipping the blade in water in between scoring creates sharp cuts.
It is better to score refrigerated or cold bread dough especially wetter or higher hydration dough. Less wet dough does not need to be cold for scoring. Make firm and smooth cuts, without hesitation. Hold the blade vertically, at 90 degrees to the surface, when scoring a round loaf. Hold the blade at about 20 to 30 degrees to create “ears” on a longer loaf. A curved blade will work better on other shapes, such as the long-shaped loaves. Longer breads are usually scored close to parallel to the long sides of the loaf. Scoring will impact the shape of bread, how high it bakes and for sometimes decide if the bread will stay round or become oblong.
Use bread flour to make this bread. All-purpose flour doesn’t have enough protein, so the dough might not hold shape when making a free form loaf.
Baker’s Percentage and Scoring Adventures
- 500 gm bread flour
- 5 gm active dried yeast
- 10 gm salt
- 375 gm lukewarm water 75% hydration
- Coarse rice flour or Cornmeal to dust baking sheet
- All-purpose flour for sprinkling on loaf
- You can knead the dough by hand or by machine. I kneaded this dough entirely by hand. If using a machine finish the kneading by hand because you will get a better feel for the dough.
- Mix together, with a wooden spoon or dough whisk, the flour, yeast, salt and about 2/3 the water in a large bowl. Keep adding more water, a little at a time, and knead till you have a shaggy dough.
- Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Fold the far edge of the dough back over on itself towards you, then press it away from you with the heels of your hands. Turn the dough and repeat this fold-press-rotate process. The dough will become smoother and less sticky. Shape into a ball and place the dough in an oiled bowl. Loosely cover and let it rise for about an hour and a half till double in volume.
- Gently deflate the dough. You can divide the dough in half to make smaller loaves if you wish. Shape the dough into a tight ball or oval, as you prefer. If you have a banneton, you can proof the dough in that. Or you can proof it free form, like I did, on a baking sheet. Sprinkle the baking sheet with some coarse rice powder or cornmeal to prevent the dough from sticking to the baking sheet. It will also give the bread a crunchy bottom.
- Lightly cover the dough with greased plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about 45 minutes. For the last 15 minutes or so refrigerate the risen dough. This is important for a hassle free scoring of the dough. Gently poke your index finger into the side of the dough. If the indentation remains, your bread is ready to bake.
- Lightly dust the top of the risen loaf uniformly with flour, using a sieve. With a blade or lame, slash the top of your loaf decoratively. Bake the bread at 230 C (450 F) for about 25 minutes or so till the crust is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
- For extra-crusty top on the bread, you can add steam to your oven. Place an empty cast iron pan on the lowest rack while pre-heating the oven. As soon as you put the bread in the oven to bake, pour a cup of boiling water in the pan. Immediately shut the oven door. Be careful while you do this.
- Take the bread out when done. Let it cool completely on a rack. Do not slice the bread until completely cool. You can store the bread, well-wrapped, at room temperature for a couple of days.
The Bread Baking Babes are –