Bread, beautiful bread.
Back in medieval times, there was one person in the village who had an oven. This was the baker. (Baker, and incidentally, Baxter, are occupational surnames that come from this practice.) But, something more comes out of this history, and that’s the slashing of bread. You know, those pretty slash marks that are mainly seen on rustic or bakery-style breads. Interestingly, these are often considered “fancier” breads today–when in fact it comes out of low-income village functionality where everyone didn’t have their own oven. And, after all, people didn’t want anyone else’s nasty ol’ bread back. They wanted their own bread back. So when they took their bread to the baker, they marked it with their own unique slash. I always explain this history at workshops where we’re doing bread baking because in that setting, I’m the baker, they’re the villagers bringing their bread to me to put in the oven in the studio. They want their own bread back, not someone else’s.
However, even if you’re baking one loaf of bread just for yourself, you should still slash your bread and here’s why–oven spring. What is oven spring? This is where your bread “breaks” on the sides from the quick temperature change after it’s placed in the oven. The heat creates a final bump in the rising, and the bread will seek the path of least resistance as it “springs” up. The path of least resistance is usually on the sides of the bread, which can create somewhat ugly breaks. Not that this really matters once it’s sliced up and spread with butter, but if you’re trying to develop the prettiest loaves of bread, it can be frustrating. To stop the bread from breaking, first make sure it’s fully proofed, meaning that you’ve given the bread plenty of time on its second rise before placing in the oven. Second, slash it. I’ve found the best slashing for the smoothest result is done with three slashes.
A slash down the middle, and slashes down each side, as close to the side of the loaf pan as you can get. A sharp knife and a dusting of flour on top go a long way to make this easier to accomplish. Always slash the dough as soon as it goes into the pan for the second rise. (Obviously, if you slash the bread after the rising process has begun, you’ll deflate it.)
Homemade bread will never look “perfect” and shouldn’t.
But with just that little bit of attention, a thing of beauty remains unbroken!
Need a bread recipe? See Grandmother Bread.