I seem to have a consistent problem with making a nice, clean score on my breads. I've read a lot books and articles trying to explain in precise detail how to score bread well, but clearly I haven't been able to grasp the concept as most cuts I made simply end up tearing the outer membrane of the dough, which leaves a relatively unappealing mark when the bread is baked (especially with very slack doughs). So, I guess what I really need is a very precise, step by step guide to scoring a piece of bread (using a sharp knife). What angle should the edge of the knife be to the bread (along the incision point's length and width), do I need to plunge the knife into the dough, etc.
Also, I was wondering if a razor or lame would do a better job of scoring than even the best and sharpest knife I have and if so, how I should use that tool.
Growing up I remember seeing an Italian family in their family owned bakery baking incredible breads. One tool I remember them using was primitive looking but worked amazingly well. It was the razor. They had attached this razor somehow to the end of a popsicle stick and that's what they used to score the breads. (They might have used cottonseed oil to help facilitate the slice, not really sure).
as "lame" as it sounds, a lame works well. The nice thing about both a lame and a razor is that they are much thinner than a knife, so they can cut easier. That said, I actually found a razor difficult. Not sure why. But a lame works well, as the little blade is curved. It's certainly a one-use gadget, but they are cheap - $5 from Sur La Table (obviously, not as cheap as a razor, so if that works, go for it).
If you are using a knife, it has to be very sharp. And, you should sharpen it right before you use it for this. Then, as eLizard mentioned, make a quick deliberate cut.
The angle and depth really depend on what you are baking and what shape the loaf is. I've found the easiest thing for a round loaf is to make an "x" at the top. The place where I find the most difficult is where one cut intersects another - that's where I get two sides of the cut sticking together and it gets uglier. So, I try to minimize that as much as possible. But if I'm doing an "x", I just do it about 1/2 an inch deep and at a 90 degree angle to the table (straight down). If I'm doing a single, curved cut (think like a crescent moon around the upper circumference of the loaf), I'll cut it at a 45 degree angle. Baquettes or long loaves, I do at about a 60 degree angle to the table...
Not sure if there's a science to it... but that's what I do.
Oh... almost forgot... if you bread is proofed correctly (that is, not overproofed) then it cuts much easier too...
I always use a razor. There's not much to it. You don't need to go on an angle, and you don't need to go very deep. You just score it, and the rising bread in the oven will open the score up.
My biggest tip would be...Don't be tentative. That's when you get a jagged, uneven score. Just put razor in hand and slash away.
Thank for all the advice, I made two changes to the way I do things, first of all, I got myself a handy pack of 6 small razors for just over 2 bucks and I score the bread about half way through the final pre-baking rising (about 30-35 minutes in because the place I live in is cold). The results seem to be optimistic
I've been baking the no-knead bread since November, and have settled on a work knife found in hardware stores. A long blade made of snap-off sections retracts into a plastic holder: I always snap off a section for a sharp edge and then extend the blade as long as I can for easier cutting.