Gadgets are great. Woodworking, cheese making, bread making, I like them all. When my builder does a job I struggled with in a few minutes because he has the right tool (and knows what he is doing), I go a bit green-eyed and put the tool on my wish-list. This happened with the walnut lame that Vanessa found being made by a tiny business in US. Lovingly made, these have proven to be extremely popular, especially as gifts for those with an eye for craftsmanship. But, a gadget, no matter how nicely made, is of little use unless you know how to use it properly. This from Vanessa:

Sometimes it’s the relatively simple and inexpensive pieces of equipment that can make the biggest difference to your baking experience. A plastic dough scraper costs less than a good loaf of bread, but makes kneading and shaping dough so much easier. And a good sharp lame for slashing the dough before it is baked will help you produce beautiful loaves with a nice, controlled oven spring.

When I first started baking, in a small family-run bakery in the south of France, we used a simple, naked blade to make cuts in the top of the loaves before they were loaded into the oven. There are many old school bakers who will tell you that a razor blade, held in the mouth between use is all you need, but the truth is that this practice, although quick is not without significant risk. A lame with a handle is much better and means there’s less risk of cutting your fingers and mouth that way. So we offer a range of lames, from brightly coloured plastic disposable ones to a beautifully hand-crafted, walnut and brass lame that should last a lifetime of baking.

Bakers use lames to cut into the ‘skin’ formed on the outside of the dough when a loaf is shaped. When the loaf is put into the oven, the heat initially causes acceleration in fermentation activity and as the air trapped in the gluten network expands the dough rises. As this oven spring takes place, the crust is beginning to form. It is this taught outer layer of dough that helps to keep the loaf’s shape. By making cuts in the top of the loaf before it goes in the oven, the dough can expand in a controlled way, and not simply burst out at the weakest points in the crust.

There are a few simple steps to getting a good, clean cut using a lame. Firstly, and most importantly, make sure that you’re working with a really sharp blade. I’m often asked by students why the cuts they make in the dough are ragged, resulting in misshapen loaves. When I ask them how long ago they last changed the blade on their lame, the answer can be anything from 12 months to ‘I need to change it?’ Keeping the blade razor sharp is one of the key components to getting clean cuts in the dough. In a bakery, we change the blade in our lames every shift without fail. One way to ensure that you get maximum use out of each blade before you replace it completely is to turn it. When you are making slashes in the dough, you are cutting from one corner of the blade. If you look carefully at the lames using razor blades, you will see that the corners are numbered – this is an easy way to remember which corners you have used already, allowing you to rotate the blade and use each corner in turn.

I advise all bakers when they first start to keep things simple. A single cut across the top is probably the easiest to way to score a loaf, especially on high hydration bread. With the blade tipped up at a 45° angle from the horizontal, make the cut, starting at the furthest point away from you and using a smooth, gentle but firm movement. Make the slash at a reasonable speed. The slower you cut, the more likely you are to catch the dough, making a rough edge. And definitely no sawing to and fro – slashing the dough is a swift, sleek operation.

I’m often asked how to get that perfect ear on a loaf of bread – the kind you see in the Instagram photos posted by artisan bakers. The secret is to score the loaf when it is perfectly fermented and shaped correctly. Check that your bread gently bounces back when it’s given a gentle press with your index finger. If over fermented it will deflate significantly as you slash it (so I often advise in cases of over-proving not to slash and just take the risk of baking it uncut to retain as much resilience as possible (or turn it into focaccia). Have everything ready so that you can put the loaf straight into the oven as soon as it has been scored (into a hot La Cloche is ideal). Then make a cut, or a series of cuts, quickly and cleanly with a sharp, angled blade. The other thing you need to do is practice. The best way to get a feel for how firmly to hold the lame, and how deep to make the cut, is to practice by scoring as many loaves as you can. Bake more loaves than you can possibly eat, give them away to friends, neighbours or homeless shelters. Just bake and practice. People will appreciate a gift of freshly baked, homemade bread, and your scoring technique will improve that little bit with each loaf.

My final tip is always keep your lame in a safe place when you are finished using it. That way you will be able to find it when you need it, and it will be out of reach, especially if you have young children. I once found my daughter diligently slashing pretend bread, wielding my blade very deftly, aged 3.

The least expensive lames have plastic handles and fixed blades. They do their job well, but will need replacing regularly as the blade becomes less sharp. For a few pounds more you can buy a lame that allows you to change the blade. You can choose either a straight or curved blade, largely depending on personal preference. If you want a lame that gives you both options, then the Bordelaise lame could be the one for you. The handle on this lame will hold the blade either straight or in a curve as it contains spring steel, and it’s easy to adjust and shape the blade – simply hold the blade flat against a table with your thumb while gently lifting the handle to get the curve you need (I always recommend wearing gloves when bending the sharp blade).

Our ‘top of the range’ lame is a beautiful object to have in the kitchen, as well as being extremely functional. The handcrafted, black walnut handle is a pleasure to hold, and the attractive brass fittings make changing the blade quick and easy. The lame comes in both left and right-handed versions… make sure you order the appropriate one, especially if you’re buying this as a gift…and it does make a lovely gift, coming in a presentation box with a set of spare blades. With Father’s Day coming up, this could be the ideal present for a keen baker, or even a once a week baker who likes to use the best quality equipment.

Vanessa Kimbell runs the Sourdough School, Northampton


A free lame for the dads!

Valid until next Friday, all orders placed qualify for a free scoring knife or lame. Simply place one in your basket and in the checkout enter coupon code FATHERSDAY. (note, only available to over 18s, there must be at least another item in the basket).

featured products

Handmade Black Walnut Lame | £24.00

Craftsman made, black walnut lame with brass fittings, these are baker's lames for those looking for beauty and functionality. Delivered in its own box with spare blades, this is the lame to show your friends.

Bordelaise Professional Lame | £8.95

Slashing patterns in your dough needs a lame or grignette. Ordinary kitchen knives tend to drag across the dough or tear. Start using a grignette, as used by baking professionals across the world. BakeryBits is the UK distributor for Mure & Peyrot bakery knives: the number 1 in the market.

Dough Scoring Knife | from £2.00

Dough scoring knife with a snap-off cover, very popular amongst French bakers for slashing or scoring bread dough just prior to baking.

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