Each week, we rummage through the dark corners of our kitchen drawers to bring you an enigmatic item. We ask you to guess what it is in our weekly From the Back of the Drawer puzzle. To enter this week’s puzzle, visit this page. To read more descriptions of past items, visit this page. And, don’t forget to donate your odd items to the Southern Food and Beverage Museum.
This week, we found a Baker’s Lame!
This week’s mystery item is well known to commercial bakers, as well as to serious home bread bakers. It’s called a “lame” (pronounced ‘lahm’). It’s from French, hence the pronunciation, ultimately from Latin “lamina’’, which mean ‘thin plate.’ And that’s what a baker’s lame is, a thin blade that’s used to slash formed bread dough right before the risen loaves go into the oven.
Some lames are made as single unit utensils. One blade can easily last through tens of loaves so a fixed-blade lame is probably fine for home use. Commercial bakers prefer to use lames with replaceable double-edged razor blades since they have a lot of slashing to do.
The term lame can sometimes refer just to the metal handle, although without the blade it’s useless. Some companies call this a baker’s handle. This confusion is understandable: it’s likely that this is a historical leftover from times when such baker’s tools were just single, thin edges of sharpened metal. Obviously a double-edged razor blade is a 20th century invention.
While they look easy to use, it takes some practice to make the cuts quickly and neatly, avoiding pulling or ripping the bread surface. Sean O’Mahony from Breads on Oak in New Orleans (see the accompanying video) notes that it takes a year of apprenticeship before he’ll let his bakers use one without oversight. Bread scoring is the final end of a baker’s skills.
Slashing bread with a lame also gives the baker an opportunity to create his or her own look to the finished loaf. At Breads on Oak, the owner Sean creates a large “B” in his round country French loaf called a miche. He notes that if you have a keen eye, it’s possible to tell where a loaf of bread comes from in Paris based on its form and its scoring.
Given that the traditional lame takes some practice to make perfect—insuring a lot of poorly scored breads—there are many alternative versions and devices that claim to take the guesswork out of bread slashing. Or just use whatever very sharp implement you have at home and hope for the best.
If you’re interested in knowing more about the effects of scoring breads, see http://www.thefreshloaf.com/handbook/scoring
Our Rating: If you consider yourself a serious baker, or aspire to be, it’s a relatively inexpensive tool that can (with practice) give you professional looking results. A fixed blade version is probably fine for most home purposes. If you’re really going to bake a lot, get one with replaceable blades. You basically are using a corner of a blade for the scoring, so one double-edged blade’s 4 corners will give you plenty of use.
Design: Those that take a double-edged razor have potential to do bodily damage taking the blade on and off. But any lame is razor sharp, as it must be, so be especially careful using it. If you have children in the house, you might consider one with some sort of protective cover.
Originality: The basic one is about as basic as it gets. There are some refined ones you can find online that have better grips or more recessed blades or safety features.
Practicality: You can use theoretically use any very sharp edge to score bread, but a lame makes the job a bit easier since the edge is very thin and curved. And it’ll make you feel like a real baker.