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Bread Lames for Baguettes

Published September 2014

How we tested

Bread bakers score shaped loaves before putting them in the oven to ensure that the bread expands fully and in the right direction during baking. Professional bakers use a tool called a lame (pronounced “LAHM”), which means “blade” in French. Lames can have straight or curved blades. Straight blades are best when approaching the dough head-on to make perpendicular slashes, like the X often used for rustic boules. For these types of slashes, you can get fine results by simply using a serrated knife or razor blade. To produce the classic almond-shaped slashes that baguettes are known for, a curved-blade lame is the traditional choice. It approaches the dough at a lower angle to create a cut with a flap instead of a simple slash. In the oven, this type of slash expands into an almond shape while the flap peels back to become a crispy ridge or “ear” that adds both flavor and texture.

We tested four different curved lames (priced from roughly $9 to about $17), as well as two common substitutes—a small serrated blade (also known as a tomato knife) and a box cutter—to find out if you really need to invest in a lame to get a properly scored baguette. As we scored, it became clear: A knife or a box cutter is acceptable, but lames are better. Overall, lames were easier to hold and thus control, and they slid through the dough more cleanly.

The lames we tried were all equally sharp. We docked points from the only model with a fixed blade since once it dulls, you have to buy a whole new lame. The other lames could be refitted with cheap double-edged straight blades from the drugstore as needed. We considered how easy it was to change the blade on each model, downgrading one whose blade was difficult to secure in place. We also evaluated handles; the better the handle, the more clean and even the slashes. Our winning model has a sharp blade that’s easy to replace and its handle was easy to grasp; though the handle was a bit long, we simply choked up for good control. It also came with five extra blades.

The Results


Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.


Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.


Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.


Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.


Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.


Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.