The $10 Bread-Making Tool That a Fifth-Generation Bakery Owner Uses Every Day

published Oct 4, 2023
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Round sourdough loaf inside a Dutch oven
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Brett Regot

Olivieri 1882 is one of Italy’s most treasured bakeries. Located in Arzignano, a two-hour drive from Venice, the fifth-generation bakery is known for producing some of the country’s most-loved celebratory breads using lievito madre (mother yeast) to make some seriously tower-high lievitati, otherwise known as holiday leavened cakes to us mere mortals who are not fluent in the Italian language. The most well-known known lievitati is the panettone, which is eaten during Christmas and Easter. A popular second is the Easter Colomba, but both are equally delicious Italian breads — and I can eat them any time of the year, not just during festive seasons. 

My friend Nicola Olivieri is the fifth-generation owner of the bakery, and I’ve been fortunate enough to taste his Nonna’s recipes. They’re ultimately the inspiration behind the line of baked goods sold at Olivieri 1882, which are available for shipping within 48 hours to the United States for people who seriously need panettone ASAP (so, me). With a history dating back to 1882 when Nicola’s great-great-grandfather started the family bakery selling simple breads to what is now one of Italy’s most loved and revered bakeries, I didn’t expect a master baker like Nicola to tell me that his favorite baking tool is in fact something you can find for less than $10.

What’s So Great About the Saint Germain Premium Hand-Crafted Bread Lame?

While there are a lot of tricks and family secrets to making award-winning bread and panettone, Nicola recommends an affordable bread lame for both novice and well-versed bakers to take their bakes to the next level. For Nicola, it’s the Saint Germain Bread Lame. “This blade’s handle is on the shorter side so it’s easier to manage and manipulate, and it has a nice grip,” he says. “It also comes with a blade cover, which means I can store it away safely when I’m not working, and arrives with replaceable blades for multiple uses. I’ve used it to craft countless loaves and baguettes, always with consistent, impressive results. And of course, you can’t beat the price.” 

A bread lame is used to score bread, both in a practical and an aesthetic way, says Nicola. The dough can rise properly and it’ll look pretty, too — it’s equal parts science and art. “The bread lame plays an essential role in Olivieri 1882’s Panettone Classico. It lets us ‘sleekly’ score each panettone with a cross in a technique called scarpatura. This allows for the top of the panettone to rise and ‘puff up,’ giving it its signature cupola shape,” shares Nicola. 

Beyond the beauty of a perfectly shaped cupola, scoring the bread also helps control the loaf’s expansion as it bakes. With panettone, the slashing creates height, space, and structure, essentially preparing the loaf for expansion in a hot oven and controlling the direction in which the bread rises during baking. Think of the slashes as little valves that release steam. If you don’t slash the dough, the loaf won’t reach its full potential, and instead, it’ll stay small and erupt at the loaf’s weakest point.

Nicola uses the Saint Germain Bread Lame right before he shimmies the dough into the oven, scoring about a quarter-inch deep. The stainless steel blade is curved and the wooden handle is sculpted, giving you tons of precision. A knife is too clunky for the job because it lacks the finesse and flexibility of a bread lame — especially if you have a certain look that goes beyond the scarpatura. “It’s nearly impossible to etch out an intricate design with a knife,” says Nicola. “A knife tends to ‘drag’ through the unbaked, wet dough, while a lame is thin and spry, and doesn’t risk potentially ruining the bread with clumsy cuts.” 

While it’s going to take me a dozen more bakes to get anywhere close to Olivieri 1882‘s panettone, at least I’ll be one step closer with this essential. Hey, if the $10 Saint Germain is good enough for Nicola, it’s certainly good for us!