30 November 2014

Knives: Bread knives

Where a large serrated knife is often considered part of a basic three knife set together with a parring knife and a chef knife, my bread knife is my number one as I cut bread daily and bake when needed.  For baking I just use a  automatic bread maker from Panasonic.  For cutting I never bought an electric food slicer and and as long as the kids are not complaining it will be done with a serrated knife.

My bread knives left to right: Stroma (English?),  Diogenes (Germany), Opinel (France) and Victorinox (Swiss)

Stroma:  Someone left this old thing and took mine away when I was a student. I imagine it is from the fifties.  A good thin blade, tapered both ways.  I finally resharpened it when I discovered that my chef's knife was doing a better job.  Upon control the serrations were the original poorly made factory serrations.

Diogenes:  I knew it with an aluminum body and designed in the fifties.  But here Herder und Sohn from Solingen (yet another Herder knife maker from Solingen) made a new run in the nineties.  It's good for slicing out of the hand,  finishing the cut is the most difficult part.
My father must be part of the last generation to have cut traditional round breads to the chest.  In dutch it is expressed as cutting to the breast.  Bruegel depicts(1565) a woman in blue cutting bread to the throat,  but I guess that's for clarity. He also shows a man cutting bread to the 'table'. As he had much of an encyclopedist maybe there was a gender specific approach.
And then probably not.  The thick short slices on the other hand are cut cut here the French way.

Opinel:  I was surprised to see their bread knife to be a wrongly serrated (left handed) knife.  So I bought it as I am left handed with  knife and saw.  Upon evaluation I agree with Opinel, wrong is right, although the difference is small. This because: - Depending of the side of the serrations the knife will more easily slip sideway on the crust when cutting uphill or downhill. With a wrong knife this will happen on the first slices when there are no consequences,  and much less on the last slices when my fingers are close. - The other problem with a single sided bevel is that it will cut (slightly) sideways. The wrong knife makes slices tinner at the bottom, but when slicing it is always easier to tilt the knife to a thicker bottom than the other way around.
The design is special for a serrated knife,  I imagine it makes cutting slices longer than the knife possible,  but it is hard on the cutting board.  I also found the same design (Herder Abr. & Sohn Solingen) on ebay but with larger serrations described as a sausage knife.

Victorinox: It is a recent acquisition, I wanted a blade longer than the 20 cm (8") standard. I would call this model a pastry knife and they have a more bread-worthy knife,  but this one had the bestprice . The green handle kept it under the price of a cheap, four amazon stars, electric food slicer (the table saw model, not the twin blade thing).  On Amazon that day: with a red handle +50%, black handle +70%,  wooden handle +250% and the real Victorinox bread knife +100%.  It is also a thin double tapered blade. The 25 cm blade is more fun,  I should have tried their 30 or 35 cm model,  'maybe' I could get a 15 cm (6") thick slice in just one back and forth cut.

When controlling the sharpening angle I was surprised to see a 20° single sided factory serration on the Victorinox and an even lesser 15° single sided serration on the Opinel. Half of the more standard 20-15 ° per side of most kitchen knives. As a reference, Robert Herder parring knives (from Solingen) are sold with the notice to not use their thin blades on bones and bread crust.  Visual control shows no damage on the Opinel and a few damaged spots,  not necessarily the serration tips, on the Victorinox.

The last five years I did cut maybe 1000 breads, but cutting with a bread knife is not always easy. There is room for variation,  most of the time I cut thicker in the back and the slice gets thicker at the bottom.  The quality of the bread is important, where bread from a baker is never a problem, fresh bread or poor dough influence the cut more than any knife. Although, I once tried a poorly made Ikea knife, no, that one was not good.  The top image shows the result of a few unfocused cuts on a fresh bread, where is square? Why do I still use hand tools when electricity offers more consistency?

[edit] The rest of the week the results were acceptable, even on fresh bread, so that's probably why.

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