The Fresh Loaf

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Achieving a thin, crackled crust has been a frustrating pursuit for many, myself included. I have been able to get it, sometimes, but not consistently. There have been numerous discussions of how to get that crackly crust. I've been slowly digesting what's been written, and I think I may have arrived at a reliable method, at least for my breads, my dough handling and my oven.

The basic principles

The crust crackles during cooling because the interior of the bread contracts as it cools, and the crust is too dry to absorb water vapor which is trying to migrate outward and too rigid to contract with the crumb.

In order to optimize oven spring, bloom, crust shine and crust thickness when baking hearth breads, it is necessary to have a moist environment for the first part of the bake. Keeping the surface of the bread moist delays hardening of the crust, so it is extensible enough to expand with oven spring and permit a nice blooming of the scoring cuts.

Thus, it is desirable to have a humid oven for the first part of the bake but a dry oven for the last part of the bake.

Convection ovens, by increasing hot air circulation, tend to dry the surface of whatever is cooking. That's nice for crisping chicken skin, but it is counter-productive for keeping the bread surface moist early in the bake. On the other hand, convection baking helps dry the loaf surface, as is desirable during the last part of the bake. Convection ovens made for bakeries solve this problem by injecting steam under pressure over a time period under control by the baker. The home baker can achieve something like this by covering the loaves or using a cloche for the first part of the bake. The cover protects the loaf from excessive water evaporation, even in a convection oven. When the cover is removed, the crust can be dried, and a convection oven can presumably achieve this better than a conventional oven.

Allowing the loaf to sit on the baking stone with the oven turned off and the door ajar can achieve additional crust drying, but it may be that a less gradual cooling results in faster contraction of the cooling crumb and greater likelihood of crust crackling, according to some.

The protein content of the flour used and the inclusion of other ingredients that increase water retention, for example, potatoes or soakers, may also have an impact. These factors may impact both the degree to which the crumb contracts and the difficulty of drying the crust, and both of these would inhibit crackle development. If so, crackles should be easiest to achieve in a straight bread dough made with lower protein flour. Indeed, the bread most associated with a thin, crackly crust is baguette, which meets these conditions.

The principles applied

My oven is made by KitchenAid and has both convection and conventional baking options. This provides me with the opportunity to apply the principles discussed above.

I baked two breads yesterday and today with these principles in mind. The first was one I've baked dozens of times, my San Joaquin Sourdough. The second was one I had not baked before, the Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain from Hamelman's Bread. Both breads had 20% pre-fermented flour in the form of a 125% hydration starter fed with a mix of 70% AP, 20% WW and 10% whole rye flour.

The San Joaquin Sourdough was made with KAF AP and 10% KAF Medium Rye flours. The dough was 72% hydration. The loaves were scaled to 480 gms and shaped as bâtards. The Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain was made with KAF Bread Flour and 15% KAF Medium Rye Flour. The dough was 65% hydration. The loaves were scaled to 810 gms and shaped as boules.

For both bakes, the oven was pre-heated to 500ºF on convection bake for 60 minutes, with a baking stone on the middle shelf, pushed to the left, and a 7 inch cast iron skillet filled with lava rocks at the right front of the lower shelf. The oven was pre-steamed by pouring about 1/3 cup of boiling water over the lava rocks. The loaves were then transferred to a peel, scored and loaded onto the stone. Another ½ cup of water was poured over the lava rocks and the oven door quickly closed. The oven was immediately turned down to 460ºF, conventional bake.

San Joaquin Sourdough Bâtards

Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain from Hamelman's "Bread"

For the San Joaquin sourdough, the skillet was removed from the oven after 12 minutes, and the temperature was reset to 440ºF, convection bake. After another 18 minutes, the oven was turned off, and the loaves were left on the stone with the oven door ajar for another 7 minutes before being transferred to a cooling rack. The loaves commenced “singing” immediately and exceptionally loudly. By time they were cooled, they had developed many crust crackles, as pictured.

Crackly Crust on San Joaquin Sourdough

For the Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain, the skillet was removed after 15 minutes, and the oven was re-set to 435ºF, convection bake. The loaves were baked for an additional 25 minutes. Then, the oven was turned off, and the loaves were left on the stone with the oven door ajar for another 7 minutes before being transferred to a cooling rack. The loaves were already singing when I took them out of the oven, and, to my delight, there were already a few crackles. I had never before seen crackles develop before a loaf was cooled out of the oven. More lovely crackles appeared as the loaves cooled.

Crackles in crust of Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain, right out of the oven

More crackles appeared as the loaves cooled

And more ...

And yet more crackles


While two bakes is not sufficient to completely establish that the method described will reliably produce a crackled crust with all hearth breads, or even these, every time, this experience certainly supports my current understanding of the mechanisms involved and suggests the possibility that other bakes and other bakers might achieve similar results by applying these techniques.

I'd be happy if others would give this a try and share their experience.



dmsnyder's picture


When I blogged on my last weekend's baking, I threw in a photo of the pasta batch I had also made. Well, the pasta generated as much discussion as the breads … maybe more. So, I thought I'd write up the pasta dish we had for dinner tonight. (I know it's not bread, but I hope it's okay to post it on TFL anyway.)

Fettuccine with Turkey Sausage and Kale

I use Marcella Hazan's recipe for fresh pasta. It calls for 2 large eggs and 1 ½ cups of AP flour. I used Caputo tipo 00 Italian flour and found I had to add a couple tablespoons of water for the dough to come together.

I mix the dough in a food processor. It ends up in the bowl like coarse cornmeal, but, when pressed together and kneaded, it forms a firm dough. I roll the dough into a log, wrap it in wax paper and refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes. This works like an autolyse to evenly hydrate the flour.

I then divide the dough log into 4-6 equal pieces with a sharp knife and make pasta sheets with an Atlas, hand cranked pasta machine. After drying these for a few minutes until they are leathery, I cut them into the desired widths with the Atlas attachment. If the dough is sticky, it should be dusted with flour before cutting. The cut pasta is then dried completely (12 hours) before placing in plastic bag for storage. If completely dried, it will keep at room temperature for months. When rolled to the thinnest setting, this cooks in a couple minutes, tops.

The sauce comes from the March, 2006 Gourmet Magazine. It can also be found on here.

I make my own turkey sausage, using a recipe for home made Italian Sausage, substituting ground turkey thigh meat for pork shoulder. Here's my recipe for the sausage:

This is the original recipe scaled down for 1 lb of meat and with my notes in italic:

1 lb. ground pork shoulder. I use ground turkey or chicken dark meat.

1 clove crushed garlic.

¼ cup cold water. Omit if using ground poultry.

1 tsp salt

¾ tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp fennel seeds (preferably ground)

1 T grated pecorino romano cheese. I use parmesan.

1 T chopped Italian parsley

¼ tsp red pepper flakes (Optional)

Mix all ingredients together.

This freezes well. It is wonderful in sauces for pasta and on pizza.

Since Kale is unfamiliar to many, a few words about it seem called for. Kale is a green, leafy member of the cabbage family. It has been cultivated in Europe as long as history has been written. I have read that it was among the most common vegetables eaten in Europe prior to the late Middle Ages. It has many nutritional virtues, including powerful anti-oxidants and lots of vitamins and minerals. (For more information, see Wikipedia on Kale.)

Recipes using kale generally neglect the basics of preparing it for cooking. It has a fibrous central midrib that is not edible. After washing, the edible leaf is cut away from the midrib. The kale is often parboiled before adding it to the rest of the ingredients.

Kale, washed before removing stems

I cut along each side of the central stem with a sharp paring knife, then pull the stem free

Kale after removing the stems

So, with that introduction, here is my version of the recipe for Fettuccine with Turkey Sausage and Kale (Note: This recipe serves 4 as a main course):

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 lb turkey Italian sausage, crumbled

1/2 lb kale, tough stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped

1/2 lb fettuccine

2/3 cup home made chicken broth

1 oz finely grated parmesano reggiano cheese (1/2 cup) plus additional for serving

Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook sausage, breaking up any lumps with a spoon, until browned and no longer pink inside, 5 to 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, blanch kale in a 6-quart pot of boiling salted water , uncovered, 5 minutes. Remove kale with a large sieve and drain.

Keep the cooking water in the pot and return it to a boil, then cook pasta in boiling water, uncovered, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander.

While pasta cooks, add kale to sausage in skillet and saute, stirring frequently, until just tender, about 5 minutes.

Sausage and Kale, at this point in the recipe

Add broth, stirring and scraping up any brown bits from bottom of skillet, then add pasta and 1/2 cup reserved cooking water to skillet, tossing until combined. Stir in cheese and thin with additional cooking water if desired.

Serve immediately, with additional cheese on the side.

Buon appetito!




dmsnyder's picture

Nothing new in today's baking, but these are two of my favorites.

The San Francisco Sourdough is from Suas' "Advanced Bread and Pastry." I fed my stock starter to make a firm levain with KAF Bread Flour and BRM Dark Rye. The final dough was mixed with KAF AP. The San Joaquin Sourdough was made as previously described (many times). This batch was made with a 73% hydration dough.

I feel my bâtard shaping is coming along. I'm using the technique described in Hamelman's "Bread."

San Francisco Sourdough crumb

San Joaquin Sourdough crumb

I also made a batch of tagliatelle. I use Marcella Hazan's recipe which calls for 2 large eggs and 1 1/2 cups of AP flour. However, I have been curious how it would be made with Italian doppio 0 flour. I used Caputo red label. To my surprise, it was much thirstier than KAF AP, and I had to add a couple tablespoons of water to the dough for it to come together. Even with the added water, the dough was drier than usual. I was surprised because Marcella says the recipe usually used in Italy is 1 cup of flour to one egg. I wonder if Italian eggs are usually larger than our "large" eggs, or if there is another explanation. Maybe one of our Italian members has an explanation.

In any event, the pasta, made with an Atlas crank pasta machine, sure seems lovely. I'll see how it tastes at dinner tomorrow, with a sauce of home made ground turkey Italian sausage and kale.


dmsnyder's picture

Maybe this belongs in the "You know you're a bread baker when ..." topic.

I'm going to visit my younger son and his family next week. I haven't started packing, but I have the breads baked. 


This is basically my San Joaquin Sourdough but made with the Gérard Rubaud flour mix. I tasted this loaf's mate yesterday (as in 4 slices). The truth is, Rubaud's flour mix is better when baked using Rubaud's formula and methods, and the San Joaquin Sourdough is better using my usual AP with 10% dark rye. Live and learn. Not that this is bad bread. It's just not astonishingly wonderful. (My grand daughters deserve astonishingly wonderful bread.)


These boules are the San Francisco Sourdough from Michel Suas' "Advanced Bread & Pastry." It's a wonderful bread. I spiked my starter flour mix which already has 10% rye with extra rye and made a very firm starter which was allowed to ferment for about 16 hours at room temperature. I got a bit more sour tang than previous bakes, which was what I was shooting for. 

The crust is nice and crisp, and the crumb is quite open for moderate hydration (67%?) bread.


And, mostly because of how my wife's face lights up when she walks into the house while it's baking ...

The Cinnamon-Raisin-Walnut Bread from Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice." 

I feel better, knowing we won't starve in Las Vegas.


dmsnyder's picture

A few days ago, DonD blogged about some gorgeous baguettes he baked using a combination of unconventional mixing and fermentation techniques adapted from formulas developed by Pierre Gosselin and Anis Bouabsa, both very highly regarded Parisian boulangers. His description can be found here: Baguettes a l'Ancienne with Cold Retardation

Don used both the long autolyse under refrigeration of Gosselin and the cold retarded bulk fermentation of the complete dough employed by Bouabsa. He got such wonderful results, I had to try his hybrid technique.

I had been concerned that the double cold retardation would result in a dough that had so much proteolysis as to be unmanageable. However, Don described his dough as "silky smooth." Well, my dough was sticky slack. It was all extensibility and no elasticity. Fortunately, i have worked often enough with doughs like this to know they can make the most wonderful breads, so I shaped (best I could), proofed, slashed and baked. Voilà!


Since I was already afraid I'd over-fermented the dough, I erred on the side of under-proofing. The baguettes had almost explosive oven-spring. They about doubled in volume during the bake.

The crust was crunchy. The crumb was .... Oh, my!

The flavor was very good, but not as sweet as I recall the "pure" Gosselin Pain à l'Anciènne being.

These baguettes are worth baking again with some adjustments. I would endorse Don's decrease in the amount of yeast. I'll do so next time. And I will try a slightly lower hydration level. These were 73% hydration.

Thanks, Don, for sharing this very interesting twist in baguette techniques.


dmsnyder's picture


It has been a few weeks since I last made my San Joaquin Sourdough. I had become so enamored of breads made with the Gérard Rubaud flour mix, I was starting to wonder if I would still like the flavor of the San Joaquin Sourdough as much as I had. Well, I do.

Yesterday, I made the breads with a 73% hydration dough and divided it into two 250 gm ficelles and one (approximately) 500 gm bâtard.





Wt. (gms)

Baker's %

Active starter (75% hydration



WFM 365 Organic AP flour



BRM Dark Rye flour











  1. The night before baking, feed the starter at 1:3:4 ratio of seed starter: water: flour.
  2. Mix all the ingredients and allow to rest, covered for 20-60 minutes.
  3. Stretch and fold in the bowl for 30 strokes, three times at 30 minute intervals.
  4. Transfer the dough to a clean, lightly oiled bowl and cover.
  5. After another 30 minute rest, stretch and fold on a lightly floured board. Replace in the bowl and cover.
  6. Rest for 30 minutes, then repeat the stretch and fold, and replace the dough in the bowl.
  7. Refrigerate the dough for 21hours.
  8. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and immediately divide and pre-shape it. Cover the dough with plasti-crap or a towel and let it rest for 60 minutes.
  9. One hour before baking, preheat the oven to 500ºF, with a baking stone and steaming apparatus in place.
  10. Shape the loaves as desired and place on a floured couche. Cover the loaves.
  11. Proof for 45 minutes.
  12. Pre-steam the oven. Transfer the loaves to a peel. Score them as desired and transfer them to the baking stone. Steam the oven.
  13. Turn down the oven to 460ºF and bake for 12 minutes. Then remove the steam source.
  14. Continue to bake until the loaves are done. (20 minutes for the ficelles. 30 minutes for the bâtard.)
  15. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.


The crust was nice and crunchy, and the crumb was pleasantly chewy. The flavor was wonderful, as always. There is no perceptible rye flavor, but the rye adds to the overall flavor complexity. This batch had more of a sourdough tang than usual, which we like.


Submitted to YeastSpotting

dmsnyder's picture

I'd bought some smoked salmon to have with Greenstein's sour rye which I baked last week. My wife's comment was, "It's too bad we don't have bagels." It happens I had a couple bags of Sir Lancelot (KAF's high-gluten flour) in the pantry, as well as all the other necessary ingredients, on hand. I also had a lecture to prepare, and I was running out of excuses to delay finishing it. So, I made bagels.

I used the formula from Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice." This entailed making a sponge, then a final dough which is mixed and immediately divided, then shaped and retarded overnight before boiling, topping and baking. I'd used this formula before, but never with high-gluten flour.

The dough was a pleasure to work with, and my shaping method "clicked" with this batch. I shaped each piece as I would to make challah, using Glazer's method of flattening the pieces then rolling them up into tubes. I then rolled each tube as if I were making baguettes to about 9 inches, shaped them over my hand with the ends together in my palm. I gave the ends a gentle squeeze and then rolled the sealed ends on an un-floured board to seal them. Then, I gently stretched each resulting ring gently to enlarge the hole and placed each bagel on a sheet with oiled parchment paper for retarding.

The next day, after boiling the bagels in water with baking soda, I topped them with sesame seeds or re-hydrated onion flakes and baked them.

Onion bagel

Sesame bagel

Bagel crumb

Although the crumb was very well aerated and looked "fluffy," the bagels were delightfully chewy. They had a delicious flavor plain, without any topping, and were even better with cream cheese and smoked salmon.

Bagel with cream cheese and lox


Submitted to YeastSpotting

dmsnyder's picture


I like variety, so I could never say that any one bread is “my favorite.” However, I can say that the “Five-Grain Sourdough with Rye Sourdough” from Hamelman's “Bread” would certainly be one of the candidates. It has a wonderful crunchy crust and a delicious complex flavor. It is fabulous fresh-baked. It stays moist for many days. It makes toast to die for. It is good unadorned or buttered, by itself or with other foods, for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It's, incidentally, full of really healthy stuff. Moreover, it's really easy to make, and it's beautiful to look at. What's not to like?

This bread is made with a rye sourdough but is also spiked with commercial yeast. The sourdough is fed and a soaker is soaked 14-16 hours before mixing, but once the dough is mixed, the fermentation and proofing are rather short. I started putting the dough together at around 12:30 pm, and the bread was out of the oven at around 4:30 pm.

Notes on the formula

  1. The overall hydration of the dough is 99%, but much of the water is absorbed by the soaker. The final dough is sticky, but like a rye bread dough not like a high-hydration white bread dough.

  2. Also note that all the salt is in the soaker. This is to inhibit enzyme activity. The salt percentage may also seem high (2.2% of the total flour), but the grains in the soaker also need salt, so the bread does not seem overly salty in the least.

  3. This formula makes a large batch of dough. It would have been difficult to mix it in my KitchenAid. I mixed it in my Bosch Universal Plus, which handled it with ease. If using a KitchenAid or similar stand mixer, you should consider scaling down the formula to 2/3 of that specified below.


Rye sourdough


Baker's %

Whole-rye flour

8 oz



6.7 oz


Mature sourdough culture

0.4 oz



15.1 oz





Baker's %


2.9 oz


Cracked rye (I used pumpernickel flour)

2.9 oz


Sunflower seeds

2.4 oz



2.4 oz


Water (boiling, if cracked rye)

13.2 oz



0.7 oz



1 lb, 8.5 oz



Final dough


High-Gluten flour (KAF Bread Flour)

1 lb, 8 oz


10.5 oz

Yeast (Instant)

0.19 oz


0.5 oz


1 lb, 8.5 oz


14.7 oz


4 lb, 10.4 oz



  1. Mix the sourdough and ferment it at room temperature for 14-16 hours.

  2. Prepare the soaker at the same time as the sourdough. Weigh out the grains and salt. Mix them. If cracked rye is used, boil the water and pour over the grains and mix. If using rye chops or coarse rye flour (pumpernickel), cold water can be used. Cover the soaker and leave it at room temperature.

  3. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a mixer bowl at low speed, then increase to medium speed (Speed 2 in a KitchenAid or Bosch) and mix to moderate gluten development. In my Bosch, I think this took around 10 minutes.

  4. Transfer the dough to

    a lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly and ferment for 1 hour.

  5. Divide the dough into three equal pieces and shape into boules, bâtards or a combination.

  6. Proof for 50-60 minutes in brotformen or en couche.

  7. Preheat the oven to 480ºF with a baking stone and your steaming method of choice in place.

  8. Pre-steam the oven. Transfer the loaves to a peel. Score them and load them onto your baking stone. Steam the oven. Turn the oven down to 460ºF.

  9. After 15 minutes, remove your steaming apparatus, rotate the loaves if necessary for even browning, and turn the oven down to 440ºF. If the loaves are getting too dark, you can turn the oven down to 420ºF.

  10. Bake for 15 minutes more (or 10 minutes longer, if baking 2 lb loaves) and check for doneness. (Internal temperature 205ºF. Bottom sounds hollow when thumped. Crust nicely browned.)

  11. Turn off the oven but leave the loaves in, with the oven door ajar for another 7-10 minutes to dry the crust.

  12. Transfer the loaves to a wire rack and cool thoroughly before slicing.



Submitted to YeastSpotting



dmsnyder's picture

This weekend I made a miche with Gérard Rubaud's flour mix for the first time. It's nowhere near as beautiful as the ones with which Shiao-Ping introduced Rubaud's formula to TFL, but it is delicious. The miche does seem to have a more mellow flavor than the other breads I've made with this flour mix, but then I didn't slice and taste it for a good 15 hours after it was baked.

The flour mix and formula I used was ...

Gérard Rubaud Pain au Levain


Baker's %

Total Dough

Flour 1 – AP



Flour 2 – WW



Flour 3 – Spelt



Flour 4 – Rye




Total Dough: 

Baker's %











Conversion factor





Baker's %














Final Dough: 

Baker's %


















I also made a couple 1 lb boules of the San Francisco Sourdough from "Advanced Bread & Pastry" by Michel Suas. It was an extremely extensible dough, made this time with WFM AP Flour (non-organic. They were out of the organic). I retarded the loaves overnight but wanted to give them an early start, so I took them out of the fridge and turned on my oven when I first got to the kitchen this morning.


I trust you correctly inferred this was done before my first cup of coffee. Always risky. 


Well, I did have my baking stone in the oven when I turned it on but not my steaming setup. I discovered this when the loaves were ready to load, of course. I did give the oven a series of spritzes with a spray bottle, but my result was a nice illustration of why we bake with steam. So, for your interest ...


Note the dull crust and the modest bloom and spring.


I haven't cut it yet. I'm sure it's fine eating, but beautiful it ain't.





dmsnyder's picture

Pat, who has is enduring earthquakes, tsunami warnings and, worst of all, no access to bread baking this week shared with us the thought that having some bread to critique might lift her spirits. What better bread than that made from her own baguette formula?

In anticipation of Pat's need, I baked a couple baguettes this afternoon. For the formula, see Baguette crumb - 65% hydration dough. I used some leftover levain with the G. Rubaud flour mix to seed the levain. The rest of the flour was KAF European Artisan-Style flour. This is a supposedly the same protein content as KAF AP flour, but it always seems to absorb a bit more water than AP. I didn't add any extra water, so the dough was quite dry - not even tacky after a couple stretch and folds in the bowl.

So, Pat, have at it.

The baguettes



The crust was deliciously crunchy and sweet from the caramelization of a bold bake. The crumb was chewy with a nice, baguette flavor, but the taste of the tiny fraction of whole wheat flour used in the levain was discernible. It seemed a bit "out of place." However, this didn't stop me from consuming half a baguette with dinner.



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