The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why big holes?

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Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Why big holes?

In reading a bread book from the 1980s, I am reminded that large holes in the crumb used to be considered undesirable.  One of the goals of breadbaking was to produce a fine-grained crumb.  However, today's artisan baking movement considers large holes to be a mark of success.

Is this something new?  What has caused this change?

Rosalie

leemid's picture
leemid

I just lost a brilliantly written analysis of the history of the world post depression/WWII that explained this thoroughly by blundering stumble fingers hitting the wrong keys...

Basically, there was a general trend after WWII in the new world of consumerism, with the availability of all sorts of new automatic home appliances, including exciting new kitchen models, and advertising brought directly to our homes on the new and exciting TV, to move "forward" into the brave new world. We were convinced that most of the old world was bad and all of the new world was good. Old world bread that was hard to chew was out, new bread that looked and felt like cake was better, because it showed how much more affluent we had become. After years and years of poverty and hardship, this wasn't difficult to convince people of. Of course, this is only one of the zillions of examples of change as the world moved out of the old era. But it changed the way we prepared food, what was available at the market, what we wanted to eat... our very way of thinking.

It is an easy argument to win, that in the rush to "improve the world" much good was lost. Lo these many years later, in reflection, many, but not all, of us are trying to find something good to replace the mundane, mediocre, and downright lousy food items we have inherited. Bread is perhaps one of the most basic of foods, and it is one the common man/woman can do something about personally. Ironically, it is the old world to which we look to find the answers. Traditional methods are sought after, and how to do them with our modern appliances. I find it interesting that there isn't a similar yearning to return to more traditional mores to solve other problems so rampant in all cultures worldwide... but that's another discussion.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

PS. The big holes contribute to improved cooking of the starches and sugars in the bread, improving taste. Small holes and underbaked bread is faster and cheaper to make, and to make cheaply so the baker can sell more of it, increasing his prosperity which is good... for him. We used to think that big holes were a ripoff because that loaf of bread was just a bunch of holes...not like the new loaves... that's how well good advertising works.

Lee

Trishinomaha's picture
Trishinomaha

Great explanation!

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

Lee, that was a really nice explanation. One other thing I wanted to add was that a very fine crumb is achieved with lots of kneading, but excessive kneading oxidizes the dough and breaks down some of the pigments that give good flavor. That's another reason why large holes are generally equated with better flavor. Of course it depends on what kind of bread you're making; for a pan-baked sandwich loaf a more even crumb is desirable, I think.

Susanfnp

http://www.wildyeastblog.com

leemid's picture
leemid

since I haven't baked a sandwich loaf in years, I can't put the two-and-two of artisanal and Mom's bread (which I grew up on and loved). I have taken to using my round loaves as sandwich bread, holes and all, preference for flavor. I suppose one of these days I will revisit Mom's recipe with my current level of understanding to see where that takes me.

But, alas, I still have no oven... supposed to be fixed next week. Then there is so much to do...

Lee

Cooky's picture
Cooky

I think you will find wonderful flavor in your handmade fine-textured loaves, assuming you make it with high quality ingredients. You can also use what we think of as artisan techniques, such as beginning with a sponge (aka poolish). Even if it develops for a couple of hours, it really does lovely things to the flavor of any bread.

 

"I am not a cook. But I am sorta cooky."

rcornwall's picture
rcornwall

I think it depends on the bread. Not every bread should have huge air holes. I think that the best baker is one who doesn't create large air cells in every loaf but who can do it when called upon. For example, a good foaccia or ciabatta ought to have a nice airy crumb, but not a pain campagne, other low hydration French loaves or most "sandwich breads".

rcornwall