The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Update on dense crumb post - progress!

Simon280586's picture

Update on dense crumb post - progress!

I recently had a problem with the middle of my Tartine boules being too dense, as I posted here:


I decided to try shaping as gently and simply as possible, and seeing how they turned out. I made a half batch, so each loaf was half the size of the ones in the recipe, so that I could practice without worrying about messing up a big loaf.

I used a minimum of flour, just enough to prevent sticking to the counter but not so much as to interfere with the folds cohering during final shaping. After turning the loaves over from their preshaped rest, the top (previously the bottom) was still somewhat sticky and this helped the folds join together nicely. I took my time, tried to work decisively, only doing the motions I thought were absolutely necessary. I stopped when the loaf looked acceptable, resisting the urge to keep going until it looked perfect.

The result, I'm pleased to report, was very much more than acceptable, both visually and in taste. I think sticking to a single recipe until you are happy with it is a good way to go, rather than jumping from recipe to recipe too often as I've done in the past. I've done batches of this bread 4 times now and it's helped me become more familiar with the dough's characteristics at each stage of the baking process.

Here's a picture. Who can resist a picture? (okay so the picture's at the top)

cranbo's picture

Looks really good, nice job! I can see that pearly-colored gelatinization that shows that the dough was well developed. I bet it tasted great. 

dabrownman's picture

have a hard time with white breads and being gentle with them.  Having a quick but light touch is the key as is not overworking them.  This bread looks perfect!  Well done.  Hope it tastes as good as it looks on the inside and outside.

Happy baking

rolls's picture

gorgeous :)


Bread Head's picture
Bread Head

what you did for the shaping, please..............Thank you.

I have been wondering what I have been doing wrong with my Tartine loaf for over a year.  I just couldn't understand why the ends would have very nice holes in the crumb but the center would always be dense.

Please be as detailed as possible with your shaping.

Simon280586's picture

Bear in mind I'm no expert, and the picture represents my best effort to date.

You asked for detail, here's some detail :)

The end result is highly dependent on each and every step of the baking process, so I made sure to follow the time and temperature guidelines in the book as closely as I could. I did bulk fermentation in the oven with a jug of hot water, and made sure the gluten was well developed through the turns. The dough was in a glass bowl so I could see the size of the bubbles developing. After 3 or 3 1/2 hours the dough looks well aerated, with lots of medium-small air pockets. But you don't want these are pockets to be too big, or for the dough to be too light and fragile, because the dough still needs time to rise after shaping. I think it's best if the dough is quite cohesive when you turn it out to be shaped. Especially for beginners. Just don't deflate the dough, and maybe allow a little longer proof if necessary.

For shaping I tried to follow the instructions as closely as possible. Using a metal bench scraper is very useful. Also I'd recommend practicing with a half batch of the dough before moving on to the full size, which can be more difficult and intimidating to work with (so you can make 2 smaller loaves instead).


So I turned the dough out using a plastic bowl scraper, trying to ease it out gently with minimum deflation. Brush some flour across the top just until it stops feeling sticky, don't use too much. Divide the dough with the metal scraper, get underneath with the blade and gently turn it over. I prefer to divide parallel to my body which means I can then put my left hand at one end of the dough and the bench scraper at the other, and flip the dough from right to left. Slide the blade under and move the dough around slightly to make sure it's not sticking (sprinkle some flour around the edges if necessary). Then fold the dough in half and maybe tuck the end under slightly. Brush off any excess flour (remember, if the dough is ever too dry you can always pat it with slightly damp hands to make it easier for the seams to join).


I think it's best to keep this as simple and gentle as possible. As soon as it looks roughly like a loose ball with no major seams visible, I'd stop. Basically what I did was slide the metal blade under the dough from multiple directions to loosen it from the surface, then use my left hand to sort of push it onto the blade while rotating the dough with both the blade and my hand. This will tuck the seams under and create a loose ball with a slightly taut surface. But don't try to make it look like a perfect, tight boule, this is just a rough preshape. If the dough stick to the blade or your hand, sprinkle a little flour around the edges and continue. When you're done the dough should have this sort of soft, airy firmness to it, with a subtle bounciness to it when you pat it with your hand. But it shouldn't feel overly tight and firm. Of course this is highly subjective and difficult to explain in words. I just remember how nice the dough felt on this occasion. Now cover the dough (I used a thin cotton linen - lightly dust the surface of the dough with flour if necessary).


After the rest, the dough should have flattened out a little. This shows the gluten has relaxed ready to be tightened up again in its final shape.

Get under the dough with the bench scraper and flip it over. You shouldn't have to add any more flour, and you might want to brush any excess of the surface. Also make sure there is no flour on the bench. Once you've turned it, you can slide the blade under to make sure it's loose and not sticking, as usual. This also allows you to slightly and gently stretch the dough into a rough rectangle. The top of the dough should be slightly sticky - if it's too dry, pat it with a little water. Remember, there's no real rush. Fold as demonstrated in the book (slightly stretch and fold all four sides into the centre to make a tight package), using the metal scraper if necessary to help you get under the dough. Gently pat down along the seams after each fold to make sure they've joined together. You may want to leave a slight lip after the fourth fold on the side nearest you, to make it easier to do that final fold/roll over.

After that, just do the same motion as the preshaping until you have a slightly tighter ball than before, then finish off with by quickly rotating the ball with the edges of both hands (with your hands angled towards the underside of the ball, like you can see in the Tartine video at 4:37. If at any time the dough sticks too much, sprinkle some flour around the edges like before, but remember a little stickiness helps the ball to tighten and the seams to close! Scoop the dough up using the blade, resting the top in the palm of your hand, and transfer it to your proofing container.

And that's pretty much it. I've tried to put in every little detail, because you never know what in particular may be useful to someone. Hope that helps, and don't be afraid to practice!