The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dense crumb, poor ear and spring Development

nsaubes's picture
nsaubes

Dense crumb, poor ear and spring Development

Dear community:

I've been baking sourdough bread for a couple of month now. Although I've been improving on several aspects I'm still not satisfied with my loaves: 1) the crumb is too dense, I can't manage to get an airy crumb and, 2) I can't manage to get a nice ear and spring development, the surface of the bread stays smooth and flat...

I've been cold bulk fermenting and I also tried both cold bulk fermenting + cold final shape proofing.

Are those signs of overfermentation/proofing or underfermentation/proofing? Or is it because of other factors?

Thanks for your help!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

crust compare to the top in color?   

The obvious crumb separation is most likely from shaping.  A bit too much flour on the dough so it didn't stick to itself.

Without a method "time line" including temperatures, recipe and more details, the only suggestion I can make is to try lowering the hydration a little bit.  

Was the loaf warm when cut?

nsaubes's picture
nsaubes

Hi @Mimi Oven!

The bottom crust is much more pale than the top crust.

Recipe is: 550g basic bread flour, 400g water, 10g salt, 100g sourdough starter

Process is: Autolysis 45 min (flour and water only), adding starter and salt, mixing in kitchen aid 5 min, hand kneading (stretch and fold type) 5 min, resting 1h30 at room temp (+/- 22-24°C) doing stretch and fold every 30 min, cold bulk fermentation in the fridge for 8 hrs, preshaping, resting 20 min at room temp, shaping, cold final shape proofing for 8 hrs, baked straight after taking out of the fridge in home oven on a pizza stone, throwing a glass of water at the bottom of the oven for steam.

The loaf was cut several hours after baking.

Thanks!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Bottom crusts say a lot.  Be sure to check every loaf and record what you see.   See if you can move the pizza (thin) stone closer to the heat source or down one notch in the oven for more heat directly under the baking dough.  This alone might be the only change needed.   Remember to change only one variable at a time with each bake.

The refrigerator temp. plays a big role with this loaf so it would be good to know exactly what it is.  Just for your notes.

I would like to know how the final proof was done... what the dough felt like after the first retard and for the final rise was the dough Inside a form or in a bowl or on a plate, etc.  How was the surface feel of the loaf before it was baked?  Soft, sticky and stretchy?  Firm, partially dry?  Anything you can remember.  If slashed, how did that go for you?  

Did you feel at any time you wanted to reshape and let the proof go on longer?  High altitudes do affect the rise time and will give you a smaller window to bake when it is time to do so.  This window of opportunity happens sooner than at lower elevations.  Try reducing the hydration to increase the size of the window.  Right now you have 75% hydration  (total water divided by total flour x 100)  Try 70%. 

Now that the baked loaf is older, does the crumb look different when cut?  Is it still heavy and moist? 

Mini   

nsaubes's picture
nsaubes

The final proof was indeed done in a bowl covered with a plastic film. The surface of the loaf felt firm enough after the final proofing. On the other hand the dough wasn't looking great after the cold (I don't have the exact temperature...) bulk fermentation, it looked really flat...

Do you have any advice to help recognize that "window of opportunity", both at the and of bulk proofing and final proofing?

Also do you have any recommendations for the mixing/kneading part, especially about the use of the kitchen aid mixer (how long should I use it)? I have the feeling that my dough is not smooth enough...

I'll definitely try to reduce hydration. I'm suspecting that my flour is quite humid too (It's rainy season right now in Guatemala, humidity might be up to 90%). I have the feeling that if I follow a certain recipe with a certain % hydration my dough looks overhydrated compared to what the recipe describe/show... Would that make sense?

Now the crumb is a bit less wet than at the beginning but it still feels pretty dense.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Try dropping the hydration and see how that goes.  Dough will respond to the ambient humidity and when it is high (I got rainy season too) it helps a lot to protect the dough from it when it is higher (or lower) than the dough hydration.  Sourdoughs will feel "wetter" as fermentation progresses.

 Don't know if I would want a smooth dough but one way of getting it would be to add only half the flour to the water and let it run in the mixer for a while (I can only guess how long, I use hand mixing, 5 min?)  until smooth and then switch from beaters to dough hooks for the rest of the flour.  That's the old method anyway.   Then let the dough autolyse before adding sourdough getting it well dispersed before adding salt.  Another is to use AP after bulking for bench flour instead of bread flour.  

One way to check on dough rising in the fridge is to cut into it with a sharp knife and look at the gas bubbles forming in the dough.  Bulk fermenting shouldn't rise more than double and is characterised by big large bubbles surrounded by dense dough.  When the dough is flat after bulking it has either risen and fallen (which I seem to doubt unless the fridge is on the warm side)  or the yeast just haven't got their populations up yet.  The one and a half hours before chilling was most likely too short so I would let the dough rest one and a half hours, then follow up with another one and a half hours with the 30 min folds.  (Personally, I think one folding is enough after 3 hours when the dough starts to puff up.)  Then tuck into the fridge.  You can play with this timing to tweak your rise times, a little tweak at this stage has a big impact later on and it can be that 3 hours is too long with warmer temps above 23°C.  

As yeast by-products build up in the dough it becomes more important to fold the dough to maintain it's rising shape.  Cut into into the dough to check on the gas formation and then slap the cut ends back together.  It can easily happen that with stretch and folding, one looses track of the volume of the dough with some degassing going on.  Cutting into the dough will give you the actual volume and you can see how the gas is distributed.  (so will a see-thru dough container)   That and skin tension will make it easier to know when to bake.  After checking and slapping the dough back together, give it a folding if it needs it and tuck under the corners.  You should then find it easier to estimate when the dough should be baked.  Look carefully between the larger gas bubbles at the spaces between them.  You want to see a large number of medium and minute bubbles resembling more a sponge than fresh dough.  These will all expand in the oven heat.  Very large bubbles get enormous during baking so I would pop anything larger than an olive or marble before baking.

A too relaxed dough surface will not hold up in the oven (think of the skin as a container)  and if the dough has degraded too much waiting for yeast to build up, the dough can also start tearing apart and running sideways.  

Should you find that final proofed dough too relaxed, give it a gentle set of folds tucking under the corners and resting with seam down for a quarter to half an hour, slash and bake.  Dough is naturally stiffer coming out of the fridge so you will not have much aroma or relaxed surfaces when comparing to room risen dough.

Waiting for that next loaf....   , Mini 

 

nsaubes's picture
nsaubes

After a few weeks of vacation I'm getting back into baking! So I've basically followed the same recipe, playing with hydration rates. I tried one at 73% and another at 69%. Also in both occasion I didn't use the fridge at all, neither for bulk fermentation nor for final proofing. I've also been watching closely at my starter in order to get a good understanding of his cycles an timings. The starter is healthy as it more than double, peaking in 4 hours or so after feeding. All of this helped me to get a better understanding and control over the fermentation process and its timings. Although the loaves are still far from getting me satisfied, some things improved: they are not as heavy and wet as they used to be, and the flavor improved too. I lowered my baking stone to the bottom of the oven and the bottom crust is way better too.

But I think I've noticed an important weakness in my baking process: I can't get enough strength in the dough at any moment of the process. It's too weak and feels too relaxed all along the baking process, and I almost never can get that "skin tension" you mentioned. It gets mostly clear at preshaping and when I take it out of the mold just before putting it in the oven. At preshaping I manage to form a ball (at 73% hydration it was almost impossible, at 69% a bit better) and create some skin tension but during the 15-20 minute rest before shaping it clearly breaks, and the dough is quite spread out after the 15 min. When take the dough out of the bowl before baking it's also really clear: it spreads out a lot and doesn't hold it's shape, even if I tried to do a very closed shaping. You can imagine when I do the incisions (I do very shallow ones as I'm aware of the weakness): it spreads out even more, making it even hard to pass it from the peel to the baking stone.

I personally think it has to do with the flour I use and the autolyse/mixing/kneading process I follow. I feel I don't manage to create a strong enough gluten network... I want to explore that but I'm not sure what should I start with.

IceDemeter's picture
IceDemeter

great notes to work from by playing with the hydration and with being able to observe both the starter and the dough in "real time" at room temperature.  I know that it really helped me figure out what things should look and feel and smell like at the various stages.

I hope you had a great vacation, and it's nice to see you came back and are baking!  I'd been wondering how your follow-up bakes had come out!

I don't know what flour you are using, or what your local flour is like for protein level and ash content, but I suspect that they might be more in line with European or Asian flours and so might not be able to take as much hydration as a flour from the northern USA or Canada.  As a rough rule of thumb, their flour would use about 5% less water than what is listed for an American recipe.  Can you give us some information on the specifications of the flour that you are using?

You also are having to deal with baking at a higher elevation than most recipes are designed for, which means that you should be using a bit less water (or more flour), a higher oven temperature (although for a shorter time), can use less leavening / starter or need to watch for faster proofing, and need to use a high protein flour and really work to develop the gluten in order to sustain the rise in the bread.  For tips on higher elevation baking, you can check out this page: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/learn/high-altitude-baking.html  One of the most important things to keep an eye on at higher elevation is the final internal temperature for the baked loaf --- your cooked temperature will be 5 to 10 deg F lower than called for in an American recipe (I test for 198-200 deg F internal and not the 205-210 deg F that most recipes call for).

Your very high humidity will also play a part, in that your stored flour will already be holding more moisture than flour stored in a drier climate.  This is just one more thing limiting the hydration for your bakes.  The additional humidity also makes it more difficult to create and maintain a taut "skin" on the dough, since the external moisture tends to "soften" it more quickly.

I think that you might want to try a bake or two down at 60% hydration, and see how it feels.  I suspect that you may find that 60-62% might be your "sweet spot" for a dough that is really comfortable to work with and learn on.  I find that the mixing / kneading techniques from here work really well for me: http://www.breadwerx.com/  specifically, this post: http://www.breadwerx.com/how-to-get-open-crumb-from-stiff-dough-video/

If you are using a solid bowl or a banneton to proof in, then I'd suggest that a liner (floured linen, preferably) might help to keep the "skin" of the dough more dry, and help to maintain the structure of the loaf.  You also might want to go back to refrigerating either the bulk ferment (since shaping cold dough is easier), or the proof (since cold dough holds its shape better when scored and put in to the oven). 

Hopefully this gives you some ideas to start with!

nsaubes's picture
nsaubes

@IceDemeter thanks for the ideas and resources. I'll definitely explore the techniques describe on breadwerx.com, the page you pointed at is very interesting indeed.

As for the flour Guatemala doesn't produce wheat on a commercial level, so they import it from Mexico and the US and mill it in the country. The one I use seems to be a quite strong/hard flour. Here is some of the information I could get:

Humidity: 13.7% | Protein: 12.8 | Ash: 0.58 | Absorption: 60%

I just bought another type which goes like this (I've not baked with it yet):

Humidity: 14% | Protein: 12.1 | Ash: 0.6 | Absorption: 58.5%

I'll definitely try to lower hydration, at 65% first and then lower if necessary.

Thanks again and let me know your thoughts about the flour's characteristics. I'm not sure how to exactly interpret the numbers above!

WatertownNewbie's picture
WatertownNewbie

Hi Mini Oven,

You wrote: "Should you find that final proofed dough too relaxed, give it a gentle set of folds tucking under the corners and resting with seam down for a quarter to half an hour, slash and bake." My sourdough loaves typically rise during proofing, but then when released from the banneton are about half as high as the final shaping was (i.e., just before going into the banneton).  Would you suggest a gentle reshaping and insertion back into the banneton for another quarter to half hour to obtain better strength and structure? Or simply leave the loaf on the bench (after the "folds tucking ...")?

And really, my question is why leaving a relaxed dough to rest for a quarter to half an hour would result in a less-relaxed dough.

Thanks in advance for your advice.

Ted 

nsaubes's picture
nsaubes

So I've been playing with hydration %, mixing times and techniques, and resting times. Overall I've had some improvements: loaves inflate more while cooking and I can get a more open crumb in general. But there is still a couple of flaws that are recurrent, and for which I don't understand the causes:

1) Most of the time I get an open crumb on the edges of the loaves but the more you get to the center the denser is the crumb. Basically I cannot get holes in the middle of the loaves, and in the more extreme cases (higher hydration mostly) the center stays a bit undercooked. Could it be some signs of overproofing? Underproofing?

2) Sometimes during cooking the loaf doesn't crack at the place where I made the incision, but next to it... I don't get why.

If you have any advice for exploring improvements for those points they are welcome!

Thanks!

Nils

IceDemeter's picture
IceDemeter

timing, techniques used for mixing / kneading, and roughly where you are located (since elevation / weather / humidity all play a part) would definitely help narrow this down.

I'm also wondering whether you have ever tried doing it as a straight, one-day process without using either cold ferment or cold proof, so that you could feel and observe the dough at all stages of the process.  If you have, what timing did you use, and did you have the same end result?

Hopefully you can give us more details so that you can get some solid suggestions!

 

nsaubes's picture
nsaubes

Hi @IceDemeter:

Recipe is: 550g basic bread flour, 400g water, 10g salt, 100g sourdough starter

Process is: Autolysis 45 min (flour and water only), adding starter and salt, mixing in kitchen aid 5 min, hand kneading (stretch and fold type) 5 min, resting 1h30 at room temp (+/- 22-24°C) doing stretch and fold every 30 min, cold bulk fermentation in the fridge for 8 hrs, preshaping, resting 20 min at room temp, shaping, cold final shape proofing for 8 hrs, baked straight after taking out of the fridge in home oven on a pizza stone, throwing a glass of water at the bottom of the oven for steam.

I'm located in Guatemala City, 1500 meters/4900 feet above sea level, right now it's above 80% humidity, it's rainy season here!

I've never done a straight one-day process, I've been willing to do it but cold fermentation really eases the organization! But I'll definitely try to do it as soon as possible, I know it will help me better understand how the starter and dough behaves.

Thanks!

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

How is your starter performing? Is it a 100% hydration starter, and if so, does it at least double, and become light, frothy and bubbly before you use it? What percentage of starter is there in the dough? Is the dough light, springy and stretchy after the bulk ferment? I'm thinking there isn't enough yeast action going on here.

Try adding just a little tiny bit (less than 1/8 tsp) of active dry or instant dry yeast to the final dough before bulk ferment, and see how that changes the dough. If the resulting dough and bread is much better, then perhaps your starter needs some attention.

nsaubes's picture
nsaubes

Hi @Lazy Loafer:

The starter looks pretty active to me, it's bubbly when it's rising. It's 100% hydration and yes it doubles (approximately). I feed it every 12 hrs. There's 20% starter in the dough. I have to admit that I'm not satisfied with my dough after mixing/kneading and after bulk fermentation. It doesn't look smooth enough to me. I've been thinking that my process's timing might not respect my starter timing, what do you think?

Thanks!

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

There are several different posts on this site about the timing and strength (and yeast content) of starters. Here's a good one to read, especially Mini Oven's comments further down the post. There are many different kinds of yeast in a sourdough starter, and they peak at different times, so I think you might be on to something when you say the timing of the starter and of the dough might not correspond. So, maybe you have yeast that are very strong at 12 hours of room temperature, and they don't do so well over a different time period when put in the fridge. Maybe start with a tiny bit of starter and build it with successive feeds every, say, four hours until you have something really active.