The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hi everyone... oh and I have a problem with my crumb

bodger's picture

Hi everyone... oh and I have a problem with my crumb

Hi everyone


I've lurked for a while and wanted to start off by saying what a great site this is.  Full of information - both expert advice from some apparently expert bakers and also some helpful "this is where I went wrong when I was learning" stuff from people more like me.


I posted a comment on another thread about a problem I'm having - I'm not sure if cross-posting is allowed so apologies in advance if I'm doing anything unspeakably bad!


My problem is my crumb - I can get a reasonably open crumb (probably not quite as open as I should be getting, but it's definitely passable) - but the texture of the cooked bread is really odd.  It ends up being slightly grey (rather than white or cream) and rather plasticky or rubbery.  It's quite hard to describe but it's not a soft, fluffy crumb as I'd expect (based on what I get served in restaurants!)


I have tried various recipes with different hydration levels, starter / no starter, high temperature / lower temperature and even milk-based dough rather than just water, yeast, salt and flour.  They have all yielded slightly different breads (as you'd expect) but the one common theme is the odd texture of the crumb.


The bread is definitely cooked - I use a probe thermometer to ensure it's at least 95+ degrees C internally.  I have tried overcooking the bread, but then it, unsurprisingly, just dries out and goes even tougher.  The only thing which helped very slightly was using a milk-based dough rather than a water-based one.  The problem is, of course, this is no longer "traditional" artisan bread.  And in any event, the problem doesn't go away, it's just masked slightly probably by the extra fat/milk solids.


The only thing in common with all my loaves is my flour.  I've been using Allinson's Strong White Bread Flour (not the very strong version) which has a protein content of about 12.5%.  I did once use some Tesco own brand bread flour which from what I remember had a very similar protein level - no change.  I've just started another poolish using all-purpose (tesco value!) flour which has about 10.5% protein, so it'll be interesting to see what difference that makes (perhaps I'll just end up producing a dense lump...)


Any ideas what is causing my problem?  I've tried changing every variable (I tried overworking the gluten using my KA but I usually hand knead, or more accurately french fold - the slap and fold, if that's what it's also called) except the flour.  I'm now trying an alternative (lower-gluten) flour so it'll be interesting what happens.  Do you think the brand I'm using is just a bit rubbish?  Perhaps it's intended for bread machines and enriched doughs where the fats will mask the plasticky gluten??



cleancarpetman's picture

     Welcome Bodger I followed you here and rereading your description makes me ask, is the bread under proofed, deflated or under baked?  Have you taken the bread's temperature when finished baking?  It should be 200-210F when it comes out of the oven.  A rapid read thermometer is an indispensible tool to know for sure without guessing.
     What's your technique for getting your bread in the oven?  My final proof is in a banneton.  I cover the loaf with parchment and turn over onto a cookie sheet, no fancy peel here.  On the peel, excuse me, cookie sheet, I wash and score and move directly to the oven onto a hot stone to bake according to the directions.  I am still perfecting this technique because I believe this is the critical juncture where I can lose a lot of what I have worked so long and hard to gain.

Those are my thoughts. For a more accurate diagnosis and protocol I will defer to those who know more.

der Hinterhof

bodger's picture

Thanks ccm... Is my bread underproofed?  I don't know!  I wouldn't have imagined so - I tend to let it double during bulk fermentation (I always check the before & after volume) and then try to shape carefully.  I then let it rise for a further 45 minutes - I have read about the dangers of overdoing this final proof so I err on the side of less (proofing) is more (oven spring)...


My probe thermometer confirms the internal temp at 95 deg C which is 203 deg F so it should be sufficiently baked.  I guess I could give it a further few degrees...


My final proof for wetter doughs (80+%) tends to be in an oiled & floured loaf tin or similar "containing" structure which I bake in.  I also use a flat-bottomed, round pyrex dish which exacly holds one loaf's worth of dough and obviously provides a round loaf rather than a conventional rectangular loaf.  With these wet doughs I don't score as I find I end up deflating the loaf more than anything.  I do suffer a slight tearing during cooking but it's nothing fatal.


My oven spring has been fairly reasonable (hence the slight tearing during the spring) - I'm not quite seeing a doubling of the dough in the oven, but it's not far off.  Bearing in mind I try to knock as little gas out during shaping I'm probably getting the dough to at least triple in size from kneading to end of bake.

bodger's picture

I've just noticed the following thread:


The crumb was described to have "turned out nicely shiny and gelatinous".  Now, unfortunately the IT police here prevent me from seeing pictures of the loaves but it sounds from that description exactly what I'm suffering with...


Interesting that my crumb "problem" seems to be someone else's target!!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Take your aged poolish, and add rest of the water, take a whisk to it for a few minutes and then add any other fluids and whisk another minute or two.  Then add salt and slowly add flour whisking as you go until it is too much for the whisk. Change to a sturdy spoon or spatula and moisten all the flour.  Let it just rest, covered, to relax and let the gluten start working for you.  Now turn out and knead or shape whatever your recipe instructs you to do.  

I highly suggest that until this "chewy" gray crumb problem is solved, that you stick to one basic recipe.  Maybe a UK recipe.  Then it is easier to control the variables.

Q1:  Is your oven hot enough?  Can you check the temp.?  A simple spring oven thermometer will do.  How long does the oven take to come back up to temp after the door is opened?  I suspect here is where the problem lies.   Also a cross cut and pictures of your loaf would also be helpful.

Q2:  Could it be the yeast?  What kind is being used and how?

Q3:  How does the flour react in other baked products that you've made?  I looked up the flour and noticed some current complaints about it.  Try blending the flours together and see what happens.   Most likely it is not the flour.  HERE is a link.

Until the crumb shot,




bodger's picture

Mini Oven


Thanks very much for those thoughts and suggestions.  You are right that it makes sense to stick to one recipe as that way at least I can minimise the number of variables I'm changing at any one time.


Thank you also for the tip about mixing the poolish into the dough - I was following a recipe in which you prepared the very wet poolish at the same time as the rest of the dough and then combined 12hrs later.  This is clearly not ideal in terms of mixing and your method seems much more sensible, although obviously it will take a bit more time as I'll need to make the poolish, let it develop then add the rest of the water/flour etc. and then do a retarded fermentation.  But time is our ally in the quest for good bread!


Q1: The oven temperature is a good question.  I do have an oven thermometer and it does take a while to get to max and there is a significant drop when you open the door.  Do you think a 20 degree (or whatever it is) drop in temperature for the first five or so minutes materially affect the crumb?


Q2: I have tried different yeasts - I started off only using fresh yeast from Morrisons (I actually had to have this brought up from England by my parents as my local store doesn't do it).  But recently I've switched to the powdered variety which seems to work just as well (I get a decent, active poolish) and is more convenient.


Q3: I don't use the bread flour for anything else.  The AP flour I use for pastry and occasional batters etc. and it's fine without being particularly noticeable.  Of course, with pastry a lot of the flavour comes from the butter or other shortening I'm using.  This coming bake will be the first time I've tried the AP flour for bread...


I have just worked out how to upload from my camera phone so I'll get a "crumb shot" and post it here...  Of course, the real proof is in the eating - this latest batch isn't as grey as others and it's really the texture which is a bit off-putting.


edit: I've uploaded a picture of a slice.  It's not great quality as it's from my blackberry but hopefully you can make it out.

Slice of gummy crumb

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

And it screams your oven is too cold!  Especially for the bottom of the loaf. (maybe a coil burnt out?  worth checking into)   20°c difference is a lot.  Try preheating higher to 250° or if you put dough into a cold oven, let it get up to 240° before reducing to a lower baking temp of 200° - 210° for the rest of the bake.   If you are using a shiny bread pan, it could be up too high in the oven, moving down a notch may help.

For now, if the coil is not working, after the first 20 minutes you could try flipping the dough out of the form and letting it brown upside down on the rack to finish baking.

Thanks for the picture.  The crumb doesn't really look so bad.  Not bad at all!


bodger's picture

Thanks for the tip - I'll try reverting back to keeping the oven as hot as I can.  I also have a heavy (cast iron?) roasting tin which I sometimes use upside down as a makeshift "stone" - it's probably 7-10mm thick  so retains heat very well.  I might try putting that back in.  When I do use that I get a very crisp, brown bottom.  Sometimes too much and I have burnt the bottom of a loaf of two!


My wife prefers soft / no crust so I was experimenting with cooking for slightly longer on a lower heat (after the oven spring - I started off at 250).  It sounds like I need to at least get a stable method before I start playing around...


I probably should have mentioned that I dusted (fairly liberally) the whole loaf in rice flour before baking, so that will account for some of the whiteness to the exterior.


I will definitely take your advice on my next loaf.  I have a poolish getting ready for action back home so I'll be making some dough tonight.  After a long fridge fermentation I'll give it a go again tomorrow and be very careful about the heat.  Fingers crossed!

cleancarpetman's picture

Bodger, my baking took a desirable turn when I purchased a baking stone in a second hand store.  I paid $2.99 USD for it. It could be part of your stabilization project.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

And do keep in mind too many changes at a time might throw everything off. 

Take your time and do what works for you and your wife.  The high heat is to guarantee that the oven is warm enough for first 10 minutes of the bake, about 220° c.  At least for the average loaf.  Then reduce the heat.  Some recipes ask for higher or lower.   Just take it into account that a lot of heat escapes when the door opens and keep a eye on the thermometer but don't let it drive you crazy.  OK?

Baking on Iron asks for a slightly cooler oven than 220°c or the bottoms will burn.  It's a different kind of heat transfer than stone.  200°c might be better if using iron.  Ever make pancakes on an iron griddle?  One has to be careful not to start out too hot, or the first ones get burnt.  Same thing.  It's a balancing act.  Have fun.

I think you will find that stiring the poolish for what seems like an excess amount will lead to the crumb you desire.





bodger's picture

Thanks again to you both for taking the time to help a novice try to work out what he's doing wrong!


I will be making enough dough to do two medium-sized boules so I will be able to bake one with the same style of crust as my last loaf (i.e. soft) and one with a - hopefully - crunchy crust at a higher heat (bearing in mind what you said about burning bottoms on the cast iron).


The whisking idea is an excellent one to try to create the tiny air bubbles which then act as nucleation sites for larger bubbles - it makes perfect sense that this, combined with careful handling and sufficient fermentation/proofing should lead to a more open crumb.


Thanks again, both of you!

bodger's picture

Well, I followed your dough mixing suggestion, Mini Oven, and it's now in the fridge for 21-ish hours to ferment.  Looking forward to how it will turn out as it's a very different method from anything I've done previously.  I have committed the cardinal sin of changing two things - bread recipe/method and flour, but reading about French flours it seems that low-protein flours can be used very successfully to make good bread so I'm hopeful that my 10-ish percent AP flour will be ok.


I also received my copy of BBA in the post yesterday so spent last night reading it.  It seems the gelatinous / rubbery crumb is something which is aspired to, at least in certain types of bread.  The theory seems to suggest that a significant proportion of the starch has been converted into sugars by the enzymes present, leaving a higher proportion of gluten, which is translucent.  Hence the rubbery, semi-opaque crumb I was getting - it may well have been the result of long fermentation (i.e. more enzymatic action) as well as relatively high gluten flour.


That suggests I might be better of using a more direct method of bread-making and continuing my use of low-protein flour.  Perhaps this should generate the fluffy white (or cream) crumb I'm looking for?  I don't want to sacrifice the flavour though (which is excellent) so I might need to use an aged pate fermente to maintain some "old" character?


I will let you know how I get on!  It's all a bit complicated for me at the moment, but hopefully I'll gradually improve each loaf baked...

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I'd say your learning curve went straight up overnight.  (Wish the stock market would do the same.)   Ya, I was kind of wondering if you aspired a little too fast but heck, we all have our own pace & tastes.  Good to see it's sorting out for you.   I think you're pointed in the right direction.

The stirring method is not new,  and it was really popular in the "fluffy bread" age a few decades ago.  Pick up any old Cookbook (20-40yrs old) and look up a bread recipe.  Most employ mixing up the slurry and holding back half the flour and yes, they are "direct."  Now I know what to call it,  many times it's known as a straight dough recipe but "direct" adds a timing factor.  Good word. (Anyone else using it?)

Adding aged dough is also an idea, or a glob of sourdough, or toasted flour, or  sprouted flour  or or or,  all done with the idea of getting more flavor into "that" loaf.   Some work better than others, some in combination, some waiting to be rediscovered, it's all left up to you to decide if you ever want to experiment.   

Waiting to hear about that loaf,



bodger's picture

Well, it was a very interesting experiment...


The loaf hadn't quite fermented enough in the fridge (it was probably at 1.75x rather than a proper doubling).  So I brought it out to (a) warm to room temp, and (b) rise a little further.


Of course, the fact it was then no longer cold meant it was harder to handle.  However, I reckon I made a pretty good fist (no pun intended) of it - I oiled my corian worksurface very slightly then dusted with a fine layer of flour.  This seemed to do enough to prevent the sticky dough from sticking, but also didn't "flour-up" the dough too much at all.  I transferred it into the oiled & floured proofing bowl after tensioning up the dough.  I probably lost 25-30% of the volume, but I guess that's inevitable with such a slack dough (bearing in mind the flour's only 10% protein).


I let it prove for 45 minutes which is where it then went wrong.  Trying to transfer out of the proofing bowl at full room temp deflated the dough a lot.  I would have been far better transferring the thing straight to a round cake tin instead of a proofing bowl - yes, it would have bubbled up at the top crust and I might have had a flyaway but I wouldn't have degassed the thing something chronic!


There's a reason why this dough is used for baguettes and not boules - bagettes can be easily transferred from board to oven, whereas boules need a bit more careful handling and/or a stiffer dough.


Oh well, the good news...


The crumb is better than last time - less grey and rubbery (although still a bit - I guess this is what comes with well developed gluten and a traditional water-flour-yeast-salt only recipe).  The holes are definitely bigger, despite by best efforts at deflating the whole thing so the whisking really seems to have helped (the last dough I made was higher hydration and had much more careful handling, so this does genuinely seem to be a method improvement).


All in all, a relative success despite my best efforts at the end.  I will also try to post a picture in a bit.


Thanks again!


edit: Here's a picture of the failed loaf (no scoring) with a fair bit of breakage in the top crust (probably because of no scoring!).  A slice of the bread as well - because of the poor light in my kitchen it's hard to see the crumb unless it's perpendicular to the camera...



The crumb seems to be a lot better - both in size of holes (despite my deflation at the end), which I'm presuming is due to the whisking.  I also prefer the texture - it's less glutinous and translucent, which I think might be down to the flour.  Once I can get my bread a lot more airy and holey I'll try a touch of wholegrain and look at the impact.


But, now that I seem to have a nearly acceptable starting point I can try to improve the quality of the loaves by better handling.  I might even be tempted to try a touch of milk at some point just to see the impact on the crumb.  At least I now have a baseline though!


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I nearly gulped when I read it and was hoping the dough would just hold out, and it should in the refrigerator but after a long poolish, a retard might be asking for the heavy crumb. 


nbicomputers's picture

the only issue i will respond to as others have posted on the texrure is the color of the crumb.  try to find out the ash contant of the flour the higher the ash percentage the darker the crumb will be.

also un bleached flour will yeald a darker drumb than the bleached verison.

bodger's picture

I seem to have fixed my problem.  Well, to be specific, I've used a (very) different recipe and got the result I wanted: soft, white(ish) crumb.  I used an enriched recipe, 67% (ish) milk, a bit of oil and voila, white, tender crumb.


Ok, it's not artisan bread but at least my wife will eat it!  Delicious sandwich loaf...

bodger's picture

Finally.  A bit of experimenting with different variables and I think I can provide an answer.

This might also help other UK bakers as I think a lot of the problem was the flour, rather than the recipe.  I was, until now, using Tesco or Allinsons flour, whereas I've now switched to Doves Farm Organic and it seems much better behaved and also has a lovely flavour.


My most successful bread is based on the following recipe:

400g Doves Organic Strong White Flour (12.5% protein)

200g Doves Organic Malthouse Bread Flour (brown wheat flour, malted wheat flakes 15%, rye flour 4%, touch of malt flour) (12.3% protein) which contains some tasty malted seeds

430g mineral water (280g + 150g)

12g sea salt, finely ground

1.5tbsp sunflower oil (or similar)

1/4 tsp instant yeast


I mixed the yeast with 200g malthouse flour and 150g water (i.e. 75%) and left to autolyse (even though yeast had been added).  In a separate bowl I mixed the 400g white flour with 280g water (i.e. 70%) and oil and left that to autolyse.

After 30 minutes I kneaded both bread mixes separately as I wanted to ensure well-developed gluten without running the risk of the wholegrain cutting through.  Once developed, I kneaded both portions, together with the salt together until well combined and a uniform light brown colour (although you could use this method to develop a marbled loaf if you prefer).  I used no extra flour at all when kneading - in fact no additonal flour is used at all during this process, except for lining your proofing basket/bowl.

Given the low yeast content (intentional) I was able to give this a very slow, long fermentation.  I realise in hindsight I left it too long - it put it in a cool room (16 degrees C) for about 12 hours.  It probably would have been better to refrigerate for this amount of time, but it was overnight and I slept too soundly!  It had doubled almost exactly (although I question whether it might have been a bit bigger at one point during my sleep).

Using wet hands and a wet counter I carefully pulled (half poured!) the dough onto the counter without degassing and tryed (somewhat in vain) to form into a boule.  I do not have proofing baskets so I use a large pyrex bowl which I oil lightly and dust with rice flour so the whole of the inside of the bowl is coated - I shake out excess rice flour.  I then manage (just about) to put the boule into my proofing bowl, with the seam facing up.

I left this to rise for 45 minutes, checking periodically and was dismayed to see the dough shrinking rather than growing.  I had been very careful not to de-gas and the dough was only very slightly smaller when I transferred into the proofing bowl, but over the course of 45 minutes it probably shrank by 20+%.  This suggests to me I overdid the fermentation at the first step.  Next time I will start the process early morning so I can keep an eye on the fermentation process and stop it once it's doubled - perhaps 6 or so hours would do it (given the small amount of yeast).

I then flipped the boule onto parchment and put into a 250 C oven, onto my improvised baking stone.  I steamed and left for 10 minutes.  I removed the steam pan and turned down to 220 C and left for probably another 20 minutes.  At this point I turned it around (my oven doesn't cook particularly evenly) and inserted my temperature probe.  I also noticed the top was getting rather brown (perhaps because of the malt content of the flour) so I had to turn down again to 180 - although knowing this would have a negative effect on the crust.

In the end I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of oven spring I got out of the thing.  Had I not over-fermented first time around I would have had a more open crumb, but I think it's not bad for a first effort at creating my own recipe.  More importantly, the taste is unbelievable!  I cheated yesterday and bought a small soughdough boule which looked fantastic but only had a mild "bready" taste (quite subtle sourness too).  My bread tastes 5x better - in my biased opinion, at least!  The touch of rye helps, as does the malt.  Delicious.

Apologies for the quality of the pictures - both of our digital cameras have died so I'm having to rely on my phone:

And the crumb shot - again, sorry it's such poor quality.  Because of the over-fermentation I think it's not as open as it should be, but not bad for my first effort at a 1/3 brown loaf:


So, in summary for anyone in the UK: try using Doves Farm bread flour.

For everyone generally: don't overferment!  (Although it can just about still be rescued)