The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hammelman's Rustic Bread

hazimtug's picture

Hammelman's Rustic Bread

Hey There!

I followed Floyd's quick recipe for the rustic bread, inspired by the idea of using few ingredients to produce a great bread... Well, it sure tasted and looked good, but the crumb was the worst ever I encountered. Dense, almost sticky... So, what is the deal here?

1- Can my yeast be getting weak? This was the first time I combined salt, yeast, water and flour in a preferment and left it at room temperature. Not much bubbling or rising as I have seen with BBA's preferments. But, the explanation from another post makes sense... the salt is the retarding factor here rather than the cooler temperature of a fridge.

2- I did knead, the windowpane test went well, and I folded... again, I didn't see that much rise in my proofing loaves, and I waited probably an hour longer than prescribed to achieve the bouncy state. I did get good oven spring.

3- Was my dough too wet? But that usually produces good crumb... That makes me question if the flour I was using wasn't strong enough, but then again, it did pass the windowpane test.

This happened to me again before when I tried making yeasted ciabatta. Dense crumb, flavor could have been better. Since I started using a sourdough starter for making bread, my yeasted productions are not as good. What's happening to me???


Best wishes for great bread experiences from Cyprus,


pmccool's picture

1. Try mixing a small amount of flour (50 grams, maybe?), a pinch of your yeast, and enough water to make a soft dough.  Put it in a small covered container that will let you see the dough as it expands.  Mark the starting level of the dough on the side of the container, then make another mark at the point the dough will have to reach to be doubled in volume.  If the yeast is healthy, and if the temperature is in the 20-25C range, the dough should double in approximately an hour.  Cooler temperatures will cause a slower doubling, even with healthy yeast.

2. The windowpane indicates that you had good gluten development, so your flour and your mixing/kneading techniques would not appear to be the problem.

3. I doubt that your dough was too wet.  It may have been baked at a temperature that was too low, or for a time that was too short, for the bread to fully cook.  What was the temperature setting for your oven?  How long was the bread in the oven?  How did you determine that the bread was completely baked - by time? by appearance? by temperature?  Have you checked to see if the temperature inside your oven is the same as the temperature that you selected?  Some ovens are hotter or cooler than the temperature controls would suggest.

4. The last thing to consider is when you cut into the bread.  If the bread was still warmer than room temperature, it had not fully cooled.  Breads continue to cook after they are pulled from the oven, and moisture inside loaf will redistribute itself as the loaf cools down.  You need to let breads cool completely before cutting them to avoid excessively moist or gummy interiors.  Rye breads are an extreme example, where you would be better off to wait a full day or more before cutting the bread.

I hope some of this is helpful to your situation.


hazimtug's picture

Thanks Paul for the comments...

1- I'll do the test tonight. The SAF instant yeast I am using is a year old, which I try to keep airtight in the fridge. I have an unopened package of instant yeast too. Let's see how they compare.

2- Yes, my kneading is getting better every day. One thing that I remembered though that rye can get "gummy" if over mixed. But, the dough did not appear gummy to me.

3- Our oven is an old oven. I don't think that it gets up to the 500s, but probably 450 or so. I should check that actually. I use a baking stone which I place at the bottom shelf and a steam pan at the top. The two loaves were in the oven for about 35 minutes~ similar to Floyd's cooking time. I didn't measure the temp. of the loaves, which I normally do. This time I just tapped the bottoms to feel for the hollow sound, and they were fine. But, even if they were undercooked by let's say 10 minutes, would that result in dense crumb like that? I'd think that the structure forms earlier as gelatinization/coagulation occurs, doesn't it?

4- Yeah, as a result of family pressure, I had to cut into one of the loaves as it was still cooling... The other one completely cooled. They were the same, kind of dense and sticky.

I have a feeling it's the yeast. Let me test & I'll inform.


xaipete's picture

Now, that a good one! In my house the "family pressure" is usually coming from me, the baker!


pmccool's picture

Your test, when you have a chance to try it, should give you a good answer about the yeast's level of activity.

The dense crumb is more likely to be a product of the bread's fermentation and your handling.  One possibility is that it did not ferment adequately, whether that stems from the yeast, or the temperature, or the time allowed.  A second possibility would be that it fermented too much, which can result in the dough collapsing as it is put in the oven, or shortly after.  A third possibility is that your shaping efforts were vigorous enough to knock a fair amount of gas out of the dough, which can lead to a denser crumb.

I don't have Hamelman's recipe for rustic bread available, but I'm guessing that it has relatively small proportions of either whole wheat or rye flours and is mostly white flour.  If that is a correct surmise, and given that you achieved a windowpane, your flour wouldn't be the first place that I would think to look for problems.  Still, does the package indicate the flour's protein content?

Your idea about oven temperature is worth checking, just to make sure that it is as hot as it says it is.  If it is markedly lower than the selected temperature, that would definitely have an effect on the bread.  For a lean bread, you want the internal temperature of the loaf to be in the 95-98C range.

Keep investigating.  You will get to an answer for this mystery.


LindyD's picture

Good call, Paul.  I checked my book and the overall formula for the Rustic Bread is:

Bread flour, 80%

Whole rye flour, 10%

Whole wheat flour, 10%

Water, 69%

Salt, 1.8%

Yeast, .6%

hazimtug's picture

Thanks for the comments. I tested the yeast, using my 1-year old SAF instant and a new package from local market. They both worked fine. It took both of them definitely more than an hour or maybe two to show any observable activity though. I couldn't wait and had to go to bed. When I woke up 6 hours later, they both rose more than twice their volume to about the same level. So, I am thinking that the yeast is not the problem.

Handling and shaping the though... I think I am beginning to be gentle enough on my doughs. So, I wouldn't expect that to be the problem.

Collapsing in the oven... hmm... I could tell that the loaves were not as airy going into the oven, at least compared to my previous experiences with properly fermented and proofed loaves. And I did see ovenspring.

Lindy- thanks for the percentages. I'll check them against the recipe I used. The flour protein is about 11 or 11.5%. The European way of labeling flours is different from that of US. So, that may not be a direct correlation. I have gotten good crumb though using this white flour for my sourdough loaves or focaccias...

How about the effect of salt in the preferment? I have a feeling that may have tinkered with the fermentation process. What I may try this weekend is basically repeating the procedure but without salt in the preferment and retarding it in the fridge, i.e., using a biga.

Let's see...

pmccool's picture

I haven't done head-to-head comparisons of salted and unsalted preferments, so can't offer any insights there.

What was the ambient temperature in your kitchen when you made up your test doughs?  For that matter, what were the temperatures of the ingredients, particularly the water?  It sounds as though the yeast's activity is being slowed by something.  The first possibility that comes to mind is cool temperatures in your kitchen.

That line of thinking triggers a second question: how are you determining when your dough has fermented enough before baking?  Visual inspection?  By handling the dough?  Poke test? 

How much oven-spring are you seeing?  Does the bread double in height before the crust sets up?  More?  Less?  What color is the crust at the end of the bake?

Per LindyD's note, this is a 69% hydration dough.  That would be rather wet for a panned bread, but fairly typical for a free-form rustic bread.  If we can rule out yeast activity, as seems possible, we're left with the handling/shaping of the dough and the oven temperature as major influences in the crumb texture.  For this type of bread, it is important to achieve a good 'skin' or 'gluten cloak' on the outer surface of the loaf so that it can stand up while baking, instead of spreading out sideways.  You'll find lots of valuable information about shaping on this site by searching for terms like 'skin', 'cloak', 'shaping', or 'surface tension'.  (No, you don't need to include the single quotes in the search window.)  If you use an oven thermometer to check the actual temperatures inside your oven, then you'll know what's happening there.

My semi-educated guesses are that:

- The dough may be under-fermented.  Even though you are seeing oven-spring, it isn't enough to open the crumb structure as much as if the dough were more fully fermented.  There's certainly enough protein in your flour to produce good dough.

- Your shaping technique may have room for further improvement.  It's surprisingly easy to knock a lot of gas out of a softer, wetter dough; especially if you are used to the "punch dough down" mantra from older recipes.  You have probably seen the admonitions by others to use "an iron fist in a velvet glove".

- The bread may be slightly under-baked.  That may be a factor of too short a baking time, or too low a temperature, or a combination of the two.

Keep in mind that this style bread is going to be fairly moist.  It should not be gummy; there isn't enough rye in it to have a signficant influence that way. 

Keep pluggin away at it.

hazimtug's picture

Alright- sorry for the delay, but I have some results, probably better. I think my previous trial on the rustic bread was underfermented. The water temperature, hence the dough temperature were not high enough either to encourage the expected activity for fermentation. The sweet flavors of the previous bread reminds me of the cold-water techniques that result in excess unfermented sugars..

This time around, I adjusted the water temperature to room temperature. I saw more rise during fermentation and proofing. However, the dough ended up being wetter (you can tell from the picture). And probably behaved more like a ciabatta. I proofed the dough in a batard shape but ended up having to jiggle it into a rough S-shape to fit it onto the peel and onto the baking stone (see pic). The taste was good, but not as good as I expected. I got crumb with big holes. My shaping needs improvement, for sure, especially with higher hydration doughs. And I think the oven does not get as hot as it should, hence extending my baking times, resulting in thicker crusts and drier crumb. There were spots in the crumb that didn't look as gelatinized, probably a combination of oven temperature and the final S-shaping prior to baking.

In comparison, I also used Reinhart's C&C sourdough formula to create a bread with the same ingredients. This bread definitely felt superior, although the other was still good, especially when toasted or made into paninis.

I'll keep working at this, especially higher hydration doughs. Gotta get myself an oven thermometer.

 Thanks again for all the feedback!



hazimtug's picture

Ambient temp ~ 70oF

Water temp ~ 62 - 64oF

I determine fermentation through visual inspection and the poke test. That's why I tend to wait longer than what the formula calls for if I don't feel that the dough is ready. With this one, I was even afraid that I was going to overferment because I waited over an hour or so what was called for to make sure that my pokes were bouncing back. When I scored, I did not see any collapsing either, which happens with overfermenting. Maybe there was room for more fermentation.

The flavors were so there though, which surprised me given the dense crumb and the possible causes behind that. Any thoughts?

Ovenspring with this particular bread was probably close to double the height but no more than that. The crust color wasn't like the typical deep caramel color I see with my sourdoughs, or other refrigerated loaves. It did lack that liveliness that I expected to see. But I thought that had to do with no retardation in the fridge. And the crust softened up as it cooled... The lack of that deep caramel color is making me think of underfermentation (not enough sugars released to create that color when baked) and possibly underbaking.

I shaped them into batards using BBA's letter fold method. Maybe there was some gas lost in the process. Next time, I will try a boule and a batard, the former requiring much less shaping from me.

Lots of possibilities... this is fun. I will experiment again this weekend.

hazimtug's picture

You know what I just realized... the bread was sweeter than I expected. Can that be due to residual sugars, which may mean underfermenting? I am about to try the bread again, taking preferment/dough temperatures along the way...