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Secret to open crumb?

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Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Secret to open crumb?

Everywhere I look, I see photos of bread with this wonderful, open crumb.  For reasons thus far beyond my ken, I cannot seem to duplicate this.


I thought perhaps my shaping technique was at fault.  I've tried to obey the dicta in Peter Reinhart's books and not degas the dough while shaping, but that seems to leave me with rather weakly-shaped loaves.  I've seen videos of the pros, and not only do they take a firmer hand, I've actually seen them intentionally degas before shaping, and they wind up with a nice, open crumb.  I read that greater hydration could help, so I made a rather oozy ciabatta, and even that didn't have much in the way of random interior spaces.


As I type this entry, just to the right of the text box is a photo of whole wheat bread -- whole wheat! -- with a more open crumb than my best baguette.  I'm obviously doing something very basic very wrong.


Any suggestions?


 

tjkoko's picture
tjkoko

Although I've never made a SD bread, most of mine have been made using a poolish and the breads with the most open crumb were made at approx 75-80% hydration, like a ciabatta bread.


And imho the less kneading and manipulation, the larger the holes.

louiscohen's picture
louiscohen

Bread or high gluten flour, good yeast, high hydration, good gluten development (try folding every 30 minutes during bulk fermentation),  adequate proofing (but not too much - if you press the bread with a finger or two, it should come back slowly, and not all the way), and hot and hot baking temp.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

While bread ingredients do matter, if there is a "secret" to achieving an open crumb, it is that technique in mixing, fermentation, dividing, shaping, proofing and baking matter much more. I became convinced of this after making a batch of baguettes with 65% hydration dough that had a very open crumb.


My suggestion would be to find a recipe with very detailed instructions for techniques, and make that bread over and over until you have mastered it and have achieved the results you want. This will get you "there" faster than trying lots of different recipes, thinking that you will get there, if only you find "the right recipe."


Here are some examples of instructions that might help you:


http://tfl.thefreshloaf.com/node/11321/susan-san-diego039s-quotoriginal-sourdoughquot


http://tfl.thefreshloaf.com/node/10852/baguette-crumb-65-hydration-dough


http://tfl.thefreshloaf.com/node/8454/pain-de-campagne


These examples use different techniques - both hand and machine mixing - and different hydration levels, flours, etc. All can yield delicious breads with open crumbs, as illustrated in the topics.


If you have questions about any of the terms used or techniques called for, please ask for clarification.


You can do it!


David

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

I notice that there's no kneading in these instructions -- only the original in-bowl mixing and then, if I read this correctly, a few folds with a scraper.  Why no kneading?  I thought that was essential to develop the gluten.


Does it matter that I'm not working with sourdough?


I found a video tutorial for baguette shaping on this site, and that helped a great deal.  The baguettes I made today were much better, but still nothing like the fantastic crumb I see in photos here.


 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Djehuty.


One of the first surprises I experienced in reading bread cookbooks was that the term "kneading" is not used by modern professional bakers. The term "mixing" is used to cover both the process of combining ingredients and the process of mixing the dough to develop and organize the gluten prior to bulk fermentation.


As you say, it's all about developing the gluten. As you may know, gluten is a protein molecule that forms when two smaller protein molecules present in wheat combine. Gluten formation starts when these two proteins are exposed to water in the initial mixing and continues over time even without further mixing.


What further mixing does is to strengthen the gluten, largely by stretching it. Gluten strengthening can also be enhanced by the chemical environment, particularly the presence of acid in the dough. It can be be degraded by other chemicals - enzymes called "proteases" which break up long proteins into shorter pieces. Gluten development can also be altered by the presence of ingredients added to the dough, particularly fats which coat the molecules and prevent them from lengthening.


Traditional "kneading" does develop the gluten, but so does other techniques that stretch the dough. 


Gluten plays a number of roles in bread, but, for the present discussion, the important role is to form the walls of bubbles of carbon dioxide generated by fermentation. You want these walls to trap the CO2 in the bread so it rises and so it makes the bread less dense. 


Different mixing techniques generate different sizes of bubbles and more or less uniformity in size. When you see an "open" crumb, you are seeing bubbles of greater variation in size, some of which are large. This is in contrast to the very uniform crumb you might want in a sandwich bread. The latter results from increased vigorous mixing which not only develops the gluten but "organizes it," meaning that the gluten strands are "lined up" rather than having a chaotic variation in spatial orientation. 


This may be confusing, because failure to get an open crumb can be the result of either over- or under-mixing. Professional baking instructions specify the degree of gluten development desirable at each stage of mixing, fermentation, pre-shaping and shaping the dough. Whew! 


Different mixing techniques work better with dry doughs than those that work best with slack doughs, in my opinion. For very slack doughs - 75% hydration or greater - I really like stretching and folding in the bowl. But you can achieve similar results with machine mixing. 


Judging gluten development is kind of an "advanced topic." Even when you have understood the principles, you just must learn from personal experience.


If you really want to master this, I recommend you read books with good discussions of this. Books by Reinhart, Hamelman, Glezer and others address this topic. And, keep on baking!


David

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Thank you, I shall certainly look for these books.  But in the meantime, since I'll be baking again before I can do the in-depth research, I want to see if I understand you correctly.


I'm currently using Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  In his recipe for poolish baguettes, he says to knead for ten minutes or so.  I've already experimented with the technique he uses in his Whole Grain Breads book, kneading for about five minutes, resting for five, then kneading for one minute to strengthen the gluten.  That seems to work just as well.


But if I read the recipes you linked aright, I shouldn't be kneading at all?  I should merely fold the dough over a few times, and not assist the gluten in developing?


I can understand this working with a very wet dough, but one of those recipes dealt with baguettes at a standard hydration -- precisely what I'm making.  What confuses me is that I've read that what is necessary for bread to rise is not only to form gluten, but to form gluten sheets.  The formation of gluten sheets (according to what I've read thus far -- I'm not arguing with your expertise, merely seeking clarification) requires manipulation of the dough such that the gluten is repeatedly stretched in several directions.


Would mere folding (this dough isn't slack enough to stretch) accomplish this?  Or is that only for very wet, rustic dough?


 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

As I said, you can achieve similar results with several techniques for developing gluten. So, to a large extent, it's a matter of personal preference. If you are comfortable with one technique, and it's giving you good results, stick with it. However, your original post expressed some dissatisfaction with your results, so I pointed you at some other techniques I thought you might want to play with.


I am not prescribing any particular method, only bringing alternative methods to your attention.


What I am prescribing is that you work with one recipe and vary your technique until you find which one works best for you.


Happy baking!


David

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Thanks -- it looks like I'll have some research to do once those books arrive. :)


 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

 


David’s advice is, as always, excellent.  Look at any of his breads and you’ll see the results  from the hands of a master.


Because of a recent personal experience, I now wonder how much effect the strength of one’s sourdough culture has on the crumb.


I had noticed that sometimes the crumb of my regularly baked sourdough (JH’s Vermont SD) was not as open as previous bakes.  My technique, flour, dough temperature, oven temp, proofing, and shaping were the same.  But I do keep my SD culture refrigerated in between bakes, refreshing it a couple times before use.  It always raised the bread well, but there was a difference in the crumb on occasion.  I should add that I keep it as a semi-firm starter.


I didn’t give it much thought until yesterday, after I had attended a class on sourdough held at a small artisan bakery about an hour away. The baker used a very firm chef (a la Glezer) that he had created about 13 years ago.  Each of the 20 students were given a plastic bag of flour, a container of levain made from his chef, a measure of salt, and premeasured water.  


We mixed and kneaded the ingredients on wooden tables (no bowls), then each blob of dough was placed in a lightly oiled plastic bag, which was tied, marked with our names, and left on the table.  That was it - and it was about 9 p.m. (the class was 7 to 10 pm Tuesday).


There was no sign of fermentation when I left the bakery at about 10:15 p.m., nor when I got home a bit after 11 p.m.  I removed the dough from the bag, folded it a couple of times, shaped two boules and retarded them.  The next day, when I returned home from work, I removed them.  They looked like two pancakes so I reshaped them and left them out to proof. 


Two hours later they had flattened and now looked like puffy pancakes, with one or two visible bubbles.  I almost pitched them, but decided to bake the first one, using Susan of San Diego’s magic bowl technique.  Not only did it have good oven spring, but the crumb defied how this dough had been handled:



I was floored when I cut the bread and looked at it.  I can only attribute this crumb to the baker's sourdough starter.  It sure wasn't anything I did, because I didn't really do anything except transport it in a plastic bag and shape it a couple times.


I don't know what to make of this and would love to hear the thoughts of our sourdough experts.  


BTW, the bread is excellent and I'm so glad I didn't pitch what I thought was a sorry looking, lifeless dough.


 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Whatever happened, the result is spectacular, Lindy!


David

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Right on, David.  I'm a convert to Susan's technique. Last night I bought a 4-inch deep rectangle pan to cover baguettes and batards but darn, its three inches longer than my stone.  Will try to fix that by with a firebrick extension, if possible.  Or find a different pan.


I know the oven spring of that pancaked dough was due to the bowl, but do you really think it contributed to the open crumb?  I'm at a complete loss about this.


 

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Well, I'm not David, but I say an emphatic "yes" to Susan's magic bowl technique effects: oven spring and open crumb. See if you can find an oblong turkey roaster--probably on eBay for cheap. What about the foil pans? Some have used those with success, I think.


--Pamela

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Oven spring definitely.  I'm positive that's what saved those sorry looking dough disks.  If I can't manage to add on to my stone, I'll look for the right sized foil pan. 


I'm just not sure about the bowl's total effect on crumb because I've baked many loaves of the Hamelman SD that had a terrific crumb without the use of a cover.  I think there is more to achieving an open crumb (at least with sourdough) than baking under a bowl, although it certainly helps keep the crust supple during those crucial first moments.


The results of the artisan baker's levain is what made me question my own starter.   I've given it a kick by adding organic rye for a couple of feedings - with any luck it will be ready tonight to use to build a levain.  My timing is really off, though, since that levain is going to take 12 hours and I wanted to have the baking done by tomorrow night.  Maybe I won't retard this dough.


Fortunately the baker gave us instructions for building his starter, so I have that in the works and it's doing well - but won't be ready for at least another ten days. 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Lindy.


I have not noted an effect of the "Magic Bowl" on crumb. That doesn't mean there isn't any. Like you, I've gotten nice, open crumb with and without covering the loaves.


David

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Appreciate your sharing that, David.  There's more to it than just popping a bowl over a boule.  Were it that easy, there'd be no questions about  how to get an open crumb.  However, the more I think about it, the more I'm convincing myself (rightly or wrongly) that the strength of one's starter does have an effect.  I'll just need some time and experiments to work that one out.


I really do want to thank you for mentioning in another thread that you used a foil "magic" pan.   After searching Lowes, Home Depot and our stone shop (closed today), I could find not a single piece of unglazed tile to use as an extender for my stone, so I had to return that nifty 17" x 13" stainless steel pan I had purchased to cover batards and baguettes.


However, your remark inspired me to try something:  I opted for a foil pan of the same 17" x 13" size, plopped it on my stone, made a couple of measurements, then got out the heavy duty snips and cut one end off.  Jury rigged it together by using heavy duty staples along the edges, and now I have a cover four inches high that is a perfect fit over my stone.  It's not pretty, so I'm calling it my junk yard cover.  We'll see how magic it is tomorrow, but I think it will work.  

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Because this has been mentioned recently in a number of topics, I have created a new topic on this subject. The link is:


http://tfl.thefreshloaf.com/node/11557/quotmagic-bowlquot-effect-aluminum-foil-roasting-pan


David

tjkoko's picture
tjkoko

Concerning kneading and gluten development, research the bread baking term "AUTOLYSE" at this forum and at other baking resources.

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

I bow to the superior knowledge of others, but . . .


I know Reinhart and others  emphasize that kneading is essential to the development of gluten.  And I used to faithfuly believe that to be true. 


But what brought me back to bread baking (after severe time crises made breadbaking otherwise  impossible) was Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes, and then Lahey's No Knead techniques.  I am flabbergasted that these doughs get no kneading, yet they have amazing oven spring and an open crumb.  The gluten is unquetionably "developed", just not by my hand.


So what does work in these recipes?  Here's my humble opinion--remember I'm a rank amatuer here:


1.  High hydration


2.  Long periods of proofing.   Although I've gotten good results in as little as 2 hours for the first proofing with ABin5 dough, it's usually a minimum of 12 hours and can be much, much longer.  Now bread baking works on MY schedule. 


3.  Minimal handling.  Lately I'm doing very minimal stretch and fold technique  one time only before shaping and final proofing with the best results yet.


4.  I do use a variation of Susan's Magic Bowl--either a cheap foil pan or a clay baker I picked up for $3.99 at Goodwill (I also go an enamel roasting pan for $4.99 I haven't tried yet).  That gives amazing oven spring and crust, but I'm not sure that has an effect on the crumb. 


 


 

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Well, maybe oven spring and an open crumb structure is not automatic (if you have one, then you get the other), but it seems to me that you will only have a nice crumb structure if you have good oven spring. On holes (open crumb), then you need gentle handling and a fairly well hydrated dough in addition to oven spring and a good crumb structure.


--Pamela

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

I  found that the clay baker (it's an old House of Lloyd "Apple Baker" which is round, about 14" in diameter with a glazed base and unglazed dome) gave the most amazing oven spring ever--though I have only used it once so far.  Can't wait to play with it some more!


My oven and the clay baker, BTW, were hot, hot, hot because I turned it on too early (trying to forgive myself for the environmental faux pas).