The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How can I achieve a less dense crumb?

DrPr's picture

How can I achieve a less dense crumb?

I made a rustic white bread using Nancy Silverton's recipe from her Breads from La Brea Bakery book. This is my first time baking in cold weather and I'm thinking low fermenation temperatures might be the problem, since I've used this formula before with no problems.  I know my starter is healthy and performing well, so I am confident we can remove that from the equation. Here is what happened:

When it was time for the fermentation, the house was between 60F & 65F, and after two hours I could see no change in the dough. I then placed it in a room with a heater that raised the temperature to between 70 and 75.  After a total fermentation period of four hours the dough seemed to have spread out (the container was a bit wider than the dough) but not to have risen much, if at all. When I pressed on it it seemed rather firm, and my finger left an impression that lingered.  I didn't let it ferment further for fear of ruining the dough. I'm now wondering if I should have let it ferment longer.

I then shaped it and let it proof for about an hour as recommended but again, the rise I was supposed to expect was not discernable. Again I dared not let it sit out longer for fear of overproofing.  Should I have let it proof for a longer period at this point?

So next it went into the refrigerator overnight. Today I let it sit out for four hours in the warmed room as Silverton instructs, but the boule did not double in size as she describes (it barely rose at all) and when I pressed on it, the dough did not spring back as she says it should.  

Dreading the outcome, I baked per her instructions.  The result was a nice color and startling oven spring given the size of the dough (I hadn't expected anything at all!) but the crumb was stili denser than I was hoping for. My room mates praised the flavor and density so it wasn't a complete waste of flour, but I am wondering what I can do to make the dough less dense next time. By the way, I made a sourdough batard with this starter a few days earlier and it was also more dense than I prefer.  I would appreciate any suggestions/advice you may have.    Thanks!! Photos of the boule and the crumb are below.


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, DrPr.

I don't know the recipe you are using, so it's hard to give specific advice with confidence. Hydration (percent water) in the dough, good gluten development, full fermentation and shaping technique all impact the crumb.

In brief: Higher hydration yields more open crumb, all other things being equal.You need to develop the gluten web that forms the walls of the bubbles of CO2. Full bulk fermentation (until the dough doubles in bulk) is necessary. That's the main stage when the bubbles form. Gentle handling of the dough in dividing, preshaping and shaping are necessary to preserve the bubbles of CO2 that expand to give you the open crumb.

From your pictures, you got a lovely boule with a crumb that looks like a 65% hydration dough that was maybe a bit under-fermented and/or formed with a bit of a heavy hand. But these are just educated guesses though, absent more details regarding the recipe.

Your own thoughts about this?


DrPr's picture

The dough is rather firm, so perhaps hydrating it would make up for low fermentation temperatures.  Silverton advises degssing the dough somewhat before shaping the dough and having it ferment again- she says it gives the yeast access to more of the flour. Perhaps I could leave out that degassing.  Thank you for the suggestions and the explanation.

pancakes's picture

If your house is a bit cool, like mine is, the best advice I have found is to put the dough in your oven and turn on the light.  It gets warmer in there than you would think and you don't have to let the dough rise forever.  It helps to keep the rise times consitant with what the recipe calls for.

DrPr's picture

I can try the oven. I can find ways to control the temperature in there, I'm sure. Thank you. By the way, are you saying, that I could let the dough rise for a longer period of time in a cooler environment? I was worried about over-fermentation. 

Larry Clark's picture
Larry Clark

One of the things that has helped in my sourdough breads is to time my starter. The next time you feed your starter put a little in a clear container and place a piece of tape down the length of it. Mark the level of the starter on the tape and every couple of hours or so mark the level again. See how long it takes to double in volume and then see how high the level will go before falling. This will give you a good idea how long it takes to rise a loaf of bread. Sourdough takes time.

I never go for a second rise with sourdough. I know a lot of recipes suggest it. I mix my dough and do several stretch and folds over a three hour period. I shape the dough (boule usually) and let it rise for five or six hours at 55-65 degress.


DrPr's picture

This is a great idea. Thank you! I will time the starter it at the next feeding this week.  Your slow rise method answers my question about whether long rises at lower temperatures might be a bad thing. Thank you so much.

djd's picture

So far, in my limited explorations, I find that simply enough, if I add too much flour when hand-kneading the bread ends up dense. Though I also wonder if there's a boule vs. baguette factor? My boules have been denser, though I don't tend to hold everything constant except the experimental variable, so to speak. Last night I made baguettes instead of boules, but I also cut down on the flour at first so I could add more while kneading. Crumb turned out great.