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Making crumb firmer

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hilo_kawika's picture

Making crumb firmer

I'm new to baking and as such have been trying several of the recipes in Jim Lahey's "My Bread".  If I use the times and higher temperatures he suggests I end up with a bread with an overly hard crust.  At the risk of being too chatty, I outline my process for his Pane Integrale in an e-mail to a friend:

"Today I baked a 2# demi-whole wheat (25%) in the Dutch oven. I'm trying
to get prepped for Christmas and an additional 6-7 bread eaters in the
house. I'm using Stone Buhr bread flour, FWIW and ~78% hydration. Anyway I
mixed things together yesterday after lunch and by 8 that evening had to
stir the first rise down somewhat. Very perky! The next morning ~4 since
it was rising so well, I decided to move ahead with the next steps. I used
a much larger board that I heavily floured with a sugar shaker and eased the
dough onto it. Boy, putting a Tbsp of olive oil into the mix sure does make
the dough come out of the bowl cleanly - there was almost no cleanup.
Anyway, I floured the surface and patted it down and - perhaps because of
the heavy flouring - the dough was really well-behaved during the folding
process. I even needed to brush off extra flour from the surface and it
didn't care. Let it sit for 15 minutes covered with plastic wrap and then
into the parchment covered second rise container. At this point I dusted it
with corn meal and did the touch test several times to calibrate myself with
respect to how rapidly the dough sprang back. I then covered the dough with
a slightly moist cloth so that the skin would remain fairly soft and expand
easily. About two hours later, the dough seemed to spring back more slowly
so at that point I started to heat up the oven. I have the pizza stone on
the very lowest rack just to see how it's behaving and to add thermal mass
to the oven. The bread in the Dutch oven went on the rack in the next
position above the stone. I tried a single cut with a razor blade on the
surface of the bread. The cut was a little ragged because the dough dragged
somewhat when cut. I undercut the surface and made it ~ 1/4" deep. The
oven was at 450 F for the baking process so as not to scorch the wheat
bread, then dropped to 425 F when the lid was removed; the usual 30 minutes
for the first part and 20 or so for the second. The cut part of the top of
the upper surface looks really interesting. Perhaps it's the gluten
strings - the spring seemed to really open up the cut and stretch/tear the

fabric of the dough.  Anyway, the bottom came out not scorched, the crust is thin and pretty crunchy (but no singing during cooling) and the hole distribution in the crumb pretty uniform with a
few somewhat larger holes near the surface. "

The crumb is very springy but not very firm.  I stopped the baking when the crumb temperature was between 200 and 205 F.  So I wonder what can be done to make the crumb more firm?  Thanks in advance for whatever help anyone can offer.


Kawika, Hilo, Hawaii

LindyD's picture

Welcome to TFL, Kawika.  I send my respects to Madame Pele.  I had the good fortunte to visit your beautiful island some years ago and fell in love with it and the Volcanoes National Park.  I had a fanciful dream of someday retiring there and counting nene as an avocation.   Someday...

While I don't have Mr. Lahey's book, I have baked his original no-knead bread. 

You mention the crumb is not "firm."  By chance do you have a photo of the crumb you could share?  I'm not sure if you mean the crumb is moist or if you wish a denser crumb.

Also, does the book advise to preheat the dutch oven and then place the dough in it, or the method you used?  I ask only because the original recipe called for heating the dutch oven at the same time the oven was being preheated, and then placing the dough into the hot container.


hilo_kawika's picture

Aloha Lindy D,

  And mahalo for your welcome to Fresh Loaf.  Please visit the Big Island again when you have the chance.  The volcano is one of our favorite places for birding.  If you'd like to hear some of the bird songs/calls again, please go to the Saddle Road Birding section of my website  .

In spite of my wordiness, I've left out some important details. Yes, I did preheat the Dutch oven at 450 F.  I like using parchment paper that's preformed to fit into the Dutch oven. The paper sits in a separate container until the Dutch oven is ready and then it's easy to pop it in.

I think perhaps I want the crumb itself to be more chewy but of course not gummy.  Here's a picture of the crumb:

And FWIW a picture of the finished bread:

Thanks once more for helping me to try to fine tune my baking.


Kawika, Hilo, Hawaii

LindyD's picture

Aloha, Kawika.  Mahalo for the link to your birding site.  You certainly have a most interesting and accomplished background.

Your bread looks lovely.  Nice job with the scoring (something I never did with the original recipe).

I'm not familiar with the Lahey formula you are using, but if you wish to achieve more chewiness to your crumb, you could consider using high gluten flour in place of the bread flour.  That will certainly add more chew to the crumb.  King Arthur's Sir Lancelot is 14.2 percent protein as is All Trumps.  If you can't find either on the BI, New York Bakers sells both (they have an ad on TFL's home page) and are closer to the islands than, i.e. Vermont.

If you feel the crumb is too heavy, then that could be a sign the dough was underproofed.

The advice commonly given at TFL is to keep baking the same bread over and over again until it's to your satisfaction, noting whatever minor tweaks you've made.  I've found that to be good advice in my own kitchen and hope it works for you as well.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven


hilo_kawika's picture

Aloha Lindy D and Mini,

   Lindy D, thanks for the advice about a higher gluten flour.  I'll look at the local health food stores and see what they have.  It turns out that the crumb became more of the texture that I like after a day or two - so perhaps I need to understand more about the maturing process.  So many fun things to work on in the future.  As we speak, another batch of dough is a'risin'...

  Mini, no this isn't a sour dough recipe just a standard white bread flour to whole wheat flour (3:1) mix.

  Again, thanks for helpful advice.  Gee, this place is great!


Kawika, Hilo, Hawaii

LindyD's picture

Aloha, Kawika.

Do you allow the bread to completely cool before cutting it?  If not, that would account for the beneficial change in the crumb.

At any rate, I'm glad that it's matured more to your taste.  

To paraphrase Dory, just  keep baking.....just keep baking!  ;-)