The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hello from Montreal and an impassioned plea for large bubbles

jocelyn's picture

Hello from Montreal and an impassioned plea for large bubbles

Since this seems to be the place for introduction, here we go.  The impassioned plea follows.

I am a 42 year old male (I feel the need to specify considering that my name seems to say otherwise in english) from Montreal in Canada. I started baking as a vegetarian teenager the regular granola loafs (all sort of flours, no technique...  Bricks!).  I never thought that baking bread like you get at the bakery (we are lucky to have a wide variety of fantastic bakeries here) at home was possible until my mom gave me a KA 5-6 years ago.  I got Crust and Crumbs and never looked back!  It actually turned into an obsession and I never knew that such a forum existed until one month ago.  Saying I was (still am) thrilled is a vast understatement.  Who can I discuss the size of the bubbles in my bread (see below), the key in which the bread sings coming out of the oven or the mood of my sourdough without being eternally teased about it?  Thanks Floyd!

Other then bread, I have a family of 5 kids (who eternally tease me about bread), work in high tech and like to make other fermented food such as vegetables (saurkraut, kimchi,...), kombucha, amazake,...  

I have many questions that I will ask over time.  One problem has been plaguing me ever since I started bread baking:  right now, there is a baguette picture on the right of this window that is laughing at me: fantastic irregularly sized bubbles, some quite large.  I have baked hundreds of baguettes.  Tried the baguette à l'ancienne from Reinhart and most baguette recipes from all of the bread books I own (which is most of them...). Tried many high hydration recipes (there was a ciabatta picture here that nearly made my cry a couple of days ago). Today's Ciabatta (and dozen others) is a testimony that this does not work for me.  I cannot get big holes.  To no avail.  A lot of (or little of) steam in the oven.  Careful or crude shaping.  Many variations of bulk and final fermentation as well as retarding.  Autolyse.  Many unplanned variations (read: mistakes...).  Nothing.  

The bread is usually otherwise fantastic, tasty, delicious, but no big bubbles.  Sometimes when I get lucky, a few less puny holes will appear, just to tease me, but never the beautiful open crumb that I dream of.  Before I found this site, I had even developed a theory that this was not achievable at home, because of flour, oven, yeast, weather, or any other excuse you can come up with.   Unfortunately, hundreds of pictures on this site prove this theory wrong.

So (and before I turn insane), do you have any suggestion into what is the most important factor for getting big irregular bubbles?  Do I need psychotherapy?



PS: Do not take me too literally, I tend to exaggerate slightly...  But it is true, a nice, open crumb is still eluding me, to my great dismay.

mcs's picture

Here's a good place to try.  This is a great thread/recipe that Jane brought to TFL and David deciphered in one way or another.  His adaptation is about 1/3 of the way down the thread.  I would suggest using a water temperature that would leave your dough at about 65 degrees F after 1 hour of folding at room temperature.  If you have a KitchenAid type mixer, you can use it to get your dough mixed (dough hook), then fold it by hand (in the bowl) as suggested or use the mixer to fold it at 20 minute intervals.
Also during the bake, as you know, the steam is very important for the first 5 minutes of the bake.  This is a thread I posted later as I was trying the recipe.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.


GrapevineTexas's picture

to stretch and fold your dough two or three times after mixing and before baking.  And numbero uno in my book:  NEVER add salt in the initial mixing of the dough...add it 25 minutes afterward.

...well, that sounded easy enough, right?  Actually, I'm now into my second year of baking all things, sourdough, and it has only been within the past couple of months that I have succeeded with finding the ever alusive, big bubble/holes in my bread. 

And, now that I have given you what works for me, stand back and prepare to learn from the real masters. 

hutchndi's picture

Stretch and Fold.

Do this coerrectly and be ever so gentle on the FOLD part, it is not a pair of pants you are folding. The stretch and fold done roughly will still develop gluten, but the idea is to do this without degassing, or as little of it as possible, if you want big holes in your crumb that you can fill with butter at your table. If you need to fight with the dough to stretch it or do too many stretch and folds, you may have over developed the gluten which will hinder your big holes. If you are too rough and you push out the nice delicate  bubbles already growing in there, doing so is probably the biggest boo boo if if you want large holes.

Russ from RI

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Jocelyn.

Welcome to TFL!

You found the right place.

I'd second Mark's suggestion to try Anis Bouabsa's formula. Here's another link with a more detailed description of the method I use: Ficelles made with Anis Bouabsa's baguette formula. You will note that I do not mix the dough with a stand mixer.

The Gosselin method that Reinhart modified for BBA is also worth a try. Look here: Philippe Gosselin's Pain à l'Ancienne (according to Peter Reinhart, interpretted by dmsnyder, with modifications)

In general, high hydration dough is one way to get a more open crumb, but you can get an open crumb with 65% hydration dough, if you have the techniques mastered. See this topic: Baguette crumb - 65% hydration dough.

Many here have pursued your baguette quest. Bottom line is technique and practice, practice, practice.

Happy baking!


davidg618's picture

With all the baking you've done, and by inference a lot of high hydration doughs, I can only guess at two possibilities. High hydration = an open crumb, unless you're doing something to reduce/minimize/destroy its effects.

1. You're working the doughs on heavily floured surfaces, and incorporating a lot of the work surface flour into the dough.

2. You're being heavy-handed when you pre-shape and final shape your loaves.

If either of these analyses ring your bell I recommend, for the first problem, working the dough without any flour on the the work surface. Use a dough scraper to gather up, and reincorporate the dough that sticks to the work surface. With very high-hydration doughs, e.g., caibattas, use as little work surface flour as possible.

For the second I recommend being gentle. Don't completely degas your dough when you first turn it out, preshape it, or final shape it. Watch a lot of YouTube videos on shaping--there's a ton of them out there--and pay particular attention to the shape of the baker's hands. They only apply pressure where they wish to make a seam; otherwise their palms and fingers barely touch the dough.

If you're already doing these things, I haven't a clue to offer you. Sorry.

Good luck.

David G

PaddyL's picture

It's always nice to welcome another Montrealer to the site.  And despite my name, I'm female, Irish first name, French last name, so goes it in our city.  You could try using a cup or so of pastry flour in your baguettes, odd though that may sound; it's the closest we can get to the flour they use in France, or in our better patisseries here.  As the others have said before me, and they are all wiser than I, do be careful not to punch out those lovely gas bubbles you achieve when your dough has risen.  Be gentle with your baguette dough.

occidental's picture

My best loaf of consistently open crumb is a very high hydration (80%) dough.  After the initial mixing, which has to be done by mixer - way to wet to knead by hand unless you use a lot of flour on the board, which defeats the purpose - there is no stretch and fold, and the entire huge loaf makes one large 3 # round, so minimal handling is required.  Maybe you should try a high hydration formula and instead of making baguette shapes go with a round that minimizes the handling.  If you get better results you will then know it is the degassing from folding, shaping, and other handling that is destroying the crumb structure and you can work on refining your shaping techniques.

Arbyg's picture

I just wanted to make a comment on open crumb. It is very important that if using starter to make sure not over or under proofed. When mixing if dough is to much underdeveloped it will not hold the gas. When folding doughs make sure your not folding an already over fermented dough, it will degas and loose the air. Finally, make sure dough is at least 65% hydration and you bake your loaves at 85-90% proofed leaving room for ovenspring. Hope this helps good luck!

jocelyn's picture

Thanks for all your comments.   From these, it is clear (and the books do mention it) that the big bubbles are a function of perfect execution of all steps!

So, with your suggestion in mind, I baked a batch of Poolish baguettes from "Bread".   I can see light at the end of the tunnel, but I am not quite there yet...


And the crumb:


Could be improved:

  • Slashing needs practice.  How do you prevent the dough from sticking to the knife and create those ripples?
  • Shaping needs more practice.  (I used the method I saw on several youtube video for the first time today).
  • Crust could be thicker (more steam? less steam? warmer oven? used 460, as in the recipe).
  • Autolyse (by mistake, i had forgotten to put the yeast in...) makes a huge difference on the dough texture.  This dough was smooth and elastic but had beautiful structure.  First time the dough is this way.
Any suggestions?  I will eventually get to try the suggested recipes, but since I had done this one many times, I figured it was better to stick with a familiar recipe.
Thank you all greatly!


wally's picture


You have a beautiful crumb, but your scoring needs help - and I suspect that will lead you to even better results re: big bubbles.  From the pictures, it appears that you are scoring your baguettes diagonally.  Not the proper way!  The scores should be almost parallel to the length of the baguette, and overlapping by about 25%.

For a wonderful pictoral explanation you should consult David Snyder's post:

GrapevineTexas's picture

My shaping skills are a bit juvenile, so I can't help you, but I will tell you this, if the bread was tasty, then NOTHING else is wrong with it.  Call them 'Rustic Baquettes'! and claim the technique as your own!


Now, I'll step away and wait for the guru's to give insight.  Wally pointed out something I'd overlooked.  Seems I always get caught up in 'painting by numbers' and half way through the exercise I abandon half the rules and work 'creatively'.  Not always successfully, though. 

LindyD's picture

If you haven't already viewed it, it's definitely worth watching.