The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Keys to a harder crust for a WW pain au levain boule?

nasv's picture
nasv

Keys to a harder crust for a WW pain au levain boule?

Hi everyone, I'm new to the forums, but have been lurking around for a while.  I've been baking exclusively 100% whole grain bread for a couple of years now, and I'm very happy with my sandwich loaf, but I'm always tweaking my rustic boule (which I make with a sourdough starter).  I use Peter Reinhardt's forumula as a start for a boule/hearth bread from his Whole Grain Breads book.  This recipe calls for a pre-ferment + a soaker overnight, and when the final dough comes together, I do not add any fats (no oil or sugar), and I do not add any commercial yeast (I let the natural leavening starter do its thing).


I am happy with the rise, the crumb, and the flavor of my whole wheat sourdough bread, but I always wish the crust were harder.  The entire bread feels beautifully light on the inside (not the heavy/chewy door-stopper type of weight that a lot attribute to WW), but I think that the crust should be harder and maybe even thicker.  When searching hard or soft crust on this forum, it looks like the trend is how to get a softer cruster instead of harder... well, I need tips on harder crust.


I experiment baking two ways: 1) on parchment paper directly on a fibrament baking stone pre-heated for 1 hour to 550 deg F (temp reduced to 450 deg F after 2 minutes) with a steam pan and a spritz of water sprayed directly onto the boule; and 2) inside of a pre-heated cast-iron dutch (with parchment paper again for ease of transport) oven pre-heated to 550 degrees (lowered to 450 degrees after first 2 minutes), boule spritzed with water, and covered with a lid for about 75% of the baking time.  The results are somewhat similar, with the crust browning more on the stone (and maybe slightly tougher just on the bottom).


Recently I am scoring the loaf, and I'm happier with the oven spring, but look for your tips on a tougher and harder crust out of the oven.  I know that after a day or so in a plastic bag, the crust will soften, but I'm hopeful for the day 1 crust!


Thanks,
-Nico


 

Mebake's picture
Mebake

hi , Nasv, and welcome to TFL.


You could obtain the hard crust if you keep your bread in for 10-15 minutes after the end of baking with the door slightly ajar. This will definitely result in rustic crust.


 

nasv's picture
nasv

Wow, really?  Leave in the oven longer (with door open)?  I'm a little confused at what happens... I guess, I'm asking, can you explain a little bit of the science here?


By the time I usually take the bread out of the oven, the temperature is about 205-210 degrees, and if I left in there, I suspect the temperature would rise beyond 212 degrees, drying the bread out, right?


Hmmm... well you have me curious (definitely to try this), but also scratching my head "how" this works :-)


And thanks for the reply!


-Nico


 

bakinbuff's picture
bakinbuff

Instead of steaming the bread in the oven, you could try just covering it with a metal roasting dish, stainless steel bowl, terracotta bowl, pyrex bowl, or other oven-safe deep dish.  As soon as I started covering my bread while baking it was completely different, with a crispy, chewy delicious crust that no amount of steam was achieving for me.  I bake on a stone, and with the bread covered the bowl traps the moisture coming out of the bread and this steams the bread and creates an excellent crust.  I cover for the first 20 minutes of baking (at 230C) then uncover for the last 15 minutes at 200C.  Give it a try once and see if it works for you.  Also, if you want the crust to last, don't store your loaf in a plastic bag, store it in a paper bag, or even just leave the bread cut side down on the cutting board with a tea towel over it, if it is going to be eaten within a day or two.  Hope that is helpful!

nasv's picture
nasv

Thanks so much for the tips - I use my cast-iron dutch oven for this technique often, and your comments here make me think that continuing this way is the better simpler way :-)

dsoleil's picture
dsoleil

Hi Nasv,


To explain the door open technique a little more, as your loaf cools, the moisture from the loaf will soften your crust.  By turning the oven off and leaving the door ajar, the moisture still coming off your bread will evaporate instead of soaking into your crust.  The only thing I do different is take my bread off the stone and place it on a higher rack.  That way the hot stone won't continue to cook or brown the bread.  It works fine.  Don't worry about drying out the loaf either.  Using sourdough as leavening, you won't have any worries.


We sound like our cooking habits are nearly identical.  All sourdough.  All whole grain.  Rinehart leading the way...


dsoleil


 

nasv's picture
nasv

dsoleil - thanks for the explanation, that helps!!!  And cheers to the similar cooking habits!