The Fresh Loaf

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My quest for great oven spring *and* holier crumb

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neoncoyote's picture

My quest for great oven spring *and* holier crumb

I've noticed what I think is a pattern, and I'm hoping you more experienced bakers will have a suggestion or two.

Over the several months I've been baking bread, the most inconsistent aspect of my results have been the crumb: I'm shooting for a nice open crumb, but often it's on the dense side. Most often, I've used the European Peasant bread recipe from AB5MD, and get a superb crust and taste. Oven temps and steaming procedure are always identical.

If I do a great job shaping, and the amount of proof is right on, my dough firmness/slackness is just right when I slash. From this I get very good oven spring and scoring results, but the crumb is denser.

If I do a mediocre job shaping (i.e., hurriedly stretch my batard and plop it in the banetton to rise overnight in the fridge) or OVERproof at room temp, my dough is too slack to "hold" the scores, and my oven spring is poor to mediocre, but the crumb is much holier than in the first example...much more to my liking.

I noticed this a few weeks ago, and since then I've been able to replicate

good shaping/proofing = tall loaf and dense crumb


suboptimal shaping/proofing = flatter loaf and holier crumb.

This has held true with all four recipes I've tried, including those using my starter. Since the crust and taste are always very good, I'm forced to choose between oven spring or holy crumb...and I'm convinced there must be a middle ground...but where?

What should I be paying more attention to in order to get both great oven spring *and* a holier crumb?

Thanks so much for your ideas!


corrinem4's picture

I'm still very amateur so I could be wrong.

Whenever dough proofs, rests and proofs again, the yeast/sugar reaction creates CO2 and when you create that tight seal when you shape the bread, the CO2 shoots up, creating the nice height and that nice initial spring when baking.

However, whenever you handle the dough (seriously, just looking at it wrong :P), you lose the air that's trapped in the dough. When trying to create the great shape/tight skin you might have overworked it.

It makes sense to me because ciabatta is a bread that is barely handled and it has such a nice, holy, soft texture. It doesn't rise nearly as much because it doesn't have that tight seal, and the CO2 escapes when baked.

Try to shape your bread while handling it as gentle/little as possible.

neoncoyote's picture

No doubt I overhandle my dough in an attempt to get a tight skin. I will definitely do as you suggest, while being careful not to give the dough the stink-eye ;) . You're too right -- it does seem like looking at the dough wrong could be the culprit!

ZD's picture

 Look Here for all the holes you could ever want. I use this technique when ever I want holes.

Greg R

neoncoyote's picture

Thank you, Greg. I have much reading to do :) .

Nickisafoodie's picture

Other thoughts:

1) We need to understand your hydration ratio and overall recipie to give you the best input.  A picture would help too.

2) Are you hand kneading, using a mixer?  Have you tried stretch and fold?   The issue is sufficient gluten development.  If hand or mixer, try kneading your dough a few minutes longer to develop the gluten better, you will notice a change in how the dough feels.  Also would be useful to read up on stretch and fold technique- there are many you tube videos- my breads are better since using this method.

3) if you are using whole grains you will need more water than the same amount of white flour. in any event make sure you autolyse/rest the dough for 30 minutes after mixing ingredients (other than yeast).  Then add yeast and knead.

4) Using a scale is best rather than volumetric measurements

5) Hot ovens (450-470 start, lowered to 425 after 10 minutes) for say 40 minutes will give more spring than say 350 oven for one hour

Good luck!, it will come together...

neoncoyote's picture

Thank you for all of your helpful comments. I do use a scale, I do use a hot oven to start with a temp decrease after 10 minutes, and I use a KitchenAid mixer. Recipe and relevant steps:

3 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 Tbsp instant yeast
1 1/2 Tbsp salt
1/2 cup rye flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
5 1/2 cups flour

1. mix the salt and yeast with the water in a large bowl. mix in the remaining dry ingredients without kneading. the dough will be very wet. cover with a towel and allow to rest at room temperature for about 2 hours.

2. at this point you can use the dough or refrigerate (it will keep for about 2 weeks). if you are going to make the bread right away, it’s still a good idea to refrigerate the dough for an hour or two so it is easier to handle.

The idea with this bread -- and with the recipes in this book in general -- is ease and spending minimal time, so by following it there is an autolyse period (I presume the 2 hours on the counter prior to refrigeration counts for that), but no second rise during which stretch-and-fold would be used...I presume a second rise is when you would do this step?

Your advice, and my comment about the point of the book, makes me think that I'm using the "wrong" recipe if my focus is to increase the holiness of my crumb, if a major factor is multiple room-temperature rises. Perhaps one must make a choice between that and overall hassle factor? 



ZD's picture

Neoncoyote, keep doing what you are doing but take the water and part of the flour and make a thin batter and work some small bubbles in to it and then add the rest of the flour and mix until you have it uniform dough. The tiny bubbles will end as big bubbles. To get varied size whisk and add flour and then whisk again at the new thickness. You do not need to whisk very long to make it work.

Greg R