The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

9/19/10 - The "Perfect" Crumb...

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

9/19/10 - The "Perfect" Crumb...

Hey All,

I had a friend Russ in town from LA that I haven't seen since his wedding about 5 years ago...  He finally made it out to NYC, 13 years after we had first met in college...  Funny thing is that last Christmas, I send a loaf of bread to another friend Greg in LA that we both know.  Greg was raving about it to Russ and his wife...  Anyway, many months pass, Russ finally makes it out to NYC, and his wife jokingly asks him to bug me for some bread...  Of course as an obsessive baker, I don't turn down many opportunities to bake for my friends...  I have been baking Poilane style pain au levains for the past fiew weeks trying different things with levain, flour combinations, hydrations...  I've been playing around with 68% hydrations levels which was inspired by Dominique Saibron of Le Boulanger de Monge:

He says on his website that they use 68 parts of water:

So here's recipe and process:


1576g Total flour (5% Rye/10% WW/ 85% AP)

1072g Water

38g Kosher Salt

316g Liquid Levain (100% hydration fed night before and refrigerated.  I keep mine an ever changing mix of rye, ww, AP)

3000g Approx total dough yield

Method To Madness:


4:45pm - Place all ingredients in large mixing bowl in the following order: water, levain, flour, salt.  Mix with large rubber spatula until a shaggy dough is formed.  Mix with wet hands to ensure all lumps and dry bits are gone.  Place bowl in large plastic bag and let rest.

5:00pm - Rest

5:30pm - Turn dough, divide into 2 equal pieces (1500g), transfer to lightly oiled plastic tubs, cover, let rest.

5:45pm - Turn dough, cover let rest.

8:30pm - Turn dough.

10:00pm - Turn dough.


12:40am - Shape into boule, place in well floured linen lined banneton, flour top of dough, place kitchen towel over each banneton, place bannetons into large plastic bag, proof for approx 4+ hours.  (Be sure to flour the bannetons very well as this is a very long proof with a wet-ish dough.  I had to be very careful when turning the boules out as they did stick a little and I had to be very patient for the dough to unstick itself and drop...)

5:00am - Place 2 baking stones on 2 levels along with steam pan with lava rocks.  Place a few cups of water in steam pan.  Preheat oven to 500F with convection.

6:10am - Turn off convection.  Turn boules out onto well floured peel, slash as desired, place in oven directly on stone.  When last loaf is in, place 1 1/2 cups water in steam pan, close oven door.  Turn oven down to 450F, bake for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, remove steam pan, rotate loaves between stones, turn oven down to 425F, bake for another 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes are done, turn off oven and leave loaves in for another 10 minutes...

7:10am - Take loaves out of oven, check internal temp and weight.  Should be around 210F and 15-20% lighter than the prebaked weight.  Cool completely before cutting and eating...

These are by far the most open crumb that I have ever achieved using levain only...  I have no complaints here other than I should have used more levain to speed up the dough...  This was about 14 hours from start to finish...




dmsnyder's picture

I trust they tasted as good as they look.


breadbakingbassplayer's picture

And yes, they tasted as good as they looked...  Sadly, there is just 1/8th of one loaf in my kitchen right now which will be eaten this evening...  This one went particularly fast...  It's amazing how long it takes to make some breads, and when they turn out well, they are gone in a flash!


Mebake's picture

Great Bake, Tim!

And lovely open crumb! as always

I seem to be adhereing to Hamleman's Recommendation where he says that" no fermenting dough should remain for 1.5 hours without being folded" or so. With your bread, you defy that notion: you ferment for extended periods between folds, but you get wonderful results.. What do you make of that?


breadbakingbassplayer's picture

Boy was it!  As fer Hamelman's recommendations, I think these are what works for him, and maybe these are geared towards production bakeries that need to run on a certain schedule...  Also, his recipes use a certain amount of levain to rise based on the timings he is giving. 

On the flip side, there's Jim Lahey's "No Knead Bread", which ferments anywhere from 8-18 hours out on the counter without kneading, folding, or touching the dough until it's good and ready...  Also, he's using very small amounts of yeast to achieve the long fermentations...

I think what I have learned is that you need to learn when the dough is ready based on the amount of leavening agent be it levain, or manufactured yeast...  When you figure that out, then you can decide how long to let your fermentations go...

Also, this was a very slow dough...  I was hoping to start it at 5pm and bake it around midnight, but based on how little liquid levain I used with respect to the amount of flour in the recipe, I really didn't know how long/short it was going to take...  Also there was not enough room in my refrigerator to do any retarding...  So I had to base my sleep schedule on my guess as to when the dough would be ready...


ananda's picture

That rustic dark crust is also to be admired, Tim.

Not easy to achieve in home ovens.

Saibron is a big mover and shaker on the Paris bread scene; much admired by Kaplan in his book "Good Bread is Back"

Best wishes


breadbakingbassplayer's picture


You know what's funny?  All this talk about having difficulty making the crust dark and crackly in the home oven...  It's really not difficult.  I think people are just not running their ovens hot enough, and for long enough before they put the loaves in...  and also having a good steaming device (lava rocks in a pan)...  And not baking their loaves long enough...  At least that's what I gather reading the threads here on TFL...  I'm not sure what certain people are trying to achieve by trying to bake "artisan" style breads in a low temperature oven...  You need a very hot oven, you need steam, you need an instant read thermometer to measure the internal temp of the loaf...

There are many other factors that contribute like a good bulk fermentation/final proof for the right amount of time...   But I am a firm believer in preheating your home oven to at least 500F with convection if you have it for 45 minutes if you have 1 baking stone, and 1 hour if you have 2 like I do...  And using an oven thermometer to make sure the stones are reaching 500F...  Once the loaves are in, you can turn the oven down to your regular baking temp...

Sorry if this sounds like a rant, but after years of baking, these things are needed to produce these types of bread well in a home oven...  Also, for safety, make sure your kitchen has a good ventilation system...

As for Saibron, I learned about him in Good Bread is Back...  I realized that he had a few shops in Tokyo when I was there, but didn't get to sample any of them...  I did get to sample Eric Kayser's Baguette Monge, and his Croissant au Levain...  The baguette was ok, but the croissant was divine...



ananda's picture

Hi Tim,

Yes I agree with what you say about pre-heating your oven being essential.   Given I've worked wood-fired brick ovens for most of my baking profession, the application of "stored heat" is a given.

I have 3 bricks in my home oven and pre-heat for upto 2 hours before baking.   Trouble is that the specification on domestic ovens can be really poor.   My oven has just decided to turn itself off on more than one occasion.   Once I managed to burn right through the conducting wires in the oven.   When I looked inside the oven mechanisms and discovered the whole thing was powered by these pathetic little conducting wires I could not believe it.

Seriously, I've nearly lost proving breads on account of the oven deciding to close down on me.   I guess you just cannot apply commercial specification to the ovens found in domestic kitchens; similar to peoples' expectations from Kitchen Aid mixers perhaps!!?

I totally agree with all the conditions of "need" you list



JoeVa's picture

Yes, a perfect crumb!


highmtnpam's picture

Tim, May I ask why you turned off the convection??  Pam

breadbakingbassplayer's picture

I bake often with two stones on two levels.  I have a gas oven and use the convection to circulate the heat between the stones while preheating.  I turn off the convection when I put the loaves in and add water to the steam pan because it vents the steam out of the oven quicker and dry the crusts out too soon...  Also, the oven reaches temperature quicker and gets hotter than if I don't use convection.

highmtnpam's picture

Got it.  Thanks, Pam