The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why can't I get a nice airy crumb?

Eidetix's picture
Eidetix

Why can't I get a nice airy crumb?

I am struggling to get a light airy crumb in my BBA pain a l'ancienne. Any suggestions as to likely pitfalls/corrections would be much appreciated.


Thanks!

Chuck's picture
Chuck

One common issue that trips up a lot of folks:


The dough is "sticky", so put lots of flour on the work surface  ...and some on the dough itself too. Knead a little. The dough is still "sticky", so flour the work surface and the dough again  ...and again  ...and again  ..and again. Pretty soon your dough has way more flour in it than the recipe called for.


Some possible solutions (not mutually exclusive:-):



  • Become more familiar with other techniques such as "autolyse" and "stretch-and-fold" so there's little need for old-fashioned kneading up to your elbows in dough.

  • Get more comfortable with "wet" doughs  ...even though they're sticky. You'll find your old standards for dough being "too sticky" were way too conservative and it really is possible to wrangle those soppy messes without oodles of flour.

  • Use a "dough scraper" ("bench knife") to help move dough, rather than just your bare hands. A metal or plastic tool that's wet with cool water sticks a whole lot less than skin.

  • Put flour in a shaker (or a seive) so you can spread a thin coating without any gaps but without using tons of flour either.

  • Give up on flour altogether and use salad oil instead on a non-porous work surface (formica? silicone?).

LindyD's picture
LindyD

PR's l'ancienne dough is high hydration, especially if you're using all 24 ounces of water, and should give you a nice open crumb so long as you don't overhandle the dough.


Following the instructions, I mix the dough, then retard it overnight in a Cambro container (large, of course).  The next day the dough is removed and allowed to warm and double, which can take anywhere from three to four hours, depending on the room temp.


Following the sage advice of master baker Ciril Hitz, I invert the container onto my lighly floured bread board  - and walk away. Mr. Hitz warns to never scrape or pull out dough from a container since every extra motion toughens the dough and tightens the crumb.  


Once the dough has fallen out of its container onto the board, I'll gently shape it into the 8" x 6" oblong, then flour the top lightly, cover it with my couche, and let it rest for five or ten minutes.


Your oven and stone should have been preheated for around an hour, and you should have a sheet of parchment on your peel.


I've gotten the best results by cutting the oblong in half with my bench knife, then cutting three equal strips of dough, which are quickly moved to the parchment peel and stretched a bit.  These are rustic baguettes; they aren't shaped, but rather pulled or stretched into length.  When the hydration is 80 percent or more, I don't bother with scoring.


I don't cut the remaining dough until the first baguettes are baked and on the cooling rack.


Here's a shot of the crumb from an earlier bake.



Hope some of these suggestions help.  

Mary Clare's picture
Mary Clare

Wow, what a pic!  I'm going to have to try that recipe, and your advice, sometime!


Mary Clare

houstonwong's picture
houstonwong

Beautiful!


How high are these baguettes out of the oven?


Whenever I try anything with high hydration (and half the time even "regular" hydration for that matter) the baguettes come out rather flat, maybe an inch or inch and a half high. I usually proof on a parchment lined baguette pan. It all looks nice and round until I slide the parchment out of the pan and onto the peel. It stays flat the whole time in the oven (maybe just a bit of oven spring). Sad!


 


 


 


 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

And thank you for your comment.  The last photo I took of the ancienne baguettes was in 2008.  The circumference of the platter is 38 cm.



As you can see, they're pretty rustic.


You might consider proofing on parchment without the pan, then sliding them to a preheated baking stone.  Are you steaming the oven for the first ten minutes?  The steam keeps the crust soft during the early part of the bake, helping with the oven spring.


As for lower hydration baguettes, I can't say enough about the baguette shaping video by Ciril Hitz:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OI-WstoakmQ

houstonwong's picture
houstonwong

Thanks, LindyD! Those are some lovely baguettes indeed!


 


I'll try proofing without the pan. I do steam for the first 10 mins. I've not been getting good oven spring since I changed my oven, now that I think about it. Hmm... maybe that's an indication? Aha! :)

houstonwong's picture
houstonwong

Oh and btw, that video is superb! Thanks again!

Eidetix's picture
Eidetix

Good advice, and much appreciated. I can't wait to follow up and see what comes of it.


Much obliged, Chuck and Lindy.