The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Question: limp crust on high hydration breads

MrFermentation's picture

Question: limp crust on high hydration breads

I am new to The Fresh Loaf and recently resumed baking bread after a layoff of several years.  I have quickly encountered my old nemesis--breads with high hydration (say >85%) that come out of the oven with a nice firm crust that then goes limp as the bread cools.

From past inquiries my understanding of the process is this: according to one or another law of thermodynamics, the moisture in the bread moves from the hot areas to the cooler areas.  Thus it retreats from the hot exterior to the (relatively) cooler interior during baking, and during cooling what moisture is left moves out from the interior to the cooler exterior.  Usually this isn't a problem, but with breads that carry a lot of water, the exiting moisture soaks the crust and renders it limp. Man!

Has anyone else encountered this?  And if so, found an effective solution?






cranbo's picture

how are you storing your bread?

This will make a difference. Paper or a breadbox, someplace that can ventilate will help keep crusts drier. In plastic, of course, they will get soggy. 

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

If I read your question correctly you are saying that while the bread cools, the crust softens up.  That being true, try finishing your bake with a 5 to 7 minute period with the oven turned off, and the door cracked open an inch or so.  Put a folded pot holder in the very top of the door so it is held open a bit, or try a metal spatula/pancake turner or similar kitchen tool.

All bread, but high hydration dough more so, retains a lot of moisture in the crumb, even when cooked to a fairly high internal temperature.  The only way out for that moisture is through the crust, which will absorb a good deal of it as it passes through.  This is one of the things that can cause your crust to soften significantly immediately out of the oven, during cooling.  By leaving the loaf in the oven for that few minutes at the end of the bake you give some of that moisture, probably already in vapor form inside the crumb, a chance to migrate out, and the oven heat keeps the crust crisp.  Give it a try and I think you will see at least some improvement. 

Also, I have found that an empty paper grocery barrel bag with a folded paper towel in the bottom and crimped/clipped closed on the top is the very best place I can store bread after it has cooled completely.  The breadbox I received for Christmas is like a bread humidor.  Every loaf I put into it has a soft and miserable crust within 12 hours.  Too much retained moisture and not enough ventilation, in my box anyway.  We have chosen unsightly bags on the counter for hard/crisp crusted loaves, and only store soft crust breads in the box, which does them no harm at all.  If it is going to take more than 4 days to eat it up, I either give it away or freeze it.

Good luck and happy baking

Chuck's picture

Crust that seems nice immediately after removing from oven, but softens as the bread cools, is an extremely common issue. The simple solution: bake longer! This will either drive off or absorb more of the moisture so it's not available to soften your crust later.

So how do you tell when the bread is done? (Color doesn't work hardly at all, and the old "thump test" is awfully inaccurate.) The best method is to measure the internal crumb temperature. For completely lean high hydration doughs, a recommended internal crumb temperature of 205F or even 210F ("sea level") is not uncommon.

Eventually you'll want to refine this approach by figuring out exactly what temperature works best for you (it will differ with different recipes and different shapes, especially those that contain lots of fats).

(An "instant read" thermometer is probably the easiest way to do this. Just be sure the probe doesn't touch any metal or the inside of the crust. And when you need to return the loaf to the oven for a few more minutes, be sure to remove the thermometer first [they're not "oven-proof"].

Most of them can be had cheaply ($5-$10 with careful shopping), but take several tens of seconds to setttle down to a constant reading. A few [the "thermapen" brand is the canonical example] use a different technology that settles down much quicker -just a few seconds  ...but they're not so cheap.

Alternatively, you can use an "oven thermometer" that has the probe on the end of a long wire and is typically used to judge the doneness of meats. The thermometer probe stays in the oven inside the baking loaf [the wire comes out the oven door] so you can see the temperature all the time without ever even opening the oven door. Most of them can "beep" when a certain temperature is reached. Just remember to turn the bent part of the probe that attaches to the wire upward away from your baking stone. They tend to cost a little more than the less expensive "instant read" thermometers. What you use is a matter of personal preference: some bakers really like the advantage of not having to open the oven door, while others really dislike the risk of pulling a nicely shaped loaf right off the baking stone if the probe wire gets snarled or the susceptibility to oven "hot spots".)

Ruralidle's picture

I have read that it helps to harden the crust if you turn the oven off at the end of the bake, open the oven door a liitle and leave the loaf in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or so. 

I say that I have read this because I bake in an Aga, which is a heat storage cooker, so it doesn't work in the same way as a conventional oven but I have tried a similar technique using the Aga's simmering oven (which runs at about 98C) and that worked well.