The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How to prevent crumbly bread?

purple.loaf's picture
purple.loaf

How to prevent crumbly bread?

Hi all,

So I'm relatively new at bread baking, and while my loaves have definitely improved I've had a consistent problem. Whenever I slice my bread it doesn't hold together all too well, crumbling when I try to make a sandwich with it. My latest loaf was a poolish recipe that I sort of improvised by adding a poolish to a simple recipe, it it's the best I've made so far in terms of consistency. After letting it cool, it sliced well and didn't crumble in a sandwich. But then after a day it was as crumbly as all of the loaves that came before it! I'm pretty sure the cause has something to do with either my developing kneading technique, the cooler temperature of my kitchen, or my storage methods (plastic freezer bag). It's also possible that it's a combination of all three! But please help me out, it would be much appreciated :)

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

generally crumbly breads are a consequence of the weakness of the flour (with low gluten content and/or quality). You could try to use 50% of bread flour to begin with and correct the percentage the next times if you find your bread gummy.

The poolish should be made with the highest gluten flour you have.

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

Purple loaf, are you adding a lot of oatmeal or something to the mix? I've had crumbly bread result when I added non-flour adjuncts like that, and I think  the reason is what  nicodvb says, above.  In general, if you give more details on your recipe and technique, you'll get better answers here on TFL.

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

Please list the recipe and also the type(s) and brand(s) of flour you are using.

Mebake's picture
Mebake

I'd add that Crumbly bread texture is sometimes a result of either Over Proofing, or underproofing of your finally shaped loaf.

lumos's picture
lumos

....and possibly under-developed gluten, maybe.   Do you do window-pane test after you knead it?  Gluten doesn't necessarily need to be fully-developed for all the breads (some kinds of bread only need medium-development) but it certainly need to be developed to a certain extent.   Also the breads that was proofed in a shorter time (as suggested in many breadmaking books for non-breadgeek, general public) than majority of TFLers here prefer (long fermentation at low temperature)  may tend to be more crumbly....?  I just remembered I used to make crumbly bread a lot ages ago when I first started baking bread (last century....) when I used to follow 'proof in warm place for 30 minutes'- kind of instruction.  It's a vague memory because it was such a long time ago but maybe???

 

Though....

The poolish should be made with the highest gluten flour you have.

I'm not quite sure about this, if I may say so.  I make my poolish with ordinary bread flour or even plain flour, sometimes, and it always works fine.  At least I've never had a problem of crumbling crumb.  When poolish-method was introduced in France, they only had French flour with relatively weak gluten, anyway, and all the recipes I've seen using French flour uses same flour for poolish, too. 

purple.loaf's picture
purple.loaf

Dragonbones, I haven't tried adding anything to my bread yet. But in my dough I've been using about 75% all purpose flour and 25% bread flour, so it's probably low gluten content like nicodvb said. I'll use more bread flour next time. But as for my poolish, I'm as uncertain as lumos. Would using regular all purpose flour in the poolish as opposed to a flour with more gluten affect the bread all that much? Anyway, on to the details (nd sorry I didn't give all the details before, I guess I was just a little wary of giving people too large a chunk to read).

For the poolish I mixed:

1 cup (250g)  Gold Medal All Purpose Flour

1 tsp. Red Star yeast

1 T honey (Asian food store honey...maybe not the highest quality but it's what I had on hand)
2 cups warm water

Left it overnight, then in the morning added:

2 C. Gold Medal all-purpose flour 

2 cups Gold medal better for bread flour

3/4 t. Red Star yeast 

2 t. salt 

Then with this dough I attempted Richard Bertinet's Slap and Fold method for the first time. I didn't windowpane test, which just wasn't smart of me, but I judged whether or not I had kneaded enough by the stickiness of the dough. When it wasn't quite sticking to my fingers or the counter top too much, I rolled it up and let it rise.

As for proofing, my house is always a little chill. The thermometer says 75, but it feels like 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Knowing this, I tried to find the smallest, warmest room and sort of swaddle the dough in there. But even after an hour and a half it didn't seem to double in size. I gave it another 1/2 and hour, and it stayed at that size. So I decided to shape it anyway, and I let it rise again for an hour in the room above my kitchen (the heat from my oven warming up naturally rises up there). When I checked on it, it definitely rose a lot more than the last time. I popped it in the oven at 350 degrees and baked it for about 45 minutes. 

And that's my story. I feel like I wrote a whodunnnit, and you're all trying to solve the crime of the crumbly bread, haha.

lumos's picture
lumos

Are you sure about your 1 cup of flour weighing as much as 250g? ....or do you mean your cup  size is 250ml? (= 250g water)  Sorry, I'm totally useless in US cup measurements, so I'm completely confused.....

 

purple.loaf's picture
purple.loaf

To be completely honest, I didn't actually weigh any of my ingredients. I just copied and pasted the recipe I used from a website, so any miscalculations are on them. No I feel a little dumb leaving not double checking it :/

lumos's picture
lumos

Don't worry, if that's the way they wrote the recipe, it's them who're dumb, not you. :D

If my internet search is correct, 1 cup of flour is about 120-140g (see? that's why I don't like US cup system! Why so different?) , it makes more sense.....though the amount of yeast on the recipe is much more than I'd normally use, especially if the poolish is fermented overnight, especially that amount of water.  And poolish is usually 50/50 flour and water (that is in weight), so if you are adding 500g (2 cups) of warm water (which accelerate the fermentation) to only 120-140g flour (higher hydration= quicker fermentation), by the time you use it the next morning poolish is possibly over-fermented.  Do you see a lot of small bubbles on the top of the poolish in the morning, without a trace on the side of the container which tells you it's decreased in volume (=peak of fermentation has passsed already).

The poolish I make most often for my baguettes, etc. (based on Hamelman's formula) only uses half the amount of yeast than your recipe with equal amount (weight) of cold water and it usually reaches its peak in 12-14 hrs. (I live in England, so it's not very warm....even in summer)

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

UK cups are no better than US cups for measuring flour.  The problem is with trying to measure solid materials of variable density by a method meant for measuring fluids.  In the days when everyone used refined white flour and sifted it before measuring, using cups was not such a bad practice because someone, somewhere, was properly calibrated to weight and the recipes were more or less accurate.  Thankfully we have branched out from that paucity of flavor and nutrition, but the old recipes are still there and the practice is promulgated into new recipes.

lumos's picture
lumos

er....just in case you're misunderstanding what I wrote (US  cup measurment system), I wasn't suggesting UK cups are better than US cups, because we don't use cups to measure flour and everything like you do in US, especially in baking. We use weight. ;)

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

Then the point is that cups are not suitable for measuring flour, correct?  Not that "US cups" are unsuitable.  Besides which, not everyone in the US uses cups to measure "flour and everything".  ;) 

rpt's picture
rpt

In defence of my compatriot, I don't think this was meant as an attack on the US. I think the phrase "I don't like US cup system" means "I don't like the system of measuring flour with cups commonly used in US recipes". As you've pointed out, it isn't very accurate or consistent.

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

Would using regular all purpose flour in the poolish as opposed to a flour with more gluten affect the bread all that much?

yes, it makes a lot of difference. The higher the hydratation in the preferment the more the proteins in the flour will be we broken by protease enzymes. Even for a high gluten flour a poolish is a big challenge. You could try to make 2 poolishes: one with AP flour and one with bread flour, all the rest remaining equal, then compare the consistence of the pastes after the fermentation.

 

lumos's picture
lumos

It may depends on gluten content of flours you use. 

It's quite difficult to gauge what the gluten level is for flours I use because they only state protein level, but assuming it is a kind of indication of the gluten level.....Id always used UK plain flour (less than 11% protein) for my poolish until recently I was told by a few fellow TFLers it's better to use higher gluten flour, I switched to bread flour (13% protein or more). Sure it did make a bit of difference in the resultant dough texture, but wasn't very big diffrence tbh.  Am I right in thinking you're based in Italy and your flours in general are softer than ours or North American flours. If that's the case (please correct me if I'm wrong), that may be why your experience with your flours made bigger difference than my experience with our flours in UK. 

Best,

lumos

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

yes, I live in italy where ordinary flours are milled from soft-wheat and very poor in gluten quality and content. Reading TFL I convinced myself that even AP american flours are much stronger than our AP flours, basically they would  be sold as high gluten flours down here.

lumos's picture
lumos

US AP flour is most probaly stronger than our plain flour, judging from my bismal attempts in trying US TFLlers recipes, replacing the AP flour to UK plain flour....or even replacing only 50% of AP flour to plain flour and the rest in UK strong flour. 

Flours are so different to country to country, I always hesitate to advice people in other country about what flour to use or not to use, and am alway cautious when following a recipe by people in other country especially regarding the flour. 

Can I ask you something, please?  I'm a great fan of Italian foods (though I know a lot of people in Italy says there's no such thing as 'Italian food' but only various regional foods of Italy. You know what I mean...) and have many cookery books by Italian chefs/food writers. In many bread recipes in those books suggest using 00 flour for breadmaking (including flat breads like focaccia or pizza) , but is that what most people use for breadmaking?  Or is it only because most of the books I own are aimed at UK or other English-speaking countries, the writers suggest using it as a substitute of Italian bread flour which is more difficult to obtain outside Italy than 00 flour?

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

The sad truth is that there's almost zero knowledge about flour characteristics even among book writers. The classical bread and pizza recipes found in italian books state to use something like 25 gr of yeast for 500 gr of 00 flour, without specifying what flour to use, I mean they prepare biscuits, sponge cake and bread with the same flour...... You can imagine how light and tasty those bread and pizza can come out. And yes, 00 flour (however strong it is, and it can vary *a lot*) is what people use to make (totally tasteless) bread.

Only very recently and in very few books (Giorilli's "Panificando" for example) the author goes in depth in the chemistry of bread and suggests the best flour for the job.

00 indicates only the amount of ashes (no more than 0.55%). Lately all high gluten flours are produced from hard wheat  imported from N.A. and milled with a very high degree of refinement, just like ordinary (and weak) soft wheat.

lumos's picture
lumos

Thank you for the information.  It's really useful to hear from someone who is actually in Italy, experiencing what's really happening there. Much appriciated.

00 flour (however strong it is, and it can vary *a lot*)

Yes, I've experienced that myself when making pasta.  Some are much softer than others, especially the one I bought most recently. It included durum semolina on the ingredients list, so I'd expected it'd produce firmer textured pasta than other 00 flours I'd used, but alas! the dough I made with it was sooooooo soft and sticky, I had to add so much more flour....and still it didn't become as firm as my usual pasta dough. (Half of the dough I made is still sitting in my freezer....)  Interesting thing is the protein level of this flour is actually higher than that of other flours I used before, telling me, again, protein level is only a very rough guide to hardness of flour. Life never gets easier.....

Our strong flour usually includes very strong Canadian wheat flour, either imported or home-grown, because our wheat seems to be quite weak, too. 

lumos's picture
lumos

...for some unknown technical reason. Deleted.

lumos's picture
lumos

....as the same reason above.

Dragonbones's picture
Dragonbones

I attempted Richard Bertinet's Slap and Fold method for the first time. I didn't windowpane test, which just wasn't smart of me, but I judged whether or not I had kneaded enough by the stickiness of the dough. When it wasn't quite sticking to my fingers or the counter top too much, I rolled it up and let it rise.

Since other things like flour to liquid ratio can affect stickiness, I do not think you should use stickiness of the dough as the test of whether or not you have kneaded enough. You could be working on a floured counter and you stopped after working in enough flour to make it no longer sticky but long before it was adequately kneaded. 

You also don't mention how long you kneaded it. 2-3 minutes? 10-12? I'll bet you went a couple minutes and stopped, thus underkneading it. Try going by the clock next time, a full 12 minutes, for instance, and along the way, stop and check it by the windowpane test every 3 minutes. You might learn something.

Oh, and on rise time, go by the dough size, never the clock. In a cool location it may take many hours before a dough will double.  This is not a bad thing, as a slow rise will give you better flavor. The same applies to the post-shaping proofing period. Go by the dough, not the clock.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Mix:

1 c flour 

1 cup cool water 

3/4 tsp yeast.(OOPS! I meant 1 tsp yeast)

Let it sit for 6-12 hours (either overnight or mix in the AM and make bread in the PM)

Then add:

1 T honey

2 cups warm water

2 C. Gold Medal all-purpose flour 

2 cups Gold medal better for bread flour

3/4 t. Red Star yeast 

2 t. salt 

Notice I have 1 cup more water than you do! If you aren't comfortable with a higher hydration dough then decrease the 2 cup warm water to  1 1/2  cup.

Mix the poolish and the other ingredients just until everything is wet and let it sit for about 30 minutes-just in the mixer with a towel over it. This helps the flour to hydrate so it doesn't dry out later.Proceed with the mixing/kneading as usual. 

To soften the crumb, you can add about 1 tbsp oil/loaf (looks like a 2 loaf recipe so 2 tbsp oil) or even substitute some milk  or potato water for the water. Egg will also tenderize the crumb-just cut down a little more on the liquid.

Bake to 190 internal temp.

Have delicious fun!

 

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

Why are you bothering with the AP?

I suggest using all Better for Bread, at least until you start getting some satisfactory loaves. I find that when most authors specify an AP flour for loaves of breads(not necessarily rolls), you really need a flour on the level of a least King Arthur AP. GM Better for Bread is really closer to a "weak" bread flour as is KAAP. But both of these have decent protein levels adequate for making most breads. GMAP may not be stromg enough(have enough protein/gluten), and with the amounts of AP you are using, you just may not be able to develop enough gluten for your needs.

With all that, make sure you add enough liquids, as the all B4B will absorb a little more(liquid).