The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Novice needs some crumb advice [Vermont Sourdough]

sjakiepiet's picture

Novice needs some crumb advice [Vermont Sourdough]

Hi everybody! This is my first post, so please be kind to me ;-).

I've just started baking bread. Got a sourdough going, ordered Hamelman's Bread (very nice!), a baking stone and some bannetons. Bakes 5-6 loafs which were sort of successful. Quite compact crumbs. Probably due to lack of proper kneading.

Yesterday I baked a Vermont Sourdough bread (65% hydration), and for the first time I kneaded the way I was supposed to I think (slap and fold technique, roughly 15 minutes, dough became nice and smooth, elastic. Windowpane test I would say medium to high gluten development). I basically followed the recipe, and the final proofing in a banneton was done 20 hrs in the fridge. During that proofing, the loaf more than doubled in size. It retained its shape nicely when I transferred it to the peel & slashed it (no signs of degassing or sagging). Baked the bread. See pictures below.

Ovbviously I was very happy with the outcome: beautiful crust & ear. The crumb is nice and moist, feels elastic. Now for the question: the holes are not very big. Are they supposed to be bigger (for a 65% hydration bread)? Is it possible that the final proofing might have been too long? Or am I expecting too much and is this loaf just fine as it is (I am actually quite proud of the result ...)?

Anyways, I love this site, has been hugely informative for me already and I hope I will learn a lot from you guys!

Cheers, Koen


Mebake's picture

Hi, koen, and welcome to TFl! What a lovely Loaf, and nice crumb for the first try! You should be proud!

large to middle sized random holes in the crumb is a function of Four things:

1 - Intensity of Mixing (Kneading). More kneading, means smaller holes, but more loaf volume.

2 - Dough handling while proofing and while shaping. Handling and shaping a dough roughly, will deflate the dough.

2 - hydration. The higher the water content of your dough, the more likely it will contain larger holes/

3 - Length of bulk fermentation. The longer you ferment your dough (with very little levain, or yeast) the better the structure of the final loaf will be, hence more holes. (given that you don't deflate the dough).

Cut back on the slap and fold kneading, and increase Stretch and fold as you bulk ferment. Developing the dough slowly by stretch and fold will allow the crumb to contain more gases. Try to handle the dough gently, so as to retain all the bubbles created by the long fermentation.



sjakiepiet's picture

Great tips! I will for sure reduce the initial kneading and include an extra S&F in the bulk fermentation.

ehanner's picture

Your Vermont Sourdough looks good, especially for a new starter. I wouldn't worry about the holes being larger at this point. As your starter matures it will become more robust if you feed it well and follow Hamelmans advice on building up the activity prior to making the dough. I look forward to seeing your breads in the future. You have obviously come along very well so far. Hamelman has much to offer if you read it closely and the side bars are full of nuggets of information.

Thanks for sharing and welcome to the site.



sjakiepiet's picture


Thanks for the welcome & tips. The starter I use is a stiff rye started and is roughly 1.5 months old. As I only bake once or twice a week, I keep it in the fridge most of the time. I always take it ~ 1.5 days before I make the liquid levain. So that's at least two feedings to regain its strength & speed. The liquid levain has quite some small bubbles after 12 hours, I don't know whether there hould be more.... Maybe I should keep the starter out of the fridge for a longer period before I start?


richkaimd's picture

Learning from practicing a lot is part of the fun I get from bread baking.  In recent times, I've been suggesting to newbies that besides practicing, reading (especially texts for beginners, not cookbooks; search richkaimd using this site's search box on the upper left of a TFL page), watching every video you've time for on  this site and Youtube), that you hunt around for a class or, better yet, a local practiced home baker, to learn from.  You can use this site to ask who might be in your area and have the time to show you the moves and textures.  I've never met another baker I couldn't learn from.  I'd still be making terrible baguettes if I'd never taken a class, because I had techniques for low hydration doughs, but knew nothing about high hydration ones.  I took a class that changed my life as a baker.

flournwater's picture

There is, IMO, far too much noise about "big holes" being a measure of a good loaf of bread.  That's absurd.  Forget about the holes.  What you made is beautiful and if it tastes as good as it looks and has a nice texture that is pleasant to chew you've hit a home run.

HeidiH's picture

I'm with you.  Big holes are nice in some breads, not so nice in others.  I understand the desire to be able to control the outcome through knowledge but there are many different desired outcomes. 

sjakiepiet's picture

Hi guys!

Just wanted to share with you the loafs from yesterday. I followed the tips from Mebake, I was especially gentle with the dough handling. I made a 65% whole wheat dough (should have been Hamelman's whole wheat levain, but mixed up the normal flour and whole wheat flour when mixing the final dough - happy accident!), made two loafs out of it. One in a long, narrow batard-shape banneton (first picture) and the other in a shorter, wider banneton (second picture). I was quite happy with both crumbs. The breads sounded for the first time very hollow after baking and the crumb is very soft and chewy.


OK now for the questions again ;-):

  1. There is an obvious difference between the top and bottom loaf in the sense that the top loaf has a more open crumb. I might have been more gentle with this loaf when shaping, but I must say the difference was not very big, Can it be that the shape of the loaf is of influence here?
  2. Being so gentle with my dough during shaping actually prevented me from creating a nice tight skin on the outside. I used the shaping method described in this post: How is it possible to do both: gentle dough handling and creating enough tension so that the outer skin is nicely formed?





Mebake's picture

Hi, Koen!

First off,  let me tell you that both loaves look outstanding! you got wonderful results on both, no doubt.

Secondly, yes, to some extent, a shape of a dough when it lands on a hot stone/oven does impact the final outcome to of the bread. The wider a loaf is at the base, the less are the chances that the inner part of the loaf will be exposed to oven heat. Take baguettes for example, their narrow shape maximizes the surfaces area exposed to direct oven heat, which explains why baguettes typically enjoy more open crumb than other bread shapes, like rounds or batards.

It could also be attributed to your shaping skills. While sealing your loaf closed by using your thumbs against the middle of the loaf, be sure to do so quickly but gently, so as not to pop the bubbles that usually form during shaping. Hydration of the loaf also plays an important part. The high water content of your loaf will not allow you to shape easily. Try dusting your hands with some flour prior or during shaping. Practice often, reduce water content slightly, and you should get consistent results soon.