The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Crispy crust on a soggy day?

Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

Crispy crust on a soggy day?

UPDATED: Adjusting ingredients as shown below, and a bolder bake — to nearly 220°F internal temperature — yielded pleasntly crunchier crust with even more pronounced flavors. Color is so bright I think I may have forgotten to add the rye flour. I've decided I like the formula both ways, just depends on what a person wants. New photos at end.

Original post
I'm aiming for breads with good hearty crust and a soft crumb--but not gummy, undercooked or overproofed. Several of my other breads are close to where I want them but I still struggle consistently getting the result I want from the kind of white breads so many people post here. 

This bread and the four slight variants of it that I've mixed and baked recently all taste really good. This loaf actually has that nutty flavor in its crust that doesn't always show up. The crumb is soft and moist but not gummy at all. All good. But within half an hour out of the oven the crust had gone from a proud, knocking sound when tapped with the closed fist to a softish thud. Cracks only appeared where large bubbles reached the surface—never got that overall crackled finish like can be seen on white porcelain. This is probably nitpicking but I was also looking for a more open crumb. 

It feels like excuse making but I wonder if it's the weather that might've made this crust go limp, or my oven? Humidity was close to 100% overnight, this morning while it baked and while it cooled. Or maybe I've reached the limits of my bottom-of-the-line slightly leaky home gas oven? As for the crumb, possibly a little less kneading and/or switching the bread flour from the starter to the final dough would help open it up a bit more? I haven't mastered higher hydration doughs than this so please don't tell me to add more liquids.

This is a really good bread which people rave over and even request but I'm bothered that the crust isn't getting to where I think it could be and the crumb is just slightly less open than I want.

Photos and formula below. Thanks for any suggestions.


Note: modified quanties indicated by strikethrough of original, like this.

Formula and process:
KA bread flour + KA AP AP Flour, Conagra Chef's Delight: 168 g from starter + 400 g + 50-75 g added in first mix.
tap water: 112 from starter + 320 g + about 100 g to add if needed while mixing 
whole rye flour: 30 g
salt: 18 10 g  

starter included in above quantities : 280 g total (40% hydration: 168 flour + 112 water)

honey: 45 25 g 
olive oil: 45 25 g 
ground ginger: 1/4 tsp
apple cider vinegar: 1/2 teaspoon
soy lecithin: 1/2 tsp
instant dry yeast: 6 g
malted milk powder: 35 12 g
plus 2- 3 Tbsp. softened butter olive oil to coat proofing bowl 

Yield: one loaf, 1195 g approximate total dough weight, 1040 g out of oven

Needed to add the water held back after first "shaggy" mix. Mixed the dough only a couple of minutes after it began to show signs of window panes, 10-12 minutes in all at mostly high speed. Placed dough in a buttered bowl, covered and left in the refrigerator (about 40°F) for 21 hours. Quick, gentle shaping and baked an hour out of the refrigerator: Steam for ten minutes at 475°F on stone, remove steam, rotate, lower to 460°F for 15 minutes, remove parchment and lower to 440°F checking every ten minutes and rotating as needed until internal temp of 205°F achieved, about 55 minutes in all. Sliced after two hours. 



New photos

Top crust:

Bottom crust:

Crackles closup:




proth5's picture

an interesting lecture on "baking to internal temperature" from "my teacher" not too long ago.  My teacher is fond of what is often called "bold baking" and isn't too keen on taking the bread's temperature.  Anyway, my teacher related results of experiments, where a probe thermometer was placed into the unbaked loaf as it was put in the oven.  Those results showed that the internal temperature reached the 205 mark pretty early in the baking cycle - before the crust was properly developed and the bread was crackly crisp.

Whatthat leads me to think is that one needs to bake to the proper point - and it may not be indicated by temperature.  Certainly crust goes soft when bread is stored incorrectly and certainly the water in the air can affect the moisture of the bread, but I have found a good, bold bake will go a long way to ensure a crisp crust.

Not a definitive answer, but something to think about...

Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

The bread's crust began to color early so I may have hurried it out of the oven a bit in hopes of keeping the crust from blackening. Next time I'll cut back on honey to hopefully slow the crust from coloring too soon. My oven seal is a bit loose, in fact it has trouble holding steam, so I doubt propping the door open is necessary.

I watched a video of Jeffrey Hammelman in which he ridiculed the idea of using a thermometer to test doneness of bread. I find it helpful to use the thermomenter when testing new formulas or trying to solve problems with a formula. Once I have the technique and formula down I find I no longer need to test — unless a problem develops.

Very perceptive comment on temp. I'll definitely push past the 205°F mark when I bake this formula again tomorrow.


Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Several things... humidity in itself isn't the cause of crust softening, but it sure can accelerate it.

The cause is, no matter how long you bake, there is still moisture in the crumb. This moisture naturally moves outward and begins softening the crust. Bagging the bread in plastic traps in any moisture that escaped, and of course is then bathing the crust inside the bag. Again, this also accelerates the process. Storing in a paper bag, or something similar where the loaf can 'breathe', will slow this process a bit. Another contributor is rich products added to dough - milk, oil, honey, etc. All these things will soften crust much quicker than a lean type with only flour, water and salt.

If you have a lean dough, you can get a fairly long-lasting crispy crust by slightly overbaking it (no more than say, 210° F internal temp), then, turn off the oven and let the loaf spend a good 5 mins or more on the oven shelf with the door ajar. This will allow the first vapors escaping from the loaf to quickly evaporate, rather than enveloping the loaf. Some have achieved success by cracking the oven door the last 15 mins of the bake to allow the oven itself to vent any vapors.

To recap, the best success comes from the following:

  • Start with a lean dough
  • Crack oven door the last 15 mins of the bake (just slightly). We just want steam to escape, not all of the heat.
  • When internal temp reaches 208-210° F, turn off oven, open oven door wider than above (now we want the heat to escape), and allow loaf to rest on oven shelf a min. of 5 mins.
  • Allow loaf to completely cool, then store in paper bag

Even doing all of the above will not guarantee a crispy crust over an extended period of time, they just all add up to increased time. As you add rich products, the crispiness will erode faster. There are some people here who regularly achieve good crispy crusts that 'sing' out of the oven, and last for an amount of time that makes their efforts worthwhile to them. Some of them will be along to respond, but that will get you an idea of what you're battle is about.

- Keith

Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

I inadvertantly addressed the open door question in the above response. My plan is to cut back on honey and oil in the next try on this formula. Weather forecast calls for rainy and humid conditions through middle of next week. Hopefully I can work out the crust and crumb issues with the formula before then, without wondering whether a change in the weather solved the problem or if it is solved by tweaking the ingredients/proportions.


ehanner's picture

You have gotten some good reply posts Home Baker. I know folks who live on the Equator deal with this all the time since it never dries out. From the looks of it you are already baking boldly and have good color. Your ingredients list creates a soft crumb and a just moderately crispy crust. One thing that will for sure soften the crust is oil in your bowl. No matter how long you dry out the crust after baking by cracking the door open, if there is oil on the surface it isn't going to be or stay crispy.

The oil in the recipe gives you a softened crumb/crust. The malt makes the bread color more quickly. The added honey also adds to the coloring. I don't have any experience with the soy lecithin. Is this a sweet bread?

I think you need to accept the fact that your recipe isn't going to give you a crispy crust. As other posters have suggested, drying the bread in the oven is a big help. I frequently leave it in the shut down oven for 10 minutes with the door ajar. It helps a lot.

I am intrigued by your recipe ingredients. I might just try it out here.



Home Baker's picture
Home Baker

Thanks for your comments. I posted this question yesterday in frustration when the bread's crust transformed itself so quickly from bold and crisp to soft and richly colored. I've some around to the opinion today that both can be good, just different. I may yet go back to that original formula and technique calling it something like "Buttercrust Sourdough." 

This bread isn't noticeably sweet, certainly tastes less sweet and less salty than any loaf available in the grocery stores where I live. 

I use soy lecithin in hopes of extending shelf life of the bread beyond 48 hours and also because it may have some health benefits. The bread seems to me to have smoother crumb and a little more flavor when it's used. It isn't an essential ingredient but I like it enough to go to some trouble to keep it on hand.

If you decide to try somehthing like this, let me know how you like it.


wally's picture

1- High humidity is going to defeat your purpose of obtaining (and keeping) a crispy crust.

2- Mixing 10 - 12 minutes on high speed is going to defeat your goal of an open crumb.

Best - Larry