The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Artisan or Rustic bread

leenaud's picture

Artisan or Rustic bread

What is a fool proof way to make a high % hydration loaf with large irregular holes. I've tried a lot of recipes, some of Peter Reinhart and also Jeffrey Hamelman, but so far no luck. Thanks in advance for any feedback

Yerffej's picture

Hi and welcome to the forum. 

Without any clue as to your previous baking experience it is a bit hard to answer your question.  With regard the two authors you mention, if you do EXACTLY what they say in their recipes, you will make good bread.


leenaud's picture

I really appreciate all the feedback I received. As far as baking bread is concerned, I would like to put myself in the intermediate category. Many, many moons ago (something like 55 years) I was a baker's apprentice in Europe and on the Holland America Line. I did not pursue the baker's career but have always been interested.

When I'm attempting to make Baquette or a Rye bread (60% rye with a sourdough starter) I normaly have no problems. But when I attempt to achieve what I see on the pictures of Hamelman's and Reinhart's books, I'm getting very discouraged. And I have tried a lot of different things. The crumb is very nice and chewy, the crust is very nice, the taste is excellent, BUT THE HOLES ARE MISSING. Maybe just some large ones just under the crust but that's about it. Oh well, I'll keep on trying.

pmccool's picture

In bread baking, technique is possibly the biggest determinant in achieving a desired outcome.  Ingredients are important, process is important, equipment is important.  Based on my experience, I'd have to say that even if all of those things are just so, you may still miss the mark if your technique isn't right.  So, when trying to bake a bread developed by Hamelman or others, you may follow everything that the author describes but not quite get what you want.  It may be something as subtle as degassing the dough, or the way it is shaped, that is not quite the same as the way the author did it and so the outcome is different.

One thing that baking shares with both athletics and arts is the need for practice, practice, practice.  We are trying to learn to do the same thing (shaping a baguette, maybe) the same way every time, without variation.  That requires instruction about the right way to do things and enough repetition that muscle memory is developed.  See the original Karate Kid movie ("Wax on!  Wax off!") for an illustration of this principle.

I don't say that to discourage you; quite the opposite.  Keep practicing.  You can and you will be able to produce the bread you want.

To be a bit more specific, there are three areas that I would recommend that you focus on.  First, lengthy mixing and kneading tends to produce an tighter, more even crumb.  So, mix only as much as recommended and employ gentle kneading techniques, such as stretch and fold and take care not to rupture the developing bubbles.  Second, be very gentle when degassing the dough.  You want to reduce the volume but you do not want to destroy those bubbles, since they are the open holes that you want in the finished bread.  Third, while shaping, you want to develop a tight outer skin for the loaves while still preserving the bubbles.  Shaping, for many of us, is the one thing that stands between us and the perfect loaf.  Short of going to a class, I'd recommend that you watch videos that show shaping technique.  There are many, whether here on TFL or on YouTube, that show how to handle the dough.  They can convey information that the printed word or diagrams simply cannot.  

Keep on.  It is doable.


flournwater's picture

I'd say that Paul pretty much covered it.  I made some sandwich rolls yesterday.  I was somewhat rushed but not panicky by any means.  I made just enough dough for two of them so my wife and I could enjoy them today at lunch.  I proofed the dough ball and cut it in half; each piece of dough came from the same proofed batch.  Each was handled in the same manner, or so I thought, and both baked at the same time on the same baking stone.  But one of them baked about 30% higher and lighter than the other.  I do recall handling the dough in a slightly different manner while shaping the rolls, stretching one somewhat more than the other and perhaps performing a stretch and fold one more time with one than the other.  At any rate, as an endorsement to what Paul has written, consistency in proper handling of the dough is as important as any other step in the process.  Keep practicing; and have fun.

tn gabe's picture
tn gabe

bake and bake again!

If you can make a 60% rye you are happy with, I'm willing to bet you'll get the ciabatta holes if you keep trying.

MANNA's picture

TARTINE by Chad Robertson, Best book I ever bought. After being fluent with his technique all the other books come into perspective. I never have problems with holes in the bread.


richkaimd's picture

After many years of making low hydration breads, I tried to learn to make French and Italian breads without any success.  All my moves were wrong.  Books seemed of no help.  Turned out I wasn't reading clearly.  In retrospect it was all there in the books; my hands just didn't know how to do things differently.

My strongest recommendation is that you find a local baker of the high hydration breads to serve as your mentor for a while.  Post your desire for someone in your locale.  You may find someone that way.  Barring that, find a class at a local cooking school.

Once you've seen it done, touched the doughs, and practiced the moves under a seasoned eye, you'll be off and running.


ehanner's picture

Your question was asking if there was a "fool proof way" to make high hydration breads with large holes.  That's like asking if there is a fool proof way to paint like the great French masters. Sure there is but, it isn't easy. There are some good answers above but no specific advice. Let me try to push this thread in that direction.

If you are baking high hydration breads and NOT getting the large open crumb you desire, your issue is either fermentation related or handling, or both. First you need to understand that the most important thing you must learn to control is temperature. You suggest you have Hamelman's "Bread", which will help immensely since the author gives the desired dough temperature for every component of every bread. If you want to achieve the quality of breads he depicts and talks about, you must follow his advice on levain and pre ferment and dough temperature. A few degrees will make a huge difference in the outcome. You can start off by learning to adjust your dough temperature with varying degrees of the liquid in the mix. Hamelman has a very good section on doing this.

The next most important thing is to learn to use your eyes to interpret the fermentation activity and level during the process. You can't do this in a steel or ceramic bowl. You need to be able to actually see the sides of the dough as it ferments in the bowl or container. This means you will need a glass or plastic container that you can see the bubbles forming slowly and growing as the ferment continues. At first you will see none or very small bubbles. Gradually as the bacteria and yeasts propagate, consume the food and expel CO2 gas, those little bubbles will grow and become more frequent on the side where you can see them. If you are doing stretch and folds to strengthen the dough, every time you do a fold, the bubbles will reappear more quickly and larger. If you don't wait for these bubbles to appear now, you won't have them later in the bread crumb. Use your eyes to observe this living dough growing. As the bubbles grow to the size of 1/4 inch or slightly larger, the dough will now start to feel soft and alive. It must be handled gently to maintain the air structure. You can be firm as you stretch and add tension to the external layer but try not to degas the dough. If you were diligent in maintaining the temperature as suggested, this fermenting step will take in the neighborhood of 3 hours in most cases but the amount of time is of no importance. What is important are the bubbles you see on the side.

I suggest you take a look at the excellent Meet the Baker post MC did a while back on Gerard Rubaud.
The bread Rubaud is discussing is exactly what you were asking about. It is his daily Pain au Levain with a mixed flour ingredient list. Many of us who read this post were inspired to work on his technique and make his breads. One person here who has demonstrated her appreciation for the skills of Rubaud and others is a member named Shiao-Ping. Here is a link to her post on Rubaud. If you are serious about learning to bake wonderful tasting and beautiful breads, Shiao-Pings blog is a great study reference. She has contributed a massive amount of beautiful breads here, each well documented and noted. The front page on her blog is here. Scroll down to select the next page of entries. I wish we had an index of her work set up, it's very interesting and helpful.

Here is a link to another bread Shiao-Ping posted on using James MacGuires method of slow fermenting, high hydration dough. James J. MacGuire's was the technical editor for Prof. Raymond Calvel's "The Taste of Bread." and last I knew he was working alongside Jeff Hamelman at the King Arthur Baking Center in Vermont. Be sure to see her previous post link.

I have tried to give you a serious answer with specifics to your question. What you are trying to accomplish is achievable if you understand the elements involved. It's actually basic to understanding good bread. Higher hydration and long slow ferments. Hope this helps.


flournwater's picture

The first person to come up with a paint-by-number bread making book will be drowning in big bucks.

leenaud's picture

I want to thank everone for for their helpful feedback. I guess the underlying message for me is to go back to the drawing board so to speak and keep trying.


Dhull100's picture

Have you considered which flour you use? I began by using KA "Bread Flour" using Hamelman recipes. I too often had tasty bread lacking nice holes. The thread (link below) was enlightening, and the switch to KA all purpose flour immediately produced a more open crumb.

Just a thought, but you may consider it in addition to the more experienced bakers' comments above.


flournwater's picture

The ingredient most often overlooked, for some reason, is the flour.  If I use KA AP flour I get a different result than when I use Pillsbury AP flour or Gold Medal AP flour.  Next time you're at the supermarket, take some time to compare nuitrional label data (be sure to include a review of the "serving  size" stats).