The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Tartine Bread crumb question's picture

Tartine Bread crumb question


I have had good success making lovely bread from Chad's book. I have a question. The crumb I get is a bit tight. I am searching for suggestions on achieving this result. I have tried varying the hydration. I can't seem to find the magic number if there is one. As a general matter I do not know the effect hydration has on the crumb structure. All help and suggestions To achieve a more airy crumb are appreciated. 

dmsnyder's picture


If you follow the formula in the book, including the flours as specified, you should not have to alter the hydration.

A photo of your crumb might help with problem identification, but here are some common causes of a less open than expected crumb:

1. Over-mixing. This is unlikely if you followed Robertson's procedures and mixed by hand. Results in a well-aerated but very even crumb, like a sandwich bread. Also results in loss of flavor.

2. Under-mixing. Inadequate gluten development results in a dense, poorly aerated crumb. You need the gluten development to contain the CO2 in bubbles.

3. Under-fermentation. Not enough gas production. The time needed is highly temperature-dependent. I usually find my dough is fully fermented in less time than Robertson says - about 3 hours. But, if your kitchen is very cool (<70 degrees F) it may take longer. If you ferment the dough in a glass bowl, you should see it full of little bubbles. It should feel light and gassy.

4. Over-fermentation. This results in protein (gluten) breakdown and a dense crumb. Usually a pale crust too, due to too much sugar having been consumed.

5. Rough dough handling during dividing and shaping resulting in excessive de-gassing (bubble popping).

6. Over- or Under-proofing, for different reasons, can lead to less open crumb.

7. Inadequate oven spring due to over-proofing or not enough steam in the oven. The latter should not be a problem if you are baking according to Robertson's instructions.

Any of these factors, alone or in combination, could be your problem.

I hope this helps.


Davidkatz's picture

This is great info - I have similar problem with my Norwitch.

Any tips for under or over kneading? - My hand kneads seem to come out better.

I got the over, under fermenting - what about the proofing? Any tips?





dmsnyder's picture

Hi, David.

It's said that it's impossible to over-knead by hand. I don't know about "impossible," but it's hard for sure. I know others have problems with it, but I think the window pane test is a good measure of gluten development. You need to practice it, but it conveys good information. With experience, you get a fair measure and learn just how much gluten development is right for the outcome you desire. For most hearth breads, I'm convinced that a gentle initial mix combined with some stretch and folds during bulk fermentation give me the crumb structure I usually want.

Regarding proofing, the "poke test" is the best objective measure I know. For most hearth breads, you want the dough to slowly fill the hole you make by poking a finger into the dough. Again, how fully proofed you want your dough depends on the desired final product characteristics. There are some breads, for example kaiser rolls, where too much oven spring causes problems, so you want a fuller proof. Where you want exhuberant oven spring, you want to apply the poke test as described above. I think bakers call this "3/4 proof."


FlourChild's picture

David, that's one of the most helpful and concise posts I've read in a long time, thank you!  I've been baking loaf after loaf lately and have been learning some of those things through experience, nice to see them confirmed from a talented bread maker.

dmsnyder's picture

Please let us know how you apply this and what you find. Again, photos help.