The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Crumbly Bread

Ilse's picture

Crumbly Bread

Good morning

I would like to know why my wholewheat bread becomes crumbly after a day or two?  I use the stretch-and-fold method of kneading.  I mix my dough until just mixed. Then I let it sit for an hour. Then I give it the 1st stretch and fold. Sit for 45min, then 2nd stretch and fold.  Again 45min later the 3rd. Rest another 45 min after which I shape it into loaves and rise until double.  I use 100ml oats in the recipe.  Is the dough over-risen or under-risen?



pmccool's picture

Two techniques to counter it are an autolyse and extended kneading, which may sound redundant.  The autolyze (an extended soaking of the flour without salt or yeast) gives the flour and bran time to absorb the water-bearing liquid (not oils).  I'd recommend at least an hour for the wholewheat flour.  Some folks let it soak overnight, in which case the addition of salt is recommended to moderate enzyme activity.  After the autolyze, you can add the remaining ingredients to make up the final dough.  You may find that you need to add more liquid at this stage if the dough is resistant to mixing/kneading, or less than tacky.

I really don't know why extended kneading helps tenderize wholewheat breads and reduce their tendency to go crumbly in a couple of days time, but it does.  Much of what you read will suggest that the autolyze and some stretch and folds are all that are required, which does work well with mostly white flour doughs.  Wholewheat flour doughs seem to respond better if they are kneaded for 20 minutes or so.  Just think, fresh bread and an upper body workout all in one!

Your observation about oats is also on target, in that oats do not contribute any gluten to the dough.

It may be that your bread is also overrisen, which would exacerbate the crumbliness.  However, you've only mentioned times and nothing about yeast content or temperatures, so I really can't make an educated guess.


Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss


I came across this in an article by Wolfgang Suepke about 100% rye breads - some bakers in Northern Germay use kneading as a means to moisturize the rye meal. The German term for this is Quell-Knetung.

See also,7069287298.html 

quellen = to soak

kneten = to knead




clazar123's picture

It may also be that the oats are releasing their starch and making the dough sticky. In response, you may be using a little more bench flour to reduce the stickiness as you knead/mix/fold and inadvertently decreasing the amount of water available to be absorbed by the whole wheat bits'nbrans.

Bread dough is a blob of starchy gel (from the flour and oats) held together by the ropes of gluten,trapping the bubbles of CO2 generated by the yeast as they eat the sugars in the gel. Gluten and starch both need moisture to develop and stay flexible, even after they are "set" in place with heat. The bits of bran in the dough will continue to absorb the moisture from the gel and gluten strands after a bake if they are not completely hydrated before the bake by a good soak and easily available water.

When you add oats to the party, you are adding a gel/starch generator that needs plenty of water, also. When the gel forms as you knead/mix, it feels like the dough is too wet when in reality, you want to keep it sticky so it gets caught in the gluten net and sets in place trapping bubbles and raising the crumb.Extra flour will make it more sand-like and the heat-set crumb will.....crumble like sand.

 It is essential to start with a sticky or even wet dough that at the end of a properly long soak will yield a slightly sticky or possibly tacky dough. With oatmeal or rye in the mix, the dough will prob not ever be tacky.

  • Sticky= touch the dough with a clean,dry finger and it it comes away with a barely visible light,thin layer of the dough.If you handle this dough with dry hands, it makes your hands slippery with a light coating of dough that gets thicker as it sticks to itself.
  • Tacky= touch the dough with a clean,dry finger and it comes away with no dough (like a post-it note).Handle all day with no dough sticking and clean hands after.
  • Wet=touch the dough...etc.... and it comes away with an easily seen, thicker layer of dough.Can't get your hands in without MAJOR monsterdough hands.

These are the concepts to remember when you are making a whole grain or multigrain bread.Start with a wet dough, learn to handle sticky dough and develop the gluten well!!

SOme interesting ideas to incorporate:(just enter into the search box)

Water roux

Mash the grain


Hokkaido Whole Grain

Window pane whole grain


Have fun!

Ilse's picture

Thank you all for the very helpful advice.  I think the problem is probably the fact that I didn't soak the flour and bran before the time. Will try this method with my next batch.

Kind regards