The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Crumbly loaf that falls apart when slicing

brandislee's picture

Crumbly loaf that falls apart when slicing

I've searched this question, and most of the answers were "bread has crumbs, get over it."

But I think the person asking the question inaccurately described the problem.  Yes, bread has crumbs, but my loaf is so crumbly it falls apart when I slice it and forget picking it up to make toast or a sandwich.

I'm using the whole wheat sandwich bread recipe from Peter Reinhart's Artisan Breads Every Day with some changes.  It's 6 1/4 cups flour (I usually use 5 cups wheat and 1.25 of white for the extra gluten), 2 tsp yeast (it's less than the original recipe, I think), 2 T. sugar, 1 egg, 2 T. oil, 2.5 cups water with 2/3 cup powdered milk (I use this in place of the water and milk in the original)... I'm writing this from memory, I don't think I missed anything.  Oh, and I usually also add about 1 cup of sourdough starter (my starter is on the runny side), which is why I use less yeast.

And I both knead it for 5 minutes with the dough hook in my kitchenaid and then let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours.  Shouldn't that develop the gluten enough?  I don't usually do the pull and fold three times like the recipe cals for, perhaps that is the problem...

Any other insight would be awesome!  Thanks in advance!

breadforfun's picture

Most recipes, and Peter Reinhart's in particular, go through an extensive testing phase prior to final printing.  Have you ever followed the recipe exactly as written to see how it comes out?

Beyond that, I'm not sure of the original recipe, but if you are substituting 5 cups of whole wheat for 5 cups of bread or all purpose flour, then you may be lacking enough gluten.  I would also venture to guess that the original recipe doesn't call for a 24 hour retardation.  Commercial yeasts are different species from those generated by a levain and probably grow faster.  If this is the case, the yeast may have run out of the sugars used for food, even if refrigerated, and the proteins have begun to break down, further reducing the gluten network. For example, if a recipe uses a poolish, a very small amount (1/8-1/4 tsp.) is added to the flour and water mixture and allowed to ferment overnight or even longer.  Your recipe uses 2 tsp. of yeast.

Also, crumbly bread is often caused by overbaking or underhydration.  The first is easy to fix - shorten the bake time or lower the temperature.  If underhydration is the problem, as would be the case if you are substituting WW for AP flour since WW is much more thirsty and absorbs more water than AP, you need to adjust the water content accordingly.

Good luck,



brandislee's picture

The original recipe does actually call for 100% wheat flour, with optional vital wheat gluten.  I sub white flour for part of the wheat flour in lieu of the extra gluten.  And it also calls for the 24 hour retardation.  The only adaptations (I should have pointed these out...) are the lesser yeast (although not by much) and using powdered milk instead of fluid milk.  And adding the sourdough starter.

I know I didn't overbake this last batch- I actually underbaked it to see if that would help, and if anything it was more crumbly.  And I have strong doubts that it was underhydrated- the whole point of the recipes in this book is high hydration, long fermented (in the fridge) bread, pretty much his answer to the whole "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes" trend.  And, as I said, the original recipe is for whole wheat flour, I'm actually subbing in white flour, not visa versa.

I'm working on another batch right now.  I made it mostly the same, except I left out the sourdough and the milk altogether and subbed 3/4 cup of oatmeal for part of the flour.  I know none of these things are going to help my texture issue, but I can't help but mess about with recipes :)  I kneaded this batch more, both in the mixer and by hand, and checked the gluten window thing- I hadn't done that in years, as I had thought I had the feel for it and didn't need to do that anymore, but I think I just got lazy with the kneading.

velvetyjoe's picture

I recently posted about my recipe which seems to produce a very crumbly bread, especially after a day or so, I came to the conclusion that it was underhydrated, and increasing the % water made quite a good improvement.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

If the crumb is fragile, try baking it sooner and not proofing so long.  Some doughs have incredible extensibility and shouldn't be allowed to rise to their limits or full potential.  The result is an airy crumb that is only held together by the crust.  The inside crumb collapses or tears apart when cutting.  

jholdern's picture

I have a sandwich bread recipe I've been making successfully for months but the last few times I've made them they've torn easily when slicing or spreading things on them.  I had blamed it on other things but as soon as I read your comment from last year it was an aha! moment.  I had been proofing it longer - letting it get a higher rise in the pan - before baking.  I'm now back to my original notes on loaf height before baking and all's well.

Many thanks for your taking the time to provide this information!  Joy

clazar123's picture

You are giving the dough a good overnight soak but I think you need more liquid. Whole wheat can be VERY thirsty.The dough should feel moist and slightly sticky when you put it in the refrigerator and then just tacky when you take it out of the refrig. This will give the bran bits time to absorb the moisture so they don't suck it up after the loaf is baked.

The other thing that needs to happen is you need to make sure you develop enough starch in the dough. That's right-starch! I think you have plenty of gluten but you need some starchy gel. That comes from enough moisture,a good source of starch (white flour or especially rye flour), mechanical mixing to get the starch developed.

Use the search box and research "whole wheat" ""soft whole wheat" etc. Look at my posts-I have frequently given whole wheat responses multiple times. Non-crumbly whole wheat is possible! Especially if you have even just 1 c of AP(white) flour. A couple tablespoons of rye flour would make a big difference as would using a water roux.Many techniques/tools available.