The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Harder Crust Desired

Jezella's picture

Harder Crust Desired

I seem to have the opposite problem to many people with my crust in that it remains soft in my Boules. I can't understand what I may be doing wrong and I do steam the oven. When the loaf comes out of the oven it's wonderfully crisp and then softens as it cools uncut. I think that if I were to cut the loaf when it was still hot, this would prevent the crust absorbing the moisture within and help with crustiness . But if I did that I think the crumb would also become less moist also.

I use about 20g olive oil to 500g flour and 350g water. I use the oil so that I have a softer crumb and also to keep longer. I have also tried using butter and the result is still a crust that becomes soft after cooling uncut. I remove the loaf when I think it's baked through and the interior seems well cooked. Apart from this, everything is wonderful. Ideas on my mistakes appreciated.


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

forever.  As soon as the loaf starts to cool, moisture begins to migrate back into the outer crust of the loaf.  It is, alas, a part of the staling process that begins immedately.  The fat (oil in your case) that keeps the crumb soft and to your liking also contributes to a softer crust at the same time.  With that said, however, there are some things that you can do to help.

One thing would be to take out the fat.  I don't expect you to do that because you are using it for good reason.  You must, however, realize it comes at a price in the crispness of your crust.  Another idea is to get a probe-type cooking thermometer (available from many sources) and bake your loaves to a consistent internal temperature of at least 195F and up to as high as 208F-210F.  Start by figuring out where you are now when you feel like the loaf is done.  I'd wager you are at or below 195F from the crust color in your photo, but that's just a wild guess.  Start baking to higher and higher internal temperatures in the range noted, until you get to where you think the bread is now too done for your taste.  Assuming you end up at a somewhat higher internal temperature target than where you are now, you should find a little more crisp-life in your crust. 

The last suggestion I have for you is, once you have settled your target internal temperature, try one more thing.  Once the loaf achieves the target internal temperature, shut the oven off and prop the oven door open a little bit with a metal spatula, high-heat tolerant pot holder, or something to vent heat and moisture.  Leave the loaf in this hot and drying environment for 5-10 minutes.  This will further dry out the crust compared to just taking it out of the oven immediately, and it will better tolerate moisture migration from the crumb.

Those are my thoughts for you on this.  I am sure you will get others.  Best of luck to you though, and hang in there.  You baked a beautiful loaf there.

Jezella's picture

Hi OldWoodenSpoon, your comments are most appreciated and I take special note in relation to temperatures. I have an electric Neff oven and it has a bread setting where the temperature range is trom 180 to 220c. I start at 220c and lower after about 10 minutes to 200c. According to the oven manual the heat is distributed evenly on this setting and supposedly is able to bake at lower temperatures. Having said this, this may be more applicable to tin baked loaves. So I don't know how this may relate to a Boule. I have another setting "cirotherm intensive" where the temperature range is from 50 - 275c and with this setting the oven bottom element is also in operation.

In any event, if you are suggesting internal temperature of at least 195F and up to as high as 208F-210F  / 98-99C I'm not sure how that relates to 410F start and 392F continuation external temperatures. Is it possible to determine internal temp based on external with the thermometer which I don't have.

I tried the spoon idea and that never seemed to work. I'll try leaving the loaf in the oven for 10 minutes following the bake next time around.


OldWoodenSpoon's picture

but that runs in relationship to time.  In general it is a matter of gelling the starches, carmelizing the sugars and completing the "cooking" chemistry.  You must get the loaf hot enough, all the way through, to accomplish these things.  For any given loaf size and shape this will take more time as the baking temperature is lowered.  I think you are baking too cool, but I cannot give you any help to determine internal temperatures without a thermometer.  If you have none, and cannot get one, then you will have to do more experimenting to find out by experiment what you cannot measure.  Oh no!  More Baking.  What a punishment!

As I said, I think you are baking too cool.  In my opinion you should be baking at around 250C (485F), or even hotter.  I usually bake my sourdough boules (with two racks of  unglazed quarry tiles in the oven)by preheating to 525F, and turning down to 500F once the loaf and steam (wet towels in a tin) are in place.  Then after 10-12 minutes the steam comes out, which vents the oven, and I lower the baking temperature to 485F (that 250C I mentioned).  My internal temperature after a total of 30 minutes runs in the 204F to 208F range.  You could bake longer at the temperature you are using now, but I think you need to push it up hotter, and guage by crust color and crumb results where you want it to be.  Ignore the labels on the oven dial and go for the absolute temperature in that 250C range for one or two bakes, and see what difference it makes.

Let us know how it turns out.

Cachi's picture

If you want bread that keeps fresh the longest, you cannot beat a 100% leavened bread, meaning no commercial yeast whatsoever and a slow rise at cool temperatures ( below 72 degrees ). I would get rid of the oil altogether.

Make sure you start with the hottest oven you can, 500 F for 1 hour with a baking stone, then lower to 450 after you put the loaf in. Verify the temperature with a laser thermometer pointed at the stone.

 Don't over-spray, usually 5-10min during the initial bake should suffice.

As OldWoodenSpoon suggested, probe internal loaf temperature and bake to 212F. From your picture, I can tell the center of the crumb is not fully cooked. Look at the dark streak across the mid section, this is an indication your loaf is under-baked, together with the crust color. Also, your crumb is quite dense so it is holding a lot of moisture. Make sure you allow enough time during the bulk fermentation so as to end up with a ripe dough and airy crumb in the final bread.

Increase the time with oven off and door ajar to 20-30min.

Let the loaf  cool completely before cutting and store it in an opened paper bag or out on the counter or in a wooden box, never in a plastic bag.

I hope this helps. Good luck!


grind's picture

You can also do the double bake like biscotti.  Wait till the bread cools down and then rebake for 15 minuted or so @ 4oo degrees (or there abouts).  You might have to play around a bit with time and temp but the principle is to cook off all that moisture that's migrated from the crumb to the crust.  I used to but and Italian bread in Toronto many moons ago and that's what they did.  The crust was like shards of glass (exaggerating).  Man was it good bread.

Jezella's picture

Thanks all for the input here and sorry for the delay in my reply. I think that as some have said that my baking temperatures have been too low so I increased this as much as possible in my last bake and that did help. I also drop the addition of oil and again this did help I'm sure but unfortunately the crumb was not as soft as I'd like. Really I need to remember that with alteration I'm producing different types of bread and that it's obvious that I need to sacrifice one good point for another. All in all, I'm delighted with most of my bakes and have learnt much through trial and error. I shall try the second bake idea on another occasion and see what results I get from that idea.

angiechia's picture

this is a old thread, but the same problem I faced. So I thought to dig it out rather than start afresh.

Using oil will soften crust faster, how about oil that we use to grease the container? I am wondering if that works against a crust that stays crisp longer too? I sometimes grease quite heavily to prevent the dough from sticking so as to minimise bubble lost when pouring the dough out.

Other than using oil to grease, how else can we do?