The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Big holes + very dense crumb

kolobezka's picture

Big holes + very dense crumb

Please, do you have an idea what the cause of such bread structure is? These are 6 photos of 6 sourdough loafs made from one starter over about 3 weeks. I'd like to help a friend of mine.

The bread at the bottom is from a 2-week old starter. The others (upwards) followed. 

I checked the dough and that should be ok. Probably a problem with the starter? But why then are some breads fine and others not? Do you have an experience with a similar problem, why it happened and how to deal with it?

Thanks for any suggestions!


cranbo's picture

is it just me, or are they all different recipes? 

#1 looks normal for a high hydration bread. Many people think this is a perfectly acceptable rustic loaf. 

#2 looks underfermented, and possibly underkneaded (big holes in some places, even otherwise). 

#3 & 4 look OK, probably lower hydration and maybe slightly underfermented. 

#5 not sure, I've seen this before but can't remember. This may have to do with shaping: weak structure in the middle caused dough bubbles to fail in center of loaf. 

#6 has some pale looking crust, looks underfermented. 

For #1-5, they may be slightly underfermented, but not too much. If they were very underfermented, they would not brown as well as they do. So my guess is more related to variations in hydration and starter activity levels. 

Big holes generally come from high hydration, minimal kneading, and in some cases, overproofing.

Fine texture comes from intensive kneading, low hydration, underproofing, or a combination of those. 

kolobezka's picture

I forgot to mention that. They are all the same recipe sauf the one at the bottom. And it's not a high hydration dough.

I also saw photos of the dough and the proofed loafed and it looked ok to me.

The recipe is like this:

340 g rye sourdough 100% hydration  (freshly prepared)
250 g water
500 g flour (something like all purpose)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp caraway seeds

I'll try to insert a bit larger photos so that the problem is more visible. The crumb is really very dense (except for holes)


cranbo's picture

Thanks for sharing. OK, your formula rules out high hydration as cause of big bubbles (I calculate 63% hydration) for your formula. 

So then next questions:

Describe how you knead. By hand or machine?  How long? Do you use any stretch-and-folds? If yes, how many, and over what period of time?

How long did you ferment the dough (both bulk ferment and final proof after shaping)? At what temperatures? 

BTW, your crumb doesn't look that dense to me. If the crumb tastes or feels dense, that in part will be your sourdough. IMO Sourdoughs typically have a chewier and denser mouthfeel than those leavened with commercial yeast. The other parts of chewiness/denseness are:

1. the amount of kneading. If you want really light fluffy bread you need to knead A LOT for a long time. Read about txfarmer's shreddably soft sourdough for an example of what intensive kneading does. 

2. your flour choice. rye is sticky and generally is going to give you a gummier texture. You're using about 34% rye in your formula, which is going to contribute to this somewhat. Try using a starter with all-purpose flour instead, that might help. In addition,  the protein level of your AP flour will make a difference. More protein = more chewiness. You may want to try a different AP flour, something with lower protein. 

3. enrichment level. If you enrich your bread with protein and/or fat (milk, egg, butter, oil, etc). it will generally be more tender and less chewy. 

I've found #1 in the list above (kneading) makes the biggest difference in texture. 


kolobezka's picture

Thank you for your care crumbo

The dough is kneaded in the bread machine. Just 15 minutes initial kneading and then the bread machine is switched off. Follow: 60-minute fermentation, 1 stretch and fold, shaping, proofing about 2 hours.

The Czech flour is much weaker than the american one, so not more kneading is needed. E.g me, I do 6-7 minutes in Kenwood mixer, no stretch and fold aftewards (only just before shaping). And I always get very nice results. 

Also I often do 30 - 60% rye and never get this kind of texture.

This hole size and crumb density / chewiness is really something abnormal with the flours, ratios and methods use. I mostly suspect the starter. But then I don understand why bread n. 1 and 3 (counted from bottom) were ok.

I'll try to work weith my friend in this direction and let you know whether there was an improvement in 1 - 2 weeks.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Timing the method to the fermentation.  Watching the clock and not the dough.  With exception to the first and 4th photo, the starter is working slow and the bake was being forced before the dough was ready.  

The first loaf looks like the activity of the starter was good, but it could have used more deflating before shaping if a finer crumb is desired.  The 4th photo looks like the proper deflation of the first loaf.  

The other photos look like low yeast activity, a variety of not enough bulk rises and baking the loaves when the gases were not evenly distributed in the loaves.  Some show shaping too early (last loaf) just as the gas is collecting, could have used a second deflation & shaping distributing the gas and activity, before the final rise.  

Too much sour in any of these loaves?  Sourness would also indicate that the starter was weak in yeast.