The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Calling All Crumb Detectives!

Kurt's picture

Calling All Crumb Detectives!

My family has recently moved across country and, sadly, my starters didn't make the trip.

Fortunately, I blogged my method for making a starter here on TFL back in 2007.  So, I retraced my steps but in Michigan rather than in San Diego.  After two weeks, I had two (rye & OAP white) bouncing, baby starters crying to make some bread.  The first batards turned out perfect - huge spring, dime-size holes in crumb, chewy/shiny texture, crisp and golden crust, deliciously sour (for a young starter).  I was back in business, so to speak.  Or, so I thought.

Those loaves were gone the next day.

Back at it a few days later, I went about making the next two batards.  This time, everything turned out the same EXCEPT...the crumb was soft and sandwich bread.  I've since made two more batches with the same results.  By the way, the wife and kids like it this way because sandwich fixing don't fall through the holes.

However, it's nagging at me.  What the heck did I do differently?  At first, I thought I was degassing to heavily.  So, I used a gentle folding technique several times prior to final shaping, which is done gently (or maybe not gentle enough?).

All ingredients are the same so it's either environmental (cannot think of any change here, either) or in the handling (maybe I did something unique the first time and forgot - I do that a lot).  Here is what I'm doing:

1.  Mix weighed ingredients, sans salt, for a minute or two in KA mixer.  Let rest for 10-15 minutes.  Add salt, mix another three or so minutes in mixer, then by hand until I like the 'feel' of the dough.  This is a 60% hydration sourdough recipe using 60g rye, 450g OAP, 300g H2O, 11g salt (usually use kosher but tried iodized, too), 180g starter.

2.  Proof in light-warmed oven for sixty minutes, stretch-n-fold.  Repeat two more times.  The dough doesn't necessarily double in each time but comes close and is very pliable.

3.  Proof one more hour then retard overnight in fridge.

4.  Remove from fridge and allow to warm up for an hour or two.  Dough has easily doubled - some in fridge and more as it warms.

5.  Divide.  Shape: letter fold, turn 90 degrees, letter fold then shape to batard as shown by Reinhard or in the KA videos to build up skin tension.  Roll out gently between palms and counter top.

6.  Rise till nearly doubled then slash and bake at 500 degrees on stone preheated for an hour at 500.  Using old pan to hold one cup of water poured at onset of baking.  Add a few sprays of water from bottle across top of oven (and loaves).

7.  Bake for 10 minutes then release steam and bake for another five or ten minutes till internal temp reaches 210-ish and crust is golden.  Cool.


Can anybody find any clue to this crumb crime?

Thanks for your time!


Muskie's picture

The other day I made two batches of my sourdough recipe, one started 45 minutes after the other. The 1st batch got 4 S&F sessions, the 2nd got 3. Baked them at the same time. The 1st got a significantly open crumb with large holes, the 2nd got the sandwich bread crumb you described. Your descriptions suggest you gave yours 3 S&F's, have you tried a 4th?

Kurt's picture

You might be on to something.  It certainly is logical and oft spoken that undeveloped gluten leads to a weaker structure.  Maybe my 'windowpane' isn't really what it ought to be.  I cannot recall exactly but, on the first batch, I might have let the mixer run a while or I kneaded it longer (man, I wish I could remember!).  The last batch I only folded twice because I got a late start.

Next batch I will certainly work that gluten further.

Thanks Muskie.

MisterTT's picture

of two totally unrelated issues that I'm going to give the same answer to -- 60% hydration is way too low! Though if I calculate from your ingredients, I get 65% hydration if assuming a 100% starter, but that's still too low.

Kurt's picture

Starter is 100%.  This the Norwich Sour recipe (halved) from WildYeast and has worked flawlessly for several years...till now.  Given that it worked fine the first time, in a new location and with a new starter, I would rule out environmental issues like humidity or altitude since neither has changed.  Same flour for both starters and dough, same reverse osmosis water source.  I suppose there could be some boundary condition related to hydration that tips the outcome one way or the other.  While the dough certainly feels consistent, I'm no 'dough whisperer'.

Thanks MisterTT.  I now have two things to try.

Bakingmadtoo's picture

It could be as Mister TT says, your hydration. I use that recipe a lot, it is one of my favourite and most reliable, but I do add extra water, which is highly unusual for me, I usually need less water as my house is very humid. My flour too, generally needs less liquid than recipes call for. However, you say your dough feels the same, so it may be something else.

I am a bit confused now, as I thought weaker gluten structure through less working of the dough would lead to bigger holes and that the more the dough was worked the smaller the holes would be? So I shall have to go and do some research now.

Kurt's picture

I certainly could be in the weeds on the relationship between gluten development and hole structure.  I do believe that under-developing gluten leads to collapsing in the oven (in the same manner as over-proofing can) with my loaf-shapes breads.  It just seems to me that a large bubble of gas requires a strong, flexible encasement.  Like blowing bubble gum - underchew and and you'll never blow a large bubble.

Back on topic....I will try a quarter-batch this weekend with better kneading and a second quarter-batch at a higher hydration and gauge the results.  It's not rocket science.  Of course, as soon as I say that, someone will invent interplanetary travel using yeast-base propulsion and I'll have egg on my go with my sourdough.

Thank you for taking the time to help me out with this.

tgrayson's picture

BakingMad is correct that less development tends to produce bigger holes. You'll have to adjust your proofing times accordingly to avoid overproofing, but the finger test should work as normal. I don't think you want a windowpane.

You can get a pretty open crumb structure using 65% hydration and there have been threads here to that point, but higher hydration does make it easier.

dabrownman's picture

by making a bread using the 1:2:3 formula and using the no knead method.  This should tell the tale as to what the starter is capable of doing all by itself .

Kurt's picture

Well, I tried increasing the hydration to 75% this weekend and had pretty much the same result - perfect batards but sans any holes larger than a pea.  Super soft texture; perfect for sandwiches.  But, doggone it, where'd my shiny-holed, chewy crumb go?

One thing that occurred to me while reading a similar thread is that, for that very first loaf after birthing the starter, I had NOT yet refrigerated the starter.  So, I made dough on a Saturday and chilled the refreshed starter the following morning...till the next Friday.  Friday night, I fed it, let it refresh at about 77 degrees till Saturday morning and fed it again.  Saturday afternoon, I begin the next batch of dough.  I repeat this process each week.  Baking on Sunday evening.

The starter refreshes perfectly, or so it seems to me (quadruples and smells beer-y).  The dough ferments and more than doubles between the final folding and shaping it after retarding it over (Saturday) night.  The shaped batards rise at room temp (~65) for an hour or more, until I feel they are ready and the oven pre-heats, and then it's into the steamed oven, slashed, where they nearly explode off the stone.  So, I think my starter is fine...or is it?  I did not have this "problem" doing exactly the same thing for five years in San Diego.

I could also have switched OAP flour brands after that first batch but I cannot be certain.  So, maybe a protein % issue?

So, all I have learned this week is that upping the hydration (65->75) had no effect on hole size or, by all appearances, anything else for this recipe.

Any thoughts?  Over-working, under-working (but I've been doing this same recipe for so long, I'm pretty sure my mechanics and durations haven't strayed much), too much protein, not enough protein?  The more I think about it, maybe this Kroger OAP is too 'soft'.  I do recall my starter would not start with it when I split my initial rye starter into rye and OAP on day 3 or 4 - I had to get another brand of OAP and then it took off.  In terms of feeding, proofing and oven spring, it seems to like it now, though.