The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A Bread Baking Quiz!

dmsnyder's picture

A Bread Baking Quiz!

There is a traditional type of test question in medicine called “visual diagnosis.” The student is shown a photo - it might be of a whole person, a face or just a piece of skin with a rash - and asked to make a diagnosis. The last time I took a test like that was for board certification in Pediatrics. That was in 1977, and I can still remember most of the photos I was shown - a young girl with an inguinal hernia, a teenage boy’s feet (They were flat.), a rash (Scabies), a child with a rare genetic condition (Progeria). I think there were a couple more. I can’t remember them right now, but I do remember I knew the correct diagnosis for every one of the photos. (Yay, me!)

Anyway, “visual diagnosis” is a valuable skill for bread bakers too, it seems to me. I think others agree. That is why we prefer to see photographs of a loaf’s crust and crumb structure before committing to a “diagnosis” of a problem’s cause. That’s by way of introduction to today’s visual diagnosis quiz.

Here are some photographs of two bakes of two loaves each. All loaves weighed the same (512g) before baking. Both bakes were at 460ºF for 12 minutes then 440ºF convection bake for another 18 minutes. The obvious difference is that one bake is of bâtards, the other of boules, but there is another obvious difference in their appearance. 


Bâtards and Boules, side-by-side

Boule Close Up

 Bâtard Close Up

If you choose to take the test, here are your questions:

  1. Describe (briefly) the significant difference you see.
  2. What are the possible causes of the difference?
  3. What is the specific cause you think responsible for the difference? And why do you think that?

Further instructions: Have fun, and Happy Baking!



Janetcook's picture

I will bite.

Right off of the bat there is the noticeable difference in the color of their crusts.

You did not say if both bakes were using the same dough so I will assume they are identical.

Assuming they are lean loaves - I know that is what you generally bake - I would wager a guess that the batards bulk fermented too long which depleted the sugars available for a nice mallard reaction during their bake.

 They also look like they were a tad bit under proofed , hence a larger oven spring compared to your boules which reveals one primary color of the exposed dough which indicates that it 'sprang' rather than 'bloomed' gradually.

Boules look 'perfect' to me.  Nice shape, nice crust color and all scores opened evenly showing variance in color which indicates that they bloomed gradually throughout the first 10 −15 minutes of the bake.

End of my synopsis….

Thanks for a bit of fun *^) 


samf526's picture

Dull crust color looks like too little (or complete lack of) steam.  I think the proofing looks fine, but Janet might be on the right side of underproofing.  You still get the mallard reaction on the part of the batard just under the lip of the ear, perhaps because this part was not exposed to the dry oven at the beginning of the bake and, thus, stayed moist.

I also get this problem with batards (and not with boules) because I can't get them in a dutch oven, which is the best method of steaming in a home oven.  My batards have to be baked exposed on the stone. Even with constant additions of water for steam, it all quickly escapes from my vented gas oven, leading to really thick crust with dull coloration, and sub optimal flavor.

dmsnyder's picture

Thanks for your quick responses, Janet and samf526!

I want to give some time for everyone who wants to give their diagnosis to do so, but I want to let you know how you did. So, for the early responders, I am going to provide feedback via private messages.


Note: I will be intermittently unable to participate for the next 2 to 3 weeks due to travel. I'll be visiting TFL when I can. 

Hope this is fun for every one!


Donkey_hot's picture

I had once something like that... it was the first time I used rice flour for bannetons. :)

Syd's picture

You proofed the batards with cloth-lined brotforms and you were a bit too over zealous with the flouring?  The batards are very dusty and very unlike a typical dmsnyder loaf!  

MisterTT's picture

1. The main difference is the crust color. Batards are pale where the score did not open them up, while the boules are a nice brown color. I would not say that there is a difference in the degree of proof they had, because the spring on the batards is just about right, while the boules just seem to have sprung less, because they were scored far more than one cut.

2. Possible causes for the pale crust: no steam, overfermentation, severely overflouring the proofing loaves.

3. We can discount overfermentation right away, because the bloomed portion browned nicely on the batards. If most of the sugars were fermented away, the whole loaf would be pale. Overflouring looks unlikely, because the thicker "rings" of flour are about the same height on either loaf. Also, too much flour on the crust with proper steaming usually tends to lift the flour up at least somewhat, resulting, at least in patches, in a tiger-bread like appearance.

This leaves no steaming. Evidence against that is the good oven spring, but other things point towards it. The bloomed portion had itself a small steaming chamber enclosed in the dough (if a cut is made at an angle to the loaf, the outer flap tends to cover the rest of the cut portion), so when it sprang (with such prominence because the rest of the crust was prematurely set) it did have a chance to brown.

I wrote this all up and I'm very probably completely wrong :)

dmsnyder's picture

MisteR TT, you aRe completely wRong about being wRong. The only significant diffeRence is that I completely forgot to steam the oven when baking the bataRds. BTW, the crumb couldn't be niceR, and the taste is "noRmal" foR this bRead.


aly-hassabelnaby's picture

My guess here is based on the scoring. I'm guessing you made two identical batches and split each one in half to make batard 1 + boule 1 and batard 2 + boule 2.

The batch in the background wasn't scored deeply enough so they didn't create big proper ears. The batch in the front was scored better, which is why the batard opened up nicely and created a deeply browned ear and the boule (which has more slashes) sprung up more evenly because of the abundance of intentionally created weak points.

So my assumption is that the difference in scoring created a more 'vertical' batch which is the one in the foreground.

dmsnyder's picture

Of couRse, the scoring pattern is diffeRent, but all cuts opened up optimally, IMO.


dabrownman's picture

the batards lacked enough lava rock steam for the first 12 minutes.  I'm guessing she is right:-)

dmsnyder's picture


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I have watched a lot of medical shows:  Mash, St. Elsewhere, E.R., Doogie Houser, M.D., and House. 

I could be wrong, but I would get it checked out, just to be safe! I am guessing that your bannetons for the batards were stored very close to an air conditioning vent, the filters for which have not been changed in some time.  And this leads me to have a high degree of confidence in providing a visual diagnosis.  Based on the photographs, your batards have legionnaire's disease.


bbegley's picture

Got a laugh out of me. Well played.

wassisname's picture

OK, The batards lack the color and shine of the boules, and they have that flour dusting remnant so... first instinct would be lack of steam, but... why would you not steam your loaves? 

So, now I'm thinking that the boules were retarded and the batards were not.  That would help explain the lack of blistering, and less coloring.  That would also explain why the extra dusting flour is still dry and on the surface instead of soaking up moisture from the loaf during a long, cold ferment. 

If I wanted to get way out into the weeds I would wonder if the batards were made with an unmalted four, but that doesn't cover all the differences and I'm assuming both doughs were the same, so I'm putting my money on retarded vs. not.


dmsnyder's picture

Right the fiRst time.

TheRe is a saying in medicine: "When you heaR hoofbeats, don't think of zebras." Meaning think of the common oR obvious causes fiRst.

You aRe also coRRect that I would not intentionally neglect to steam my oven. HoweveR, foR the fiRst time eveR, I plumb forgot to do so. The Result was so dRamatic, I could not Resist shaRing it.


proth5's picture
proth5 gotten me to poke my head up.

Everything looks great, except the areas on the batards that were in contact with the proofing container are not well browned and seem to have a mist of flour covering them. (And frankly big chunks of it hanging on a number of surfaces.)

Cuts have opened well on the batards (and show the requisite three colors), which indicates to me that they were properly steamed/proofed/shaped/fermented/etc.

I know that flour on the outside of the loaf can produce dramatic differences in the appearance of the crust, so I'm going to go with an excess of flour in the proofing basket. This is something that can be used to good effect on some larger loaves that need a longer bake, but I wouldn't use it here.

Ah! travel! I still don't like to even think about it... (And yet my brother reminds me that in my 4 months of not traveling, I have done more flying than most people do in years.)


dmsnyder's picture

I have done that, and the cRust beneath the flouR still had good coloR. The cRust dullness and pallor is fRom lack of steam. (See above.) The suRpRise is the veRy good oven spRing, bloom and eaR formation. Maybe Janet is coRRect that the bataRds weRe undeR-pRoofed, but they weRe veRy poofy and seemed oveR-pRoofed if anything. A mystery to me.


proth5's picture

both, but of course, you know what you did.

If I could get that kind of opening of cuts (or expansion) without steam, I'd be one happy camper. The difference between baking a fairly humid climate vs a very dry one?

I still contend that I see a lot of extra flour on your close up of the batard, but again, you know what you did.

Just being a contrarian. But wrong.

cerevisiae's picture

1. Describe (briefly) the significant difference you see.
Batards show a beautifully opened ear, but exhibit a very pale crust color overall. The boules show a nicer crust color but little to no ears along their cuts.

2. What are the possible causes of the difference?
The pale color on the batards suggest possible understeaming, but with a well-timed oven loading and well placed score that allowed ear formation regardless of the lack of boost from the steam.

The crust color implies sufficient crust hydration at the beginning of the bake, but the lack of ears implies poor scoring and/or poorly timed scoring; specifically, slight overproofing which made it difficult for the dough to get much ovenspring, but not so much that it collapsed.

3. What is the specific cause you think responsible for the difference? And why do you think that?
I think my answer to question two addresses this sufficiently.

I like this game! Will there be more?

dmsnyder's picture

The bataRds weRe baked without steam.

The lack of eaRs on the boules is tRaditional and entiRely intentional. They are scoRed with the blade at a Right angle to the loaf suRface.

I think this is fun too. This "quiz" was opportunistic. But I think we all leaRned fRom it. I will ceRtainly consideR doing it again, but anyone could contribute a "pRoblem loaf."


cerevisiae's picture

It's a particularly good exercise because you already have the answer sheet. :)  We guess and figure things out all the time, but often the person we're giving "tech support" to doesn't know what's wrong either, so we have to wait and see and hope a different thing doesn't go wrong when they try again.

This quiz format is kind of refreshing after that. Learning opportunities abound here, which is a lot of the appeal of this site, but the process involved can be pretty exhausting.

golgi70's picture
  1. Describe (briefly) the significant difference you see.   Pale Crusted Batards.
  2. What are the possible causes of the difference?  Lack of steam at start of bake. 
  3. What is the specific cause you think responsible for the difference? And why do you think that? See answer 2 Based on the look steam must be the culprit.  With good oven spring, ears, and the well caramelized crust of the boules ( I assume this is the same dough) That and I've forgot to steam bread in the past so......
dmsnyder's picture

Sorry about all the capital R's. I was typing with a different keyboard than usual, and it seems to be malfunctioning.

For the interest of somewhat techie travelers, which I suspect is most of us, I am currently in a hotel room. I am typing this on my good old Apple wireless keyboard which is presently paired with my iPhone which is connected to the hotel's WiFi.  The only way to travel! 

Happy baking!



gary.turner's picture

It's a poor workman who blames his tools. ;-P

(I have a  mouse that multi-clicks {switch bounce}. In my case of course, it is a faulty tool. :grin:)