The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Uneven distribution of air holes

Bellenden Baker's picture
Bellenden Baker

Uneven distribution of air holes

Hello all

Just looking for a little bit of guidance here on the distribution of my air holes on my loaf as my husband says that the peanut butter falls through the holes at the top and would prefer them to be smaller and more evenly distributed!  He's a perfectionist on my behalf...

Attached is a photo of the most recent loaf.

I use the following recipe - 500g flour, 275g liquid starter (usually about 12 hours since the last refresh), 325g water, and 10g salt.  Thats about 73% hydration with 25% starter.  I generally mix without salt, leave to rest for 30 mins, and then add salt and knead in a kitchen aid for 5 minutes.  Then the dough goes into the fridge overnight to rest.  In the morning take it out of the fridge, shape it, and then it goes into a cane proving basket back in the fridge until I get home from work.  It gets baked in a dutch oven at 250 degrees c for 15 minutes, then 15 minutes with the lid off, then 10 minutes just on the oven shelf.

Any thoughts as to what might help my air pocket size and distribution?!

Thanks very much.

cerevisiae's picture

Generally I would say that it was an issue of shaping; degas more when shaping and maybe shape a little tighter to get smaller holes. This may be part of your problem, but looking at the picture, I suspect the main culprit might be your oven and, relatedly, how your bread is springing in the in oven.

See how all the holes are at the top of the loaf? That's a little weird. It reminds me of this recent thread where someone had a similar problem, but more dramatically. I think we determined that the way their oven heated was causing more but belated springing at the top.

Do you preheat your dutch oven thoroughly before putting the dough in?

I wonder if playing with proofing times might also help. Maybe someone else will have some good thoughts on this.

Bellenden Baker's picture
Bellenden Baker

Thank you for your thoughts...  The dutch oven gets preheated and so it nice and hot when the dough goes in.  I'll have a look at that other thread too. I think shaping should be okay as I can get a very tight shape generally.  If I can get plenty of comments on what I could experiment with changing, I can go away and try them all and report back!

golgi70's picture

Something I learned.  You can either do your bulk ferment in the fridge and then shape proof bake at room temp or bulk ferment at room temp shape and then final proof in the fridge but not both.  It's damaging to the gluten structure although I'm not sure that is your problem in this case.  I used to follow that regiment and had hit/miss success because of gluten degradation.  Switched and tried both separate regiments.  The cold final proof was chosen for the crust.  The loaves were greatly improved and consistently came out well.  

Is your liquid levain 100% hydration??? 

It looks to me like you didn't score your loaf. Correct?  I think that is why the larger holes are at the top.  You can also notice that there are no blow-outs which indicates to me a bit of overproofing.  

In all honesty though from looking at your photo i think the loaf looks quite excellent.  You request the opposite of most here striving to get an open lacey crumb.  I do think adding a score would even out the distribution of the crumb and have the loaf open more evenly (but probably still let the PBJ through the nooks) .  But if you want smaller cell structure the easiest thing to change would be to reduce the hydration a bit. Take a big step first and then work back up til your happy.  So maybe decrease to 68% hydration and see if it fits the bill.

Nice Baking



cerevisiae's picture

I assumed I couldn't see scoring marks because they just came out really smooth instead of opening; I think you have a very good point about the lack of scoring. It totally makes sense with what we see in the picture and would be a really easy fix for eliminating some of the largest holes.

ccsdg's picture

I also wonder about overproofing. Could the relatively dense outermost layer mean the outside of the loaf was dried out too much to allow much fermentation while the innermost part was overproofing? i have had this kind of gaping crumb with dense outer layer before, coupled with a dough that didn't seem to rise noticeably in a timeframe i would have expected (it sat there proofing for nearly two days!) Scoring didn't help in my case. The slashes opened up but did not penetrate the dried out layer, making for pretty scores and still the gaping crumb.

baybakin's picture

I always thought problems like this were caused by not enough gluten development, so the gas is not caught in the gluten nets properly, but then gets caught in the gluten sheath on the surface of the bread, which is more developed.  Your process seems to suggest that wasn't the issue though (5 mins in the kitchen aid).  perhaps if you try the same thing, but giving a few letter folds during bulk fermentation, before you shape.

Bellenden Baker's picture
Bellenden Baker

So my hidden agenda in all this is that I'm trying to perfect a low maintenance loaf... Hence the proving twice in the fridge. I work full time but we eat A LOT of bread! So the aim is to try to create something lovely for week day breakfasts but without having to quit my job or lose too much sleep.

Hydration wise, my starter is 50% water 50% flour. I've made loaves before with 73% and even 75% hydration (though using different proving regimes, a linen lined wicker basket rather than cane banetton, and different amounts of starter) and they've been much more evenly holey but generally not as big and bouncy! So I prefer the overall shape of this loaf. But that makes me think that it must be something else, as has been suggested, maybe to do with the length of the prove, maybe the lack of slashing, or maybe the amount of time I leave the lid of the Dutch oven on. I'll experiment with these variables and then report back. But keep your other suggestions coming in the meantime! 

Ultimately, peanut butter dribbles might be the price my husband has to pay for low maintenance sourdough making!

Bellenden Baker's picture
Bellenden Baker

So my husband has now confessed that for that loaf pictured he kneaded the dough in the kitchen aid for 10 minutes rather than my usual 5. Would that have had an effect on the air pockets? 

Am in the process of experimenting thanks to all your helpful comments.