The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Excessive bread firming

samirhatem's picture

Excessive bread firming

Dear co-bakers,


My bread hardens excessively, especially when stored in paper bags...

Types of bread:

Pain de campagne made with 40 % pate fermentee and 10 % rye flour

Sourdough bread made with 40 % wholegrain flour

Sourdough read made with 50 % rye flour

After 2 days, the chewing is really a challenge for the teeth and jaws (starting with the crust, but gradually also the crumb)

Is it normal, just due to loss of moisture? i think it can be better.

Could it be the flour i am using is too rich in gluten? I tried an autolyse of 40 minutes before addition of salt and yeast - which supposedly weakens the gluten - and it seemed to me that the bread maintained a softer consistency, still not satisfactory

Does excess dough hydration or excess residual moisture increase firming by speeding up starch retrogradation? again it seemed to me that further drying up the bread during baking made it keep a softer crumb as it aged, but still not enough

If someone has an idea, please guide me in my next trials...

Should i try to switch to a weaker flour? or mix with all purpose?

Should i try a longer autolyse (like 2 hours)?

Should i reduce the initial hydration? or dry the bread better during baking?

When it is fresh the crumb is quite moist (overly i would say) but becomes ok after a few hours

the bread looks and tastes great... i am selling it at the market and getting positive feedback, but this firming issue is really a problem

Bread hardens, this is normal, but does not need to be so tough to chew!

Thank you for your help,








Ford's picture

The white bread, I normally bake, contains both milk (52%), water (22%), and butter (3.3%).  This bread can be  stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for at least a week without hardening or toughening.  The 50% whole wheat bread has a similar composition.  Of course, both loaves may be frozen without detriment.


shoshanna673's picture

I apologise if I am crashing this thread but am very interested in Ford's comment on refrigerating his bread. I live alone and make the majority of my own bread (with the exception of an occasional purchased continental style rye bread) and always have problems with the bread staling before I can eat it all.  I scale most recipes to about a 400g flour loaf,  but even with this it gets too stale fairly quickly.  Luckily I do not like very fresh doughy bread.  I make mostly white/wholemeal loaves with sourdough.  Ford would you be prepared to let me know your formula for the wholewheat with milk and butter and your process?  If I could refrigerate my bread for even a couple days it would save wasting bread when it stales.  

I have been making Shiao-Ping's 100% wholemeal chia seed sourdough bread of late which does tend to stay fresher than most because of the soaked chia seed component.  But it would be nice to try an enriched wholewheat loaf.

Thank you

Sondra (from a very frosty southern Australia)

Ford's picture

Whole-Wheat (50%) Sourdough Bread


3 cups (27 oz.) refreshed whole wheat sourdough starter (100% hydr.), at 70 to 80°F

4 cups (17 oz.) whole-wheat flour, King Arthur brand, finely milled*

4 cups (34.0 oz.) 80°F scalded milk

(1 cup [3.3 oz.] oat meal, pulverized to a flour, optional, decrease flour by 3/4 cup [3.1 oz])

1/3 cup (3.8 oz.) honey, or brown sugar, or corn syrup

~7 cups (~29.8 oz.) unbleached bread flour (King Arthur brand preferred)

1/4 cup (2 oz.) melted butter (or corn oil)

1 1/2 Tbs. (1 oz.) salt

1/4 cup (2 oz.) melted butter (or corn oil ) for brushing dough and the baked bread~78% hydration. 



~50% whole wheat flour.  3 loaves: ~38 oz. each unbaked, ~36 oz. baked.

*If you use stone ground, coarsely milled, whole-wheat flour (Arrowhead Mills), then use 3 1/2 cups, still 17 oz.


For the soaker, combine milk, honey, whole-wheat flour, salt, quarter cup of melted butter and optional oat flour in a large bowl.  Cover and let sit about thirty minutes, or more, to soften the bran, allow the flour grains to absorb water.  The milk may be added hot and the soaker allowed to stand overnight in the refrigerator

For the dough, mix the soaker, the refreshed, room temperature starter.  Blend in as much bread flour as can be mixed with a spoon.  Turn out on to a floured surface, knead well, working in only as much of the flour as to give a non-tacky dough.  The dough will not be as elastic as the white bread dough.  Place in an oiled bowl, cover, and allow to ferment for an hour or more, then gently degas the dough by folding it on itself.  Do not over proof or the gluten structure will be compromised.

Brush melted butter around the inside of three 5”x 8” loaf pans.  Again, place the dough on the floured surface and divide into three equal parts.  Shape the dough into loaves and place them into the loaf pans.  Brush each loaf with melted butter.  Cover with plastic wrap and let them rise until the dough comes well above the top of the pans, about 2 to 3 hours.  Do not keep the dough at room temperature for long periods as the acid in the sourdough may break down the gluten strands.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Place a broiler pan of boiling water on the shelf below the baking shelf. Slash each loaf with a greased razor blade or a very sharp knife, making a quarter inch deep cut.  Spray the loaves with a mist of water and place them on the middle shelf of the oven.  Spray the loaves two more times in the oven at two-minute intervals.  After fifteen minutes, set the oven temperature to 350°F and remove the pan of water.  Bake for an additional 40 minutes or until the interior temperature of the loaf reaches 195 to 200°F.

Turn the loaves on to a cake rack and brush all sides with melted butter.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Allow the loaves to cool before cutting or wrapping.  The loaves may then be frozen, if desired.

I have found, as I have gained experience in handling the dough, I have been able to work with slacker dough, i. e. dough of higher hydration.  The slacker dough will produce a lighter loaf.  (Over proofing will produce a craggy surface and something resembling a doorstop,) 

shoshanna673's picture

Thank you so much Ford for listing recipes for your bread as requested. I appreciate your kindness.  I will try both these variations, tho prob will use the wholewheat more.  Thank you to all other posters.  Your insights into the storing of bread are very helpful - hopefully one day some bright spark will come up with a foolproof way of storing bread to retain its 'just baked' state!  Until then, we can but just try different ways.


Antilope's picture

Rich breads made with dairy and fat have a longer shelf life and a more tender crumb.

Another way of extending shelf life and making a more tender crumb is to add a flour and water roux to your bread called a Tangzhong roux. It is like adding pudding to a pudding cake. The flour and water roux is made from existing bread recipe ingredients. Extra ingredients or amounts are not added to the recipe. Google "Tangzhong roux". You make a flour and water roux by mixing and heating the two ingredients to 149-F/65C. This forms a pudding-like roux you add to your bread recipe. Just use 1/2 cup of water and 3 Tbsp of flour. This unflavored pudding retains moisture during baking, resulting in a longer shelf life and softer, moister bread. You just add it to the remainder of liquid ingredients and then continue with your bread recipe. The Tangzhong roux technique works on pretty much any bread recipe prepared by hand, stand mixer or bread machine.

msneuropil's picture

I absolutely refuse to put any bread into the refrigerator...I personally think it goes stale least here in the Pacific NW.  I find that any recipe for bread that has an overnight bulk rise...helps a lot in keeping quality in comparison to just proofing the loafs in the frig or unheated garage.  So now I do at least a 4 hr or overnight rise in frig with bulk even if I start with a biga or poolish recipe.  Of course a quick blast with the microwave will "freshen" up a firm 2 day old bread enough to eat that crust.  My dentist told me no crusty anything...which includes lean I've had to work a little more with enriched doughs...or touch it with a microwave a few secs.  I also have started baking with a bit lower of a temp after the initial preheat...and that helps keep the crust from being too hard for the older folks.

PetraR's picture

So, how much Tangzhong would I need for a bread made with 500g of wheat flour and 300g of water?

Antilope's picture

to use 5% of the total flour weight used and 5 times that weight in liquid. For 500 grams of flour you would use 25 grams of the flour and 125 grams of liquid. You use ingredients and quantities from the existing recipe and don't add extra quantities. Mix and heat this to 65C / 149 F to form a translucent pudding like roux. (I use a Pyrex cup in the microwave. Heat 25 seconds, stir. Heat another 15 seconds, stir, should be about 149 F. Some use a saucepan on the stovetop to make the roux.) Cool to room temperature and add to your remaining liquid ingredients (I usually just mix the hot roux with the other liquid ingredients, and they all end up lukewarm.  Of course, don't mix the hot roux into your starter or yeast). Proceed with your normal recipe from there.

I find there is a more pronounced effect using white flour over whole wheat flours in the roux, but your mileage may vary.

PetraR's picture

Oh wonderful, I shall try this tomorrow when I bake our basic white Sandwich loafs:)

I am not sure about the Sourdough bread, would it not change the texture to much?

Antilope's picture

on white flour sourdough (or some that use a small amount of whole wheat flour) and it does soften the crumb.

Tangzhong roux also softens the crumb on light wheat bread (50% white flour & 50% whole wheat flour). I make the roux from the white flour portion. So for a light wheat loaf using 500 grams of flour (250g white and 250g whole wheat) I use 25 grams of the white flour to make the roux.

samirhatem's picture

Thank you all for your replies so far, a very good exercise and food for thought...

Indeed, I have much less firmness issues with rich breads, but I would like to improve with the lean breads. Probably the softness of rich breads is partly due to the fact that fat (and dairy?) interfere with gluten development.

msneuropil your comment reinforces my impression that a longer rise at cooler temperatures (whether bulk or final proofing) seem to yield softer breads; is this the point you are making? I will try to follow this path further

I was very interested as well with the Tzangzhong roux technique, as it does not require the addition of extra ingredients; i will try it for sure

Any further help is welcome :









msneuropil's picture

Samir,  it has been my experience in baking at home (vs baking in commercial kitchen) that ANY retardation of the bulk rise helps with storage issues.  

Also larger loafs tend to stay fresher in my opinion.  With no kids at home I started making small 1 pound loafs...and they just stayed hard.  So now I bake 2-2.5 loaves or larger and cut it in half and give to neighbors or freeze it.  The large ones seem to take longer to stale.

 Baking at a lower temp...I preheat at 450 for 80% wheat (my standard bread) then lower to 400 after putting into oven is something I have been forced to use to keep my dentist happy.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Storing in paper has a lot to do with your relative humidity.  If your humidity is low (and I guessing it is very low)  one or two thicknesses of un waxed paper bag is not enough to keep the bread from drying out.  

So tuck the paper bag inside a plastic one as well and tie it up tightly to prevent the bread from drying out.