The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Keys to an Open Crumb

jmoore's picture

Keys to an Open Crumb

So many of you are now making beautiful loafs with a nice open crumb. You have made tremendous progress in such a short period of time! Many more, like myself, are still working to replicate your results.

I think it would be good to have a clean, centralized thread for everyone who has unlocked the secrets of the open crumb to share their "ah ha!" moments. Perhaps a list of things they changed (maybe even ranked, in order of importance), that enabled them to get to where they are now. 

If you all are on board with this idea, you could each create a "reply" to this post, one for each user. As you continue to learn and create even more perfect loafs, you could just update the same post with new insights. This way, it will remain an easily-navigable resource for all.


not.a.crumb.left's picture

Hi there,

I am by all means not an expert and take my list with a 'pinch of salt' ha, ha, ....

I started this journey stumbling over Trevor's book in December last year and then had the help and 'virtual' company of fellow bakers here...let me say thank you - I would have given up without you!  

My keys:

1. Get to know your starter and make it regular and really healthy! 

2. It helped me to stay with the same recipe and try again and again...this was the Champlain for me....and baking in amazing  'virtual' company kept my spirits up after failures...(and there were many of them and still are........)

3. Try different flours and as UK baker be aware that US flours behave differently and are stronger. If you are in the UK I find the Marriage Strong White an amazing flour and many Artisan professional bakers appear to use it.

4. I LOVE the Rubaud method for can feel how the gluten develops and it gives you an amazing feel for the dough development. It really made a difference when I started using it. 

5. Get an IG account, if you can and watch all the amazing and inspirational resources on there from expert bakers on shaping and folding etc. etc. It is a really useful resource and some useful comment e.g. on UK flour I've found on those pages. Beware you might never come of it and suffer from never ending 'open crumb' and 'handling' skills envy!!!!!

5. Try to 'document' in some form your bake so that you can spot the difference between bakes...I am awful at this myself....I now take a picture of each finished loaf with the notes next to it, so that I have a record what's what.

6. Pre-shape and shaping - my weakest area is handling and I need to practise. I learnt that making my scraper wet seems to help with the pre-rounding and the scooting of ball on the surface like in Trevor's videos. It does not stick that way and ruin all that nice tension that I just have created...

7. Don't get burnt!  I've done this a couple of times and not nice...

Sorry for the long list...I kept changing it.......... Kat


Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I don't like the really holey crumb, but neither do I like dense crumb. Here's my learning list so far:

  1. Read Trevor's book - several times
  2. Supercharge your starter - big feeds; de-acidify it
  3. Late fold(s), after the dough is proofy
  4. Stronger pre-shape, gentle final shape
DanAyo's picture

Very interesting, Wendy. You find that folding after dough gets proofy is beneficial for large open crumb. I’ve always quit when the dough proofed up. Will try that.


not.a.crumb.left's picture

yep totally agree with Lazy Loafer point 1....Read Trevor's book and his blog as well as IG account!  I also really like many of the other crumbs he explains in his book....the open crumb baking for me is about learning to control 'my crumb' really.... Kat

bikeprof's picture

1. Dough handling skills - knowing what a dough needs and being able to provide it...knowing what will hurt your dough, and being able to avoid it

1.5 General control of and judgment of dough development and timing

2. Extensibility - of course we know this needs to be balanced with elasticity, but a challenge for many is getting AND BEING ABLE TO APPROPRIATELY RESPOND TO/HANDLE a dough that has a fair amount of extensibility (which can be generated in a number of ways...not just by adding more water).

wally's picture

In general, a higher hydration dough offers greater potential for a good open crumb. However, world class bakers like Jeff Hamelman achieve it with comparatively low hydration - 66%- 68%. And that has everything to do with not overmixing, using folds to achieve gluten formation (see previous point), and, epecially, handling of the dough in shaping. Gentle is good, but with enough authority that the shaped loaf has some backbone.

tgrayson's picture

This. It's not really as hard as some make it out to be. I get a good, open structure with 65% hydration, so it doesn't even take a world-class baker.

mutantspace's picture

i generally do a gentle pre-shape and then proper shape with a relatively high hydration....if youre looking for irregular crumb you dont want to organise too much (wet hands and a light tough make all the difference. Ive realised its all confidence. Dough is more resilient than you think)  ...i also S+F  relatively late on in the bulk....but then as said above its practice and then more, find yourself a recipe you like and take notes....

just pne other thing...i think people are overly obsessed with open crumb. most important thing is taste..cant beat a loaf of tasty bread made by hand with 3 - 4 ingredients...

Evrenbingol's picture

I think the biggest problem is the amount of noise(data) that we have on the internet and books.
Bread is not a complicated process (not a rocket science, if you are a home baker you do not have to know what protease and amylase do unless you really want to understand autolyse and you do not need a thermometer or a ph meter and you certainly do not need to know what "Falling Number" is). I am professional baker and we keep logs of every single step of ph and temp, We calculate DDT and all that stuff. we have years of data to go back. So what I am saying is you can make it as complicated or as simple as you like.  

For home baker it requires one to know his/her environment really really well and a lot of practice.Thats about it.  

The most important things for  me are :


1) Stick to same brand of flours. 
This is like a basic science experiment, keep as much of the variables same. So if you adjust water or starter amount. You wont also question was that the same flour/ did it need more water ? It is hard to pick the right flour  when you are a beginner as well. Look for something around 10 to 11 % protein. And around 0.5 to 0.6 ash content(but if you do not know what that is do not worry about it)

2) Number of Times/how frequent Starter is feed.

Many people keep their starter in the fridge and not outside for a good reason. Unless you are a professional baker, you are not going to feed your starter daily.  And throw away a ton of flour everyday. 
Unfortunately this does affect the final product but not much. 

My method : Days before the mix I feed 20% seed to my starter at night and in the morning it becomes a ripe starter, most people add this to their dough. This is not ideal for me as it gives more acidic flavor to final product but more importantly it is not as healthy in the morning so I do another feed, This time %25 seed and it takes about 4:30/5 hours to be ready (young levain) 

2) Water amount vs Autolyse: When I said noise and data this is what I meant. You can make amazing bread 65% hydro with open crumb given your flour is right and your starter is fed correctly.  So what do we need? We need the dough to be extensible and there are 2 ways, plug in more water or autolyse. But if we plug in more water, we ll loose oven spring and volume. So Go with autolyse as a solution. After all, shaping wet dough is harder for most people. And one does not need to be macho about it. Have that as a starting point. 

So what you can do is when you feed the young levain and  you can also mix your dough to a shaggy mass in a separate bowl and leave it at room temp for 5 hours for both the levain to reach "young levain" stage and to fully hydrate the dough(autolyse). 

Add your salt, extra water if you need and mix lightly) 1 minute by had or so. You ll feel like you are breaking all that gluten strains that autolyse created. That is ok. 1 to 2 minute mix is enough. 

3) Bulk and Stretch and Folds. This is where things start to get complicated because practice comes handy and for a new baker knowing when the bulk fermentation completed is hard.  So a new bakers read books or search internet to understand but most people go by measuring the time to see if bulk is ready. Time is just a guide line. you need to understand and touch the dough. Maybe use a clear container so you can see what is going on inside the dough. 
So S&Fs do not only builds strength but also gives you a chance to see how the dough is doing.
I personally go for 6 hours on young levain with TWO gentle stretch. First one in 3 hours into bulk and next 2 hours after that. So I can determine it dough is ready.  So you do not need to S&F that many times. Most books say 4 to 8 folds, The more folds you give the denser your crumb will be. Keep in mind that professional bakers want to have open but even crumb.  For example Tartine says minimum mixing and more fold guarantees better volume and also allows open crumb. This is true. But you wont achieve that molten crumb by folding that much. Chad says that so you can build some gluten and dough is not tacky and you can shape it and give some volume. But if you need crazy crumb do not S&F that much. 

Bench rest/ Pre shape. This is basic light boule is great. That means just tighten the dough by rotating it and build surface tension but do not fold the dough to it self and build more strength. rest 30 mins AT LEAST. 

Final Shape. This is where you really see how that long autolyse pays off.  
One important thing is you should have a batard shaped basket and not bowl(bowl tends to be denser) And also it is better if you have elongated one
So pick this

Over this

First one gives more room to relax. 

I stitch the dough,

This allows me to control how tight I need to shape the dough. Also when I shape i only  grab and pull a thin layer of dough and do not pull the whole thing as If you are holding an hamburger. :) Be gentle
It is Sort of like in order to lift your arm with your other arm you can hold it from your wrist or you can pinch your skin and lift your arm that way.  Choose the latter, I do not know if this makes sense. 

4) Final Proof. There are ways to do this. Some do at room temp, some retard. At home I proof for 1 hour at room and 12 hour in the fridge. Since my bulk is long I keep proofing short. Also at 4C, I do not get much activity at home. 
At the bakery we use 49F at  82% humidity For 8 to 9 hours. We go straight to racks from shaping and in the morning straight to loader from racks. Also it is easer to score cold dough.  

I baked this at home for friends a few days ago, it had 18% young levain. 5 hour auto,6 hour bulk, 1 hour proof , 12 cold retard at 4(c) and bake directly from fridge. 

DanAyo's picture

Thanks Evren for taking the time to write such a detailed reply! I read it twice so far, and plan to reread it more.

I picked up a number of tips that I plan to implement in future bakes. Your advice on stretch and folds and shaping were of special interest to me. Your autolyse instructions also got my attention. I have plans to try lowering the hydration some and relying on an extended autolyse for  increasing extensibility.

I appreciate your input.


Portus's picture

Hi Evren.  Do you combine levain and autolysed dough at the same time as you add the salt (and extra water if needed)?  If so, is a 1 - 2 minute light hand mix followed by two SFs sufficient to fully disperse the levain?  I guess I am also asking if the open crumb is not partially consequent to air pockets created by small, residual lumps of levain. 

calneto's picture

Though I'm no master baker by any decent standards, I've had some limited success recently. Here is a picture of the crumb of loaf #103 (my usual recipe is 85% Le 5 Stagioni Superiore, 10% whole wheat, 5% rye/buckwheat and 20% levain. Final hydration is 80%):

I have read Trevor Wilson's book a couple of times and also think it is a great resource. Another reference that has helped me a lot was Kristen's fullproofbaking material. Both on youtube and on instagram. In fact, my best results came only after following her method. I have switched things around a bit and what I usually do now is a long refrigerated autolyse (overnight) and then a 5-6h bulk with hourly coil folds (total of 5, usually). My room temperature is 25-26C. After bulking, I refrigerate the dough for a couple of hours before shaping (no pre-shaping). I stopped doing the usual envelope shaping and embraced cinching, which helped me a lot. I then retard the dough in the banneton overnight and bake the morning after (25' with the lid on and then 20' with the lid off).

When I do not autolyse for at least 6h, I do 15' of Rubaud kneading with the levain and then an extra 5' when I add the salt, 30' after that.

jmoore's picture

... and it is: the lighting and the lens! 

I'm now quite convinced that the nice open crumbs we see on Instagram are a result of a sharp knife, a decent baker who has learned to make extensible dough and fully proof it, and a good photographer. 

I actually went to one of fullproofbaking's classes two months ago to test this hypothesis. Upon seeing her loafs in person and watching them be cut open, I don't think her crumb was necessarily any better than my high hydration loafs.



The Roadside Pie King's picture
The Roadside Pi...

For a beginner a very high hydration dough could actually be counter productive.  With the help of my friend Alan, better known as, Alfonso the baguette king. I am now able to achieve a very nice crumb with a 65% hydration, natrualy leavened dough. I strongly agree about the "noise" what works for one my not work for you. Get to know your conditions and tailor your procedure to your strengths.


calneto's picture

I'm actually surprised to hear that. I follow her on instagram and have yet to see a single failed loaf. Her video on youtube (where she shows her basic method) is also falwless.

I find it incredible how she manages to come up with loaf after loaf at such high hydrations and with a perfect crumb and ear. She usually shows both crust and crum on her pictures. No amount of photographic skill can alter that.

Aside from that, I also forgot to mention that I personally think that, if what you want is to bake 80% hydrated loaves, you should stick to it. It took me a long while to start baking decent loaves consistently, but I never bought into the idea that I should start with lower hydration and 'work my way up'. I never understood how mastering a 60% loaf would help me with handling an 80% one. That is also Trevor Wilson's advice: stick to the bread you want eventually to bake and keep at it. After all, it is all about practice. 

jmoore's picture

I'm not saying that Kristen does not make beautiful loafs with beautiful crumbs-- she does. 

I have made hundreds of these loafs, trying to get the most open crumb. I do get nice open crumbs and good looking loafs now, however they rarely look as good as the instagram photos. I think the main hurdle for me to produce Instagram loafs is the photography and lighting. 


albacore's picture

Kristen is great. She produces great looking loaves in the open crumb style. If you look closely at her crumb it is great with no hint  of Fools' Crumb, ie a mix of small and very large alveoli.

She is also a scientist and does some great experiments, eg different  bulk  % increases, and shares her knowledge freely.

I can approach her results, but never quite match them, but many will say that!


jmoore's picture

I totally agree.

jmoore's picture

I am skeptical bout some of the results people post on Instagram. I have had Chad Robertson's loafs at his bakery, and have also had Kristens loafs. IMO, they are not as impressive in person as what we see on Instagram.

I think that a lot of these bakers may make smaller 300-500g loafs for Instagram which will make the crumb **look** much bigger. Also a more elongated banneton will make the cross-section smaller and the crumb look bigger. 

albacore's picture

Also this is a good post regarding what to look for in a crumb, not just big holes.


calneto's picture

one thing that has me thinking lately is shaping. I was initially doing the standard envelope folding technique for shaping, but my loaves, while light, had tiny alveoli. I was suspicious this might be connected to the shaping and decided to switch to cinching (just the lateral folds and then a rolling motion at the end). I was wondering if any of you guys had a similiar experience. 

DanAyo's picture

Cal, take a look at this video by Kristen. Go to 13:00 for her shaping technique. She always handles the dough super gentle.

The entire video is very informative.

calneto's picture

I had seen the video many times. Like I said, I think she is one of the best bakers out there.

What I have been doing differently and has helped me is only shape cold dough. I usually let it sit for a couple of hours in the fridge before I shape it. My shaping now is along those lines. Trevor Wilson also has a few videos in which he shapes it like this.