The Fresh Loaf

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Alveoli Distribution and Size in Crumb - Questions

nchen25's picture

Alveoli Distribution and Size in Crumb - Questions

Hello all! Decided to stop lurking and finally post...

So I've been baking for about 6 months now with a starter that i made from scratch and I think I've made some decent progress with understanding degree of proof and fermentation- and I think I've gotten the hang or at least making sure that my dough is fully fermented before baking. Doing that though, I've found that while my crumb got more even and airier overall, the alveoli definitely got significantly smaller. While I'm not displeased with the texture of the crumb, I'm looking for some advice and thoughts on what one can do to make the holes that are already there a bit larger and open. My feeling is that I might be pushing the bulk just a bit too much towards overproofed, and I might just have to switch out the flour I'm using currently. Thanks!



Levain (11 hour maturity, 100% Hydration):

Fed 1:4:4 Mature starter:Flour (half dark rye, half AP):Water



100% High Extraction Bread Flour from Farmer Ground Flour

78% Water

20% Levain

2% Salt


Mixed all at once (no autolyse), Rubaud kneaded to develop some gluten (5min mix, rest for 20 mins, 5 min mix)

Bulk ferment at 76F for 4 hours (stretch and folded at 30 mins, 60 mins, 120 mins, 180 mins)

Preshaped dough, bench rest 20 mins, final shape into a batard, and retarded in fridge for 18 hours.

Preheat oven and Dutch Oven to 550F, loaded dough, bake covered at 475F for 20 mins, remove lid bake at 465F for 20 mins.


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

While I am far from an authority, I think this is a very, very nice result for 1/2 WW bread. Now I must run and google the new term/word you though out there. Smile......Bake healthy live long!


Eureka! I think I found a new signature! 

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

I think we may have a doctor in the house. Welcome to the forum!

hreik's picture


calneto's picture


I have been baking also for about the same time as you. If I understand correctly, you think that your alveoli have decreased in size during these months. I have been feeling the same way about my loaves.

Here is loaf #33, from Feb. 17th (72% hydration):

while here is a more recent result, loaf #74 from Apr. 24th (75% hydration):

I usually put 10-15% whole grain flour and sometimes a bit rye or buckwheat flour.

One thing that did happen between these shots is that I laced my starter with another much more potent one. I guess this basically turned my young starter into a more mature one (the other starter was around 3 years old).

I was bulking for a long time with my original starter, around 5h and basically kept doing so. Maybe this is the source of the problem.

I made a loaf today (it is proofing in the fridge now), but it contains 30% spelt, so I am not sure if it's going to be easy to compare. I decided to cut my bulk to 4h in room temperature, which here in Rio, Brazil is rather high. It bulked for 26C (79F) for most of the time. Only after 3h30 I put it in the fridge for 30 minutes and it came out at 23C (73F).

I also use 20% starter hydrated at 100%, but usually 50% whole grain. 



nchen25's picture

Yes, I've definitely went from sort of large haphazard hole crumb structure like your earlier loaves to something closer to your recent ones (which look really nice, by the way!). It really is a result of the starter's cultures settling in and a mixture of our own development at handling and judging the proof of our loaves. Of course I say that as I overproofed the heck out of a dough yesterday, leading to a pretty flat bake... I think it was a combo of some extra rye flour and under-measuring my salt.

I would also imagine the humidity in Rio would be quite high at this time of year as well? I've been trying to do all my bulk proofing in a proofing box at 80%+ humidity since right now we're in that awkward period in New York City where it's warm enough for the apartments to turn off heating, but not warm enough that the ambient temperatures are just a few degrees lower than ideal for proofing on the counter!

calneto's picture

Yes, we have an 88% relative humidity right now, according to google. It is never below 70%, according to some other internet source.

Rio is hot and humid all year around. The coldest it usually gets in wintertime is around 15C.

mutantspace's picture

looks beautiful and lacy to me....personally im not all into competing for the largest holes for a start theyre no good for sandwiches...a soft chewy tasty texture is what your looking for but then thats me. both your breads look well fermented and delicious.

nchen25's picture

I didn't want to make it sound like I was disappointed with this loaf- quite the opposite! Now that I can fairly consistently mix, proof and bake loaves similar to this on a work weeknight basis it's a fairly exciting thing. It's a lovely workhorse recipe, in both making and consumption. Mostly it's just my curiosity in pursuing more openness in the crumb.


MTloaf's picture

You might try the autolyse period to help with extensibility and skipping the last fold if it seems strong enough by then. The proof was good and the bread looks delicious. 

nchen25's picture

Mostly the lack of autolyse is for time saving- this is a recipe I typically start at around 6pm after I get home from work, and so I can still go to bed at a decent time when the bulk ferment finishes! I definitely have done a few goes with this recipe on days off with some autolyse ranging from 30 mins to 2 hours, just flour and water. I'm not entirely sure it's made a huge difference, but it's definitely easier to mix together.

Here's a loaf I did about a week ago with a 2 hour autolyse before following the same steps and timings as my most recent bread- still well fermented, but I'm not entirely convinced that autolyse makes a tremendous difference for this specific dough. Other times I've done autolyse has netted relatively similar results. I wonder if it's because of the whole-grainish nature of the high extraction bread flour.

Baron d'Apcher's picture
Baron d'Apcher

I use Farmer Ground Flour and my professional baker acquaintances have suggested that there may be slight variables in the flour based on when it was ground and that too fresh of flour might affect the hydration.

I do 50/50 Hi-ex/AP as the 100% hi-ex was giving me denser results with a tighter crumb.  I've had best results with a lively starter (hi-ex/ww/rye), 2% malted barley syrup, 74F dough temp and 3.5 hrs bulk ferment in an 82F proofing box.

Users of FGF might warrant a thread.  It is delightful to use, but much different than conventional flour.

nchen25's picture

And it seems to have made a bit of a difference. I simply used pretty much the same recipe and timings as my initial post, except with the following changes:

  • 15% levain instead of 20%
  • Bumped up the hydration to 80%
  • Gave it maybe an extra fold immediately after mixing due to the slacker nature of the dough,
  • Left it in the fridge for 20 hours

...and I got a much more wilder and crazy crumb with this loaf (though I definitely could have left it alone for another half hour before cutting into it). My main thought was that maybe I was pushing bulk just too far considering that the FGF high extraction probably was accelerating fermentation a bit, much like when I throw in a bit of rye into my flour mix. Also, my starter is about 70/30 AP and rye flour, so it's plenty active (doubles in about 4-5 hours), perhaps maybe a bit too much so, and I can kind of see it getting out of hand in a dough situation... This would probably be compounded by the long period of retarding the loaf, leading to tighter, but still fermented crumb. 

Anyways, more experiments with "younger" dough to be had!

calneto's picture

The times I've tried 80% hydration, the crumb was not that much better. My last loaf had a decent crumb. I have kept it at 75%, since I'm using a Brazilian flour and not the stronger Le 5 Stagioni I sometimes have at hand. 

The alveoli are still not very large, but I find that there was some improvement:

Tomorrow I'll go for a multi-seed loaf, also with 75% hydration (I soaked the seeds in 150% water, to the point where no water was left over). 

With this loaf, I did a 20' bench rest, which I usually skip. I also try a different shaping style, that 'no name method' or 'fold and roll' that Trevor Wilson has been performing of late.

nchen25's picture

I would be very happy with those results especially at 75% hydration! I've been a big fan of the fold and roll (cinching, I believe) shaping method as of late, great for middle of the road hydration doughs. The flour I've been using seems to be relatively tame to shape this way even at 80% hydration. 

BakersRoom's picture

I've been on this quest for a while now: the ability to control the size of my 'alveoli'. I think you're on the right track. Bulk proof for less time.  I'm currently Bulk proofing my 80% hydration loaves at 75 degrees for 2 hrs 30 min. with a 12% innoculation.  Because you're using high extraction flour, which as I understand is basically the whole wheat without the bran, your fermentation time will be faster than that.  I would say for a wild crumb, try 2 hours at that innoculation, or decrease the innoculation, and go for the standard 3.5 hours.  

I'm still experimenting myself, or I'd tell you which way I like better.  Keep us posted. 

nchen25's picture

It's been a bit of busy work week for me, so I haven't been able to time out my bakes all too well. The following loaf was initially intended to have a 18 hour retard, but it sat in the fridge just a bit longer at almost 24 hours. Sticking with the 100% FGF high extraction flour,  80% hydration,15% levain, 2% salt dough mix, mixing everything at once with no autolyse. I bulk fermented this one for 3.5 hours at 76F (folding at 30/60/90/150 mins) with a short 20 min bench rest. I also shaped with via cinching and was nice and taut when I loaded it into the banneton for the final proof in the fridge.

The crumb was even and had tons of small sized alveoli, and the shape of the loaf slumped and spread out a little like my typical soupy overproofed loaves, but not all too much. So I'm hedging my bets that this one definitely hit the point where it was getting to be overproofed. Despite that, I'm pretty happy with the results of reducing the levain inoculation, it seems like my starter can handle that now and still manage to get a loaf of bread risen. Might push that lower but I'll keep messing about with the fermentation on this specific dough mix first.