The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Boule Uneven Crumb

schollen's picture

Sourdough Boule Uneven Crumb

I have been baking on and off for ~3 years. I typically bake a sourdough boule 2-3 times a month. The bread tastes great but I have always struggled to create an even crumb throughout the bread. I used to believe it had to do with my proof time, but i have tried varying it both long and shorter with not a whole lot of improvement. The trouble is that the outside of my loaf has an open airy crumb, while the middle is a bit denser.



1. feed starter twice over 24 hours after bringing out of fridge.

2. combine starter and other ingredients except salt and autolyse for 30 minutes.

3. quick hand kneed for ~2-3 minutes 

4. stretch and fold every 30-45 minutes for next 3 hours

5. final stretch and fold out of bowl, and initial rough shaping

6. tension top of dough and place in proofing basket

7. proof for 3+ hours

8. bake in dutch oven

    8.1. 20 minutes with lid on at 500 f

    8.2. 20 minutes with lid off at 425 f

Below is a photo from my most recent load, the sliced piece was from the outside and is much more open.


I let this loaf proof a bit longer than the last which had more oven spring but the inside looked nearly identical. Sorry no inside photos of the last loaf.

Any thoughts?





idaveindy's picture

Beautiful loaf.  

my wild-donkey-guess...  too many stretch and folds up until the end of the bulk ferment.  Do just three, 30 min apart, and then let sit undisturbed for the final 1.5 hours of that first ferment.

Then, at the end of that ferment, when you take it out of the bowl, before you shape, do not _stretch_ and fold, just do the "letter fold" (as per Robertson's Tartine method) without stretching any further than needed to make a fold. I think Forkish has this final letter-fold in one of his youtube videos, or if you have Tartine Bread, or Tartine No. 3, the in-process phots are in those books.

My guess is that your "extra" working of the dough, in the second half of the bulk ferment, right up to the pre-shape, is essentially "de-gassing" the dough mass. And only the outer portions of the dough mass, along the sides, are getting the yeasty CO2 boost from that oven heat, right before they die off due to increased temp.

So next time, try to work the dough less, but keep the rest the same.

If that doesn't improve things, or only improves a little, then the time after that, try the same bit (working the dough less, degassing less) but also _making_ more CO2, by increasing the time and/or temperature of the bulk ferment and the final ferment, or final fermenting 8-18 hours in the fridge.

But I'm more confident  in saying that you are probably overworking the dough and degassing it, especially if that last stretch and fold before shaping is not just a letter fold.

Heck, slap-and-fold the heck out of it, as long as that is before the bulk ferment.  But after 90 minutes of bulk ferment, no more _stretching_, just one final "letter fold" before shaping.

If you don't have opportunity or time to increase the time and temp of the ferments, then you can make more CO2 by increasing the percentage of the starter in relation to total weight.


idaveindy's picture

40 minutes might be too quick for that size of loaf, 1kg dough. You _might_ get better oven spring, and therefore bigger holes, with a longer bake at lower temp.

500 degrees is a fine start for a mostly whole grain bread, but since you are at 70% white flour, 450 is recommended by Robertson.

So for the two test bakes I suggest above, I would suggest also adding in this:

1. pre-heat oven and dutch oven to 490. 

2. load up DO and into the oven.

3. Immediately turn down oven setting to 450.

4. bake covered at 450 setting for 15 minutes.

5. bake covered at 425 for 15 minutes more.

6. take off lid and bake uncovered at 400 for 15-25 minutes.

7. At 45 minutes total bake time , Take internal temp, and keep baking uncovered at 400 until internal temp is 207 to 210, or until crust is darkened to your preference.   If crust is too dark and internal temp is still not at least 207, then you'll need to lower temps in steps 5 and 6, and bake longer next time. If it's 208 inside, and crust is not dark enough, increase the temps in steps 5 & 6 next time.


looking at the pics, you have good oven spring, even while you don't have big holes, so that's why I'm thinking it's a matter of either not making enough CO2 during ther ferments, or you're losing the bulk ferment gas during too much working of the dough.

if you can, add some "slap and folds" or a few more minutes of kneading before the bulk ferment, to develop some gluten very early on. That will also help you retain gas in the dough, and help with bigger holes in the final loaf.

Theae are all guesses on my part. YMMV. Good luck. Your bread looks delicious as is, so you're doing great.


idaveindy's picture

Just noticed that the darkish/blackish bottom of the boule may indicate baking at too high a temp, or ....

the bottom of the DO is getting too much radiant heat from the lower oven element.

Two solutions:  

a) lower temp, longer time as suggested above.


b) put the dutch oven on a rack anywhere above the lowest rack slot, proabably where you normally put it, and put a cookie sheet or roasting pan on a rack below where the dutch oven is. Do not set the DO directly on the sheet/pan.  This blocks the dutch oven from getting direct radiant heat from the lower oven heating element.  Use a sheet/pan large enough so that no part of the lower heating element can "see" the _bottom_ of the dutch oven.

Without this block, the bottom of the loaf is exposed to higher temps than the top  side, as the bottom gets direct radiation.  This may mean a longer bake, but it will be a more even bake, top to bottom. And you can get your internal temp where you want it without blackening the bottom of the boule.

OldLoaf's picture

I would double check your bulk ferment time.  You have 3 hours in your post (actually 3.5 since you add your starter to your autolyse).  Seems a bit short on time, unless your kitchen is on the very warm side.

Might be how your handling your do also.  Maybe a little too rough, knocking out the gas possibly?

I actually do more stretch and folds and the dough comes to very nice.  1 set S&F every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours, then 1 an hour for the next 3 (5 hours total).  Plus one last s&f to get it out of the bowl.  My BF’s are typically 5-6 hours at ~50% Increase @77F with 1.8kg dough.

I usually retard my proofs for 12-14 hours so I won’t be much help there.

For the burnt bottom you could either try raising the shelf up one slot, or try sprinkling cornmeal in the bottom of the DO before you place the dough in.  Parchment paper has worked for me also.

Let us know what steps you take….


schollen's picture

Thanks idaveindy and OldLoaf for the quick responses, and sorry for the delayed reply. Its been a busy week. A few thoughts on your comments, and an update on a new loaf:

1. I am always a bit confused on the amount of kneading / gluten formation that is needed in making bread. Some recipes call for no kneading while others call for all of it near the beginning and some throughout. Even the two of your methods seem to be different in terms of the number of s&f's and I assume both of you achieve great results. My guess is that the amount you work the bread makes more subtle differences? There seems to be just as much art to this as there is science...Regardless the general trend seems to be minimal kneading an light s&f's over the BF

2. I like the idea of a tray underneath the DO. I just moved into a new place, and therefor am working with a new oven. I didnt used to get such black bottoms. The oven may not be hotteror at least the bottom of the oven may be hotter resulting in a lot of radiation. 

3. OldLoaf, i do already use parchment paper (i lower the loaf into the DO with some parchment paper) by i may try some cornmeal as an additional buffer if the tray does not help.


OK, on to my latest loaf. I started this loaf about the same time i made my last post earlier this week. It wasnt designed to solve any of the problems of uneven crumb, rather i wanted to impart more sour flavor. I keep my starter all white flour (im thinking this is a mistake) because i make pizza dough from it as well. I usually just feed my starter, then take some off the fed starter to make bread. This time i changed two things (i know i know)

1. to make the dough more sour, i wanted to make a levain / preferment / whatever you want to call it with a very small amount of starter, 20g, and the proper ratios of wheat and white for the bread, 15g, and 60g. The idea being starting with a smaller amount of starter so that the rise was slower form more acid, and have some wheat flour in there so that more bacterial growth for sour flavor.

2. because of time constraints, i proofed the bread in the fridge. this is something i do about half the time and usually results in the same uneven crumb. except this time im in a different house with a different fridge, with what i now know has a 3-4 deg warmer temp, ~42 f. 

3. i also scored the bread differently...just to change it up (could this effect things?!?!)

Other than that the process was fairly similar. 2 minute knead, s&f's at 30 minute intervals. 1 s&f out of the bowl 10 min before shape and proof basket.

When i took the dough out of the fridge about an hour before i put it in the oven. From visually inspection, it had not risen nearly as much as my prior loaf. I used the same baking times as the previous loaf (i hadnt read feedback yet), although i took out a couple minutes early because it was already at 211 degrees...oops.

The results were great, lots of oven spring, and while the crumb was not super open, it was even throughout. Oh and it was more sour, so that also worked.

Couple thoughts:

1. Perhaps ive been over/underproofing this whole time. Over proofing when proofing outside fridge, and underproofing when in fridge.

2. I find it difficult to gauge when the bread is properly proofed. I find the poke test very difficult to gauge. Even when i know ive overproofed there is still some spring back from poke test. I guess there are very subtle differences.

3. I think my proofing basket is too small for my loaf. it is rated at 1.5 to 2 lb, and im making a 2.2 lb loaf. My latest loaf was very hemi-spherical. Could this effect co2 formation in the dough and oven spring?

4. Why is bread so finicky!?!?!?!


Thanks so much for all of your feedback.


schollen's picture

Bread from the back side so you can see how i hemispherical it is.