An open crumb breakthrough
I just had a significant breakthrough in my quest for an open crumb, Tartine style of boule. I have been pursuing this for about two years now, and once in a while I get a nice open crumb, but usually not. And for the last year, it has been a tight crumb interspersed with big holes. See first crumb pic. The oven spring would be great, the scores would open nicely, and with great anticipation I would cut it open to find the same - loaf after loaf. Tight crumb with big holes. For the longest time I thought the problem was not a lack of gas, but a distribution problem. If only I could get the gas in the big holes more evenly distributed, I might have an open crumb. I thought it must be my shaping method. Maybe I was trapping big pockets of air. So I changed my shaping methods, but it didn't help. What in the world could I be doing wrong?
Then I bought "Open Crumb Mastery" by Trevor Wilson. Man this book is crack for a sourdough bread freak! And in amongst all the other jewels of knowledge came this:
"Fail to fully develop your dough during bulk and you can kiss that open crumb goodbye."
"You see, the point at which we shape is also the point at which the structure of the dough is set into place. And at this crucial point, if your dough doesn't have good structure then it won't have good crumb. Structure is not exactly the same thing as gluten development, but it does require fully formed gluten in order to form a good structure."
This hit me like a bolt of lightning. I had not been careful to get a good rise (30-50%) in bulk rise. As per Tartine Bread book, I turned the dough at 30, 30, 30, 30 minutes, then let it sit for one hour untouched before scaling and dividing. There was rarely any visible rise at the end of this, but I was not concerned. I still had the final proof to do, and I could and would make it up then.
And THAT was my mistake. I was sure of it. Because I had often started the final proof at room temperature for a few hours to ensure I had good rise by the time it came to take them out of the fridge to bake. But no matter how much rise they would get in the final proof, it never seemed to result in anything but a tight crumb with big holes.
So out from the fridge came my starter, and I got it in shape for a batch of bread. I changed my turning schedule to 30, 30, 45, 45, and then 90 minutes untouched before scaling. This resulted in an obviously more "puffy" dough, and I estimated about a 50% rise in bulk. Loaves were shaped and final proofed in the fridge for 10 hours. In that time they didn't seem to rise any further, though they likely produced a lot more gas. It just didn't show because they were cold and it was compressed.
After two years of chasing, it was pretty satisfying to cut open the loaf and see the crumb in the second crumb pic. The crust is thin and crispy, and the overall taste of the loaf much improved. I am very pleased. I have done another batch since this one with the same good results.
I just thought I would pass this on in case anyone else is stuck in the same rut that I was for so long. Thank you Trevor!
Sorry for the mixed up order of pics. I still can't figure out how to reorder, or upload them in the order I want.