The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why Open Crumb?

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Why Open Crumb?

My grandmother was a farmer's wife and she made bread many times a week to feed my grandfather and their 6 children.  They all worked hard and needed sustenance.  Bread was a constant staple for them.  Her bread was a sourdough made from a potato starter she kept under the sink.  It had a real tang to it and when my family visited them, we loved it (not to mention her molasses cookies).  Her bread was made for eating with butter and preserves and sandwiches later. It wasn't a brick but it was fairly dense.

Now there seems to be a trend towards open crumb bread.  Here I'm talking about bread that has large holes in it.  I don't get it.  If I change my recipe and I work at it, I can get bread with lots of big holes, but why?  It seems that many people go to extraordinary lengths -- lots of stretch and folds over long periods, high hydration, and complex techniques in shaping. In the end, they get bread with a very open crumb that is, in my opinion, not that useful except maybe for dipping in a sauce.  Instead of utility, it seems more like a badge of honor to get the greatest open crumb.

I mention this because, I think, some new home bakers may feel like they just aren't that good at making bread. They can't get that open crumb that is the "ideal".  Instead, I think the home bread-making community shouldn't focus on open crumb so much and talk about how to make bread that is just useful for everyday life.  It's not that complex to make a useful loaf for the family but it does take some knowledge and skill.  I've tried many variations in formulas and techniques, and without extraordinary measures, I still get a useful loaf.  The beauty of the simple ingredients in bread is that it is very tolerant of "mistakes" and still offers a nutritious and satisfying augment to our lives.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Amen!

The ability to produce extreme open crumb is a nice skillset to have. But as you’ve stated, large holes don’t make for the best eating bread. I worked very hard to learn this skill. But once accomplished, I found to need to explain (almost apologetically) for the huge holes when giving these types of breads to neighbors. The neighbors are not enamored by the giant holes.

Imo, Instagram has been a strong force for the promotion of this crumb. I do find open crumb artistic and visually beautiful, but of very little use apart from show bread. I admire the photos and honor the required skills to produce them...

Danny

pall.ecuador's picture
pall.ecuador

I started baking 20 years ago when I was 14.  I pulled out my mother's copy of Beard on Bread (who in retrospect seems more a commentary on toast than bread.)  I read about Tassajara Bread Book but never had a copy and then I bought Reinhart's Bread Baker's Apprentice (came out in 2001) and worked through it and learned about the wonder of pre-ferment and cold retards.  Most of my daily baking is more influenced by this than any other book.  Then I stared hearing about Tartine and Chad Robertson and how he was pushing the boundaries of baking. His book came out in 2010.  I think most of the people on instagram today have learned through this approach or a follower of it.  It is funny to kinda see the different "generations" of sourdough bread bakers and how people are continuing to test the limits and boundaries of our favorite grass. 

It seems that most of this board of people who have been on it for a long time probably learned before Tartine. I know I've integrated some of his techniques but I am more interested in Forkish and Hammelman.  

I can make an open crumb but I'd much rather have a bread I can make peanut butter and jelly with ;) or put tuna salad on without having to use a fork to eat it. 

I agree without you that many new bakers seem to be trying to get the biggest holes and they end up with crazy 80+% hydration and then don't understand when it doesn't work but there are too many variables to help them because they don't know what a "normal" loaf should feel like.  I think it would be good for someone who has time (I don't right now) to update the tutorial page here with some of the ideas post Tartine to help bring some of these new "younger" bakers into the (stretch and) fold ;)

dbazuin's picture
dbazuin

This is the bread Inbake for daily use. 
I agree it is fun to accomplish that open crum but not very usefull for a daily lunch. 

gary.turner's picture
gary.turner

Now that, my friend, is how a loaf ought to look.

g

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Perfect crumb, at least for me.  Smear some pesto on that and I'm in heaven.

lloydrm's picture
lloydrm

I've seen this in many other areas. From cooking to gardening to detailing to shaving. An amazing looking picture of something that is hard to get and everyone goes after it as an ideal, forgetting what brought us here and what we are after in the first place. (fluffy/styrofoam-ish waffles and pancakes come to mind). 

If big wholes on your bread is your thing, then do that, but let's not set it as the standard to "good bread", "good technique" or "ideal bread". There is a website that is all about bread with big wholes and youtube videos of the how to's. I don't get it, but if people like it that is fine by me. But please don't expect everyone else to follow that route (artisan bakers: please don't forget about the rest of us). 

ciabatta's picture
ciabatta

we're in the age of aesthetics.   everything has to be instagram worthy.  For sure, there is a trend/obsessions with big ears and open crumb.  I disagree that bread's "utility" is measures by how well it makes a sandwich.  There was a time before the invention of sliced bread, where it was just eaten in whatever way along with your meal. To me, great bread comes in all shapes and textures.

* a consistent whole grain sliced sandwich bread that is wholesome and flavorful (not the cardboard we sometimes get that's a vehicle to hold whatever goes inside a sandwich)

* hokkaido milk bread made with tangzhong so light and soft that it is literally a cloud

* a french baguette so crispy and crackly i don't even notice the crumb inside

* a well made ciabatta with light moist crumb that is gelatinized that is bounces back when you tear it or bite into it.

* a slice of nutty rye bread that is the base of smorrebrod 

*and lastly an open crumb sourdough with it's simple 3 ingredients with some effort (perhaps a lot of effort) transforms itself into something bigger and more than what you started with.

StephanieB's picture
StephanieB

Oh man that last paragraph was me to a T. I only started baking bread about 4 years ago, in the age of large, irregular crumbs that are still trendy. My very first (terrible) loaves were attempts at Tartine bread, and in general I found the whole thing pretty unapproachable. It actually put me off baking bread for a couple years; it was the only kind of bread I saw people baking and I just assumed I was bad at bread. Then a friend told me to try Bread Baker's Apprentice instead, which doesn't really lean towards the open crumb in most recipes. Once I got more of a feel for bread in general, I went back to try Tartine-style breads (from The Perfect Loaf blog, I hadn't forgiven Tartine for what I perceived as leading me astray). I have to admit, that gelatinization in the open crumb catches the light in an appealing way. 

Regardless of trends, I like having the skill to make any kind of bread I want, from dense rye rugbrod to open, Tartine style loaves. Most commonly I use bread as a platform for something, and I don't like that something to fall through onto my hands. But every now and then a tartine style loaf (or similar like ciabatta, pain l'ancienne, etc) is nice for dipping so it's a nice feather to have in your cap. I think Trevor Wilson's explanation of a "honeycomb" crumb is my happy medium. Of course now I almost always bake all whole grain loaves, and I'm not sure the trendy crumb is even possible-I certainly don't see much 100% whole grain on instagram!

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Stephanie, Trevor’s lacey honeycomb crumb style is my ideal of perfection. I have tried for the best part of a year to find a baker that is proficient in this type of crumb to be featured in a Community Bake. But so far, I’ve found none.

I foresee honeycomb crumb as the next Instagram fade. At least I hope this is the case. It is beautiful and utilitarian. But it seems very difficult to bake on a consistent basis. 

Here is my pin up :D


Please see this link for visuals.
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/62165/community-bake-i-have-idea

Danny

StephanieB's picture
StephanieB

Yes! It's the best texture/feel in my opinion. I've actually been craving a loaf and want to try my hand at it again but I still haven't seen bread flour back on the shelves! (imagine that single tear emoji here). Have you tried it with AP? And that is a hell of a loaf, beautiful!

Benito's picture
Benito

That really is perfection in crumb.

enespana's picture
enespana

I learned sourdough from a local baker’s workshop. She preferred a less open crumb. Most of the bread I bake is good for sandwiches. I hope to one day learn some other styles but found a pretty good routine that works for me and impresses friends and family, not instagram followers.  :)

The Almighty Loaf's picture
The Almighty Loaf

I think much of the open crumb craze comes from 1. a desire to acheive "perfection" in the form of a hard-to-obtain open crumb and 2. a desire to distance oneself from "supermarket bread", where a tighter crumb is easier to manufacture for mass production. To be fair, open crumbs do have a very distinct almost crepe-like mouthfeel that I find really appealing and, because the openness is usually a result of minimal kneading, there is less flavor loss via oxidation. And short loaves like baguettes and ciabattas can indeed be made into wonderful sandwiches if you cut them in half parallel to the table, thereby containing the sandwich contents within a crispy crust. 

Still, tight crumbs don't get enough respect and we certainly shouldn't be judging people for not obtaining the "perfect", open crumb. All crumbs can be amazing if done right.

Colin2's picture
Colin2

Yes!  There are unique flavor and texture effects you can get with crusty, open-crumb breads like Reinhart's Pain a l'Ancienne.  I'll occasionally do them for dinners where they can be dipped in stuff.  But my daily loaf is close-grained and feathery and makes toast with a good spreading surface.

MTloaf's picture
MTloaf

The holes are where the flavor is, not the actual air part but the glistening walls. At least thats what I tell myself. The eye appeal says it all. The sight of an open crumb is like a Hubble telescope view of the cosmos. The people who can do that consistently have my respect. Good crumb on a pan loaf is just as appealing when the fermentation and hydration is spot on.

Yes, many have fallen in the Tartine quest for holes and moved on, myself included but the basic method is what still works for me and is not in any way a radical method for making good bread. 

The biggest difference in the first and second edition of Hammelman's Bread book is that he upped the hydration because he underestimated the bakers ability to handle more water in the first edition. Many other bakers recipes do the same so that is a more manageable dough. Finding the ideal hydration is where the "feel" comes in and it is not a hard fast number. That is the goal for me anyway.

Maybe I am more discerning but I haven't found too many recipes that are tolerant of mistakes, at least the mistakes I bake. Sure, some are more reliable but they are even better when well executed.

Most of the problems people seems to be asking for help with are fermentation issues and not the amount of water they are trying to handle.

Fun discussion.  I agree with all of the comments, to each his own.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

After all....air has no calories.

Just kidding on that one. Each type of bread serves its purpose. The gel-like,shiny bubble walls of a good, lean large holed bread are nirvana, if properly fermented and you want more texture than crumb. OTOH, a really properly fermented WW loaf with a fine crumb texture can be as tasty as a glass of fine wine.Hokkaido milk bread or a good brioche? Soft, tender or buttery heaven.

I guess I love it all!

PeterS's picture
PeterS

I was taught it's the Crust to Crumb ratio.  Baguettes, and the like, with airy crumbs have a high crust to crumb ratio which maximizes the flavors due to Maillard reactions, carmelization, etc.

LeonK's picture
LeonK

I agree with the majority of views here. I've tried all these 'fancy' breads at one time or another - they're OK if you like a bit of a challenge but in general I prefer a tighter crumb that's perfect for sandwiches & toast. I bake for all of my family & that's what they want too. I agree that some of these big-holed breads with ears look very attractive but in the end bread, in my opinion, is for eating rather than looking at.