The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

pale crusts, good crumb

Windischgirl's picture

pale crusts, good crumb

I'm having a challenge with getting nice dark crusts on the last few loaves I've made, from Dan Leader's Local Breads (French Country Boule; multigrain Pain au Levain).  My two oven thermometers are giving me about even readings, I've been steaming as directed (hot water, not ice cubes, as our freezer was out of commission), and after the designated bake time the internal temp of the loaves does come up to 205-210...plenty.  The internal crumb is lovely, once cooled.  I have continued to bake the loves past the done stage (10 min or so) without any appreciable change in color.

The only things I've done differently are moved the oven rack and baking stone to the middle of the oven--which is as the recipes direct, only I had been baking on the lowest rack up till now.  (the oven therms are on the same rack as the stone).  Oh...I have been trying out bags of Harvest King (bread) and Ceresota (AP) rather than my usual KA.

 Is the switch in flour brands, or the shift in oven rack, enough to throw off the browning?  Do I need to be more obsessive over oven temp (hard to see when my glasses steam up!)?




Phila, PA

Judon's picture

I also had pale crusts, with great flavor and beautiful open crumb using Jeffrey Hamelman's Pain au Levain. I had a bag of Hudson Cream short patent flour and decided to try a batch with it. The crust came out a rich dark mahogany and the flavor and crumb were the same...great.

That being said, there are other possibilities - my starter may have matured, my confidence level is rising, the summer heat may be effecting fermentation and proofing in a positive way.

I'm reluctant to experiment with other flours...maybe when the wonder of success wears off.


Oldcampcook's picture


Glad to see you have access to Hudson Cream.  My brother used to work in that mill years ago and he still brags on it.

I manage to con him into buying me some everytime he goes up to Wichita to see his grandkids.  It is not available down here in Oklahoma.

I like it very much.


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Is this a recipe you have made before with good results?  If so, I'd suspect the flour as being the big change.  Browning is the result of sugars in the crust caramelizing.  If you have long fermentations, all the fermentable sugars may be gone, and there are no sugars left to brown.

The fact that you baked it for 10 more minutes and it didn't get darker makes me think that the dough's sugars are exhausted.  Adding maltose (usually through milk, butter, or dry milk) will add non fermentable sugars which will brown.  Similarly, sweet breads will brown more than lean ones.  Also, adding a bit of diastatic malt extract can help. Many flours are pre-treated with malt.


Also, what temperature were you using to bake the breads.  I've seen a few people lately using rather low temperatures.  There are very few breads I'd bake at anything below 375, and 425 is increasingly common for me. 

Now then, if you haven't made the recipe before, and even if you have, remember that baking is a balancing act. You want the crust the right color at the same time as the crumb is as done as you want it.  I suggest using a chef's thermometer to measure the temperature of the crumb.  Shoot for about 205F as being done.  If you want the bread more, or less, done, shoot for a higher, or lower, temperature.

Now then.. the balancing act.  It takes time to bake the crumb.  It takes time for the oven's heat to penetrate the crumb.  If your crumb is underdone, you have to leave it in the oven longer.  If your crumb is overdone, you have to bake it less time next time around.

However, the crust is controlled more by the temperature than the time.  If you want a darker crust, turn the heat up 25F or so.  If you want a lighter crust, turn it down.  If the crust is getting too dark, cover it with foil and reduce the temperature the next time.

The catch is.. the two are related.  If you reduce the heat, you may have to increase the time.  Take notes, adjust as needed, and soon you'll bake bread that looks and tastes the way you want it to.

As a final comment - Professor Calvel always said you can't burn bread.  He wasn't quite right, but most people do underbake their bread.  Most of bread's taste is in the crust, and if its underdone, the taste doesn't develop.  So, try baking the bread 5 minutes longer than you thought you should. Taste it, try it.  See if maybe you want to go another 5 minutes next time.  A crust can become quite dark without being burned.  I usually encourage people to continue this process until there is no doubt they have gone too far.  Many are surprised at the changes to the flavor and wind up liking bread that is much darker than they thought they'd like it.


Hope that helps,



holds99's picture


Great stuff.  I know what you mean re: Prof. Calvel's statement.  To French bakers (and pastry chefs) dark "brown is beautiful".  Anyway, I thoroughly enjoy your postings and I'm still out here soaking them up.  As I said before, sure hope you're saving this stuff for a book you should write.

Howard - St. Augustine, FL

MaryinHammondsport's picture

I have had pale crust show up when the steaming pan had too much water in it and it steamed too long. It was a recipe I had made before with beautiful results, so at that point, I wondered if I had kept steam in the oven for too long. It's worth a try, if none of Mike's suggestions work. I suspect overfermentation and not enough sugar left, however. This also has happened to me once, so test that first.


Windischgirl's picture

I appreciate all your comments; Mike, I will hang onto your post and study your recommendations/technical explanations.  i really have the feeling it's the flour or something in the fermentaion process, and not the baking so much.

On tap today: Baguette normale, but formed into rolls for burgers.  Plus I think I am done with my errands for the day, so I should be able to monitor the rise more closely than I usually do.  With 3 kids, work, and a hubby who is constantly on the road, something is always interfering with my sticking to the typical recommendations for rising.  Esp. with the multigrain pain au levain...I was getting such a slow rise from the sourdough that I ran out of hours and had to stash it in the fridge.

The bagette normale calls for a relatively short ferment (straight dough formula) so this will be a test of whether it's the flour or the fermentation time.  Hopefully the Philly humidity doesn't do me in...the air is currently at 67% hydration...!


Philadelphia PA