The Fresh Loaf

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dmsnyder's picture

Achieving a thin, crackled crust has been a frustrating pursuit for many, myself included. I have been able to get it, sometimes, but not consistently. There have been numerous discussions of how to get that crackly crust. I've been slowly digesting what's been written, and I think I may have arrived at a reliable method, at least for my breads, my dough handling and my oven.

The basic principles

The crust crackles during cooling because the interior of the bread contracts as it cools, and the crust is too dry to absorb water vapor which is trying to migrate outward and too rigid to contract with the crumb.

In order to optimize oven spring, bloom, crust shine and crust thickness when baking hearth breads, it is necessary to have a moist environment for the first part of the bake. Keeping the surface of the bread moist delays hardening of the crust, so it is extensible enough to expand with oven spring and permit a nice blooming of the scoring cuts.

Thus, it is desirable to have a humid oven for the first part of the bake but a dry oven for the last part of the bake.

Convection ovens, by increasing hot air circulation, tend to dry the surface of whatever is cooking. That's nice for crisping chicken skin, but it is counter-productive for keeping the bread surface moist early in the bake. On the other hand, convection baking helps dry the loaf surface, as is desirable during the last part of the bake. Convection ovens made for bakeries solve this problem by injecting steam under pressure over a time period under control by the baker. The home baker can achieve something like this by covering the loaves or using a cloche for the first part of the bake. The cover protects the loaf from excessive water evaporation, even in a convection oven. When the cover is removed, the crust can be dried, and a convection oven can presumably achieve this better than a conventional oven.

Allowing the loaf to sit on the baking stone with the oven turned off and the door ajar can achieve additional crust drying, but it may be that a less gradual cooling results in faster contraction of the cooling crumb and greater likelihood of crust crackling, according to some.

The protein content of the flour used and the inclusion of other ingredients that increase water retention, for example, potatoes or soakers, may also have an impact. These factors may impact both the degree to which the crumb contracts and the difficulty of drying the crust, and both of these would inhibit crackle development. If so, crackles should be easiest to achieve in a straight bread dough made with lower protein flour. Indeed, the bread most associated with a thin, crackly crust is baguette, which meets these conditions.

The principles applied

My oven is made by KitchenAid and has both convection and conventional baking options. This provides me with the opportunity to apply the principles discussed above.

I baked two breads yesterday and today with these principles in mind. The first was one I've baked dozens of times, my San Joaquin Sourdough. The second was one I had not baked before, the Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain from Hamelman's Bread. Both breads had 20% pre-fermented flour in the form of a 125% hydration starter fed with a mix of 70% AP, 20% WW and 10% whole rye flour.

The San Joaquin Sourdough was made with KAF AP and 10% KAF Medium Rye flours. The dough was 72% hydration. The loaves were scaled to 480 gms and shaped as bâtards. The Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain was made with KAF Bread Flour and 15% KAF Medium Rye Flour. The dough was 65% hydration. The loaves were scaled to 810 gms and shaped as boules.

For both bakes, the oven was pre-heated to 500ºF on convection bake for 60 minutes, with a baking stone on the middle shelf, pushed to the left, and a 7 inch cast iron skillet filled with lava rocks at the right front of the lower shelf. The oven was pre-steamed by pouring about 1/3 cup of boiling water over the lava rocks. The loaves were then transferred to a peel, scored and loaded onto the stone. Another ½ cup of water was poured over the lava rocks and the oven door quickly closed. The oven was immediately turned down to 460ºF, conventional bake.

San Joaquin Sourdough Bâtards

Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain from Hamelman's "Bread"

For the San Joaquin sourdough, the skillet was removed from the oven after 12 minutes, and the temperature was reset to 440ºF, convection bake. After another 18 minutes, the oven was turned off, and the loaves were left on the stone with the oven door ajar for another 7 minutes before being transferred to a cooling rack. The loaves commenced “singing” immediately and exceptionally loudly. By time they were cooled, they had developed many crust crackles, as pictured.

Crackly Crust on San Joaquin Sourdough

For the Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain, the skillet was removed after 15 minutes, and the oven was re-set to 435ºF, convection bake. The loaves were baked for an additional 25 minutes. Then, the oven was turned off, and the loaves were left on the stone with the oven door ajar for another 7 minutes before being transferred to a cooling rack. The loaves were already singing when I took them out of the oven, and, to my delight, there were already a few crackles. I had never before seen crackles develop before a loaf was cooled out of the oven. More lovely crackles appeared as the loaves cooled.

Crackles in crust of Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Grain, right out of the oven

More crackles appeared as the loaves cooled

And more ...

And yet more crackles


While two bakes is not sufficient to completely establish that the method described will reliably produce a crackled crust with all hearth breads, or even these, every time, this experience certainly supports my current understanding of the mechanisms involved and suggests the possibility that other bakes and other bakers might achieve similar results by applying these techniques.

I'd be happy if others would give this a try and share their experience.



jennyloh's picture

Baked 2 different breads, taking up the Hamelman's challenge, one quite successful and the other,  just had too many mistakes.  You will understand what I mean when you look at the pictures.


Cheese Bread with quite a bit of modification to the recipe.  Great oven spring, still learning to score to get the ears.  Not enough cheese,  quite an open crumb,  thin crust,  and 100% sourdough only.   check out the details here.



Flaxseed Bread - too many mistakes here,  and this didn't turn out well at all.  Taste was ok, but it was dense and it didn't have much oven spring.  


1.    This was my 3rd loaf (not counting my other bakes like muffins and flatbread) on a weekend,  and its one of the more difficult ones.   2.    Warm water for the flaxseed.  My water was still warm when I added into the flax seed.  I think that creates the gluey form more. 3.    Use of olive oil to handle the dough, the smell and taste doesn't seem to go together 4.    Brushing with butter - it made the rolls soft,  and not at all what I was hoping for. 5.    Shaping my rolls created a hole in the roll,  should have done better than that. 6.    Not allowing time for the dough to rise properly. 7.    I don't think I baked long enough or I didn't let it cool properly before I kept it,  as it turned moldy after 5 days.  

Well,  I still have  a lot to learn. 


Mebake's picture

This is a sourdough version of Peter Reinhart's 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Loaf from his book: Whole grain breads. I spiked it by 2.25 Teaspoons of instant yeast.

The crust was soft due to the presence of Milk, and butter, but the crumb was light soft, and even textured.

I used only Waitrose Organic Strong bread flour with 13.9g of protein. I also baked this bread under a pyrex cover in a grill oven, 30 min. covered, and 15 minutes uncovered.

The taste, well, it was somewhat salty (I HAVE TO STOP USEING SEA SALT! i can't figure out how much is enough in a formula(in this bread it was somewhat salty coz i doubled the amount of salt, knowing that sea salt isn't as efficient as refined salt.) It had a faint acidic taste from the levain (50% of the total dough weight), but was pleasant overall.

I learned something very important here: Always increase hydration with PR's wholegrain breads recipes, from 70% to 75%, as peter apparently prefers tighter crumbed wholegrain breads.

Another thing: Never take shortcuts with wholegrains, as this will adversely effect the resulting flavor. I didn't prepare a soaker with a pinch of salt (spong), so no sweetness to there to counteract the excess salt or the sourdough acid.

Here is the bread:




tananaBrian's picture

Ok, back from my business trip to beautiful San Antonio, Texas more work done on the garden shed, and I'll be baking the whole wheat (pate fermentee?) from Bread for The Bread Challeng on Sunday.  Here's the lates on the garden shed ...and a tidbit or two on the shop that I'm having built at the same time.  My yard is a genuine construction zone!!!

Got all 4 walls in.  Notice the windows all along the near end and around each corner.  This end of the shed will be a seed-starting / pseudo-greenhouse for early-starting our Alaskan garden.  Why buy when you can grow?


Lifting the roof trusses into place ...alone!  I threaded them in in-between studs, raised one end on top of a wall as high as I could reach, then lifted the other end onto the opposite wall... and voila!  Trusses on top of the walls, upside down, ready to be flipped into place.


After getting the truss, upside down, on top of the walls, I raised it to a support that spanned the shed, then used a "picker upper thingy" that I made to flip the truss upright and lean it against the others.


Here we are with all 8 trusses on the top of the walls, leaning against each other and ready to be moved into position.  I'll get OSB onto the roof and some of the siding on before the weekend is out... and will be baking on Sunday, pate fermentee prepared on Saturday (wife's birthday ...wait until she sees the diamond earings that I bought her!!  A more wonderful women can't be found...)


And if a garden shed weren't enough ...I'm also having a builder build a shop for me I can pursue my other hobby ...boat building!  Isn't my wife wonderful?  She agreed to buying this house with extra land and room for a shop, and agreed to building the shop too!


Please Mister ...Try not to make a mess of my back yard!  Right!  This guy doesn't know the meaing of the word "neat" or "clean" or "just as much as you need to and no more"!  We'll have some landscaping to do after he's done!


Got the foundation excavated and ready to form things up and pour concrete...


Foundation poured ...stem wall constructed, now need to level out the interior, fill with gravel, add 4" blue foam insulation and pour the slab!  The shop is 28' wide by 36' long ...hard to tell in the photo.  Garage door is 12' wide by 11' tall, interior ceiling 12'6" high, 12:12 roof with 36' long by 11.5' wide bonus room upstairs!

Oh yeah... Baking on Sunday!!!



Truffles's picture

This the second try on this bread and it went better than last time. It still is not brown enough, is too flat and the texture is not open enough. I tried proping the door open with a hot pad at the top of the oven door for the last approx 12 minutes. Turned the oven off and left the bread in with door closed. I baked it quite a bit longer than called for so I guess I should just leave it in until it's brown enough.

I'm not vwery well organized so don't take enough pictures, although it's a challenge with hands covered with dough. I have been going this way and that trying to get the pictures uploaded for entry with many false tries but think I may have it now if I can get the pictures in the right place.bread donebotom of loavescut baguetteAs you can see it worked, alittle ugly but they are there. The bottoms show thepoor shapping. And the rest is evident to see. Any suggestions would be appreciated.  Herb

txfarmer's picture

So I finally bit the bullet and bought  "Advanced Bread and Pastry" by Michel Suas. I tried to be good and thrify, I really did. I used to borrow baking books from library, but then I couldn't let them go, wanting to keep them around in case I wanted to bake something from the books, which means I often had to pay hefty late fees and got to keep nothing. Now I just buy them. Amazon loves me, I think I will buy every book on bread baking sooner or later.:P

Now back to "Advanced Bread and Pastry" , it a wonderful book with overwhelming amount of information not just on breads, but on all kinds of baking. Besides great recipes like this Caramalized Hazelnut Squares, there are also valuable technical knowledges, which I intend to read from cover to cover. It will take me years I am sure, so in the mean time, I will bake from the book to fuel my learning! ;) Oh yearh, the book is hella heavy, so I am convinced by holding it, I am getting good strength training too!

The formula calls for no less than 4 preferments - 2 sourdough ones, and 2 commercial yeast ones. Along with making the caramalized hazelnuts, it's not a quick bread to make. However, it's not difficult either. Sticking to the formula, the bread came together pretty easily. It's a wet dough, but not as wet as ciabatta. It is however indeed shaped as ciabatta - rustic squares with no preshaping. The formula does not call for scoring, but I did anyway to one of the squres since I like the look better.

Very open crumb, studded with delicious caramalized hazelnuts, a decadent treat. I, however, am not convinced that we need all 4 preferments. I can see the rye starter preferment providing some sourness, the whole wheat sponge  probably adds some earthy ww tastes, but the white flour starter preferment and the white flour sponge virtually do the same thing, do we really need both?

Highly recommend the bread, as well as the book!

rossnroller's picture

I make these sourdough babies weekly, and over months have tweaked my recipe to the point where they turn out just how I like them every time. These ones were especially good, so couldn't resist taking a pic and posting.

Anyone interested in my recipe, you can find it here.

Aveagoodweegend all, and best o bakin' to you!


(Submitted to Yeastspotting - probably too late, though. Oh well...)






audra36274's picture

This is a very important cake. My best friend in the whole world is having a birthday today, and I'd like you all to be at his party! Happy Birthday Eric Hanner!!!!  

   Eric, you have been a friend, and mentor, not only to me but many, many, people here on TFL. You help so many and since I found it impossible to get the whole internet full of your fans together any other way, we meet today, via internet, with our glass held high. A toast to you and your birthday. You have helped me not only with my breads, my pictures of them, my computer, you have  listened to me go on and on and on about my cakes. I feel like a part of the family, as do so many of the people here. So what else could a family do, but have you a party! So everyone, give your friend and mine ehanner a Big Birthday Cheer, and sit down and have a slice of cake. It will be fine, there are no calories in here! Oh, somebody bring the candles! See y'all there!





Avie93309's picture

New at this baking. I do love this recipe. I can not really tell the difference between the Kosher Salt and the Fleur de Sel. However, I'm going to try the Irish Butter and see if that will. Sacaduros

white_poplar's picture

Okay, I have wanted to create this checkered bread - two tones. Wanna capture the 'cubic' shape idea as well (Asian bakers have access to a square bread mould - very cute and handy!). Although the bread is not cubic, I love the effects!

+ The green color is from Pandan paste (which is made from a leaf native to South Asia. It has sweet vanilla fragrance)

Instructions here.

I think I may have enuff of Asian bread. Opting to make some proper sourdough now. It's been months I've made any!!






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