The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

What Happened to My Crust

louiscohen's picture

What Happened to My Crust

I'm trying to bake a loaf that is mostly whole wheat, artisan, and the kind of bread you want to sop up the juice left in your bowl of steamed mussels, or the last of your cioppino - crusty and chewy, with an open crumb, and crusty.  Did I mention crusty?
I used this formula:
WW flour           75% high gluten flour  25%
water                 85% yeast                   1% salt                      2%
Following the KAF Whole Grain Baking book, I made a poolish with 25% of the total flour weight (with WW only), with 100% hydration, and a pinch of yeast.
The next day, I added everything else and mixed briefly by hand.  I let it bulk ferment for 4 hrs, with a fold at 1-2-3 hrs.  
I shaped it into a 1 kg batard and let it proof for an hour.
I brushed it with an egg-substitute wash (essentially egg whites and coloring), sprinkled with poppy seeds, scored it baguette style (well, I tried to), and baked on a stone on parchment paper  at 425* (with convection) for 27 minutes.  After putting the bread in the oven, I filled a preheated pan on the bottom shelf with boiling water.  There was a nice oven spring.  The internal temp was 200* and it had a nice hard crust coming out of the oven.
After an hour on the cooling rack, the crust was completely soft.  The crumb was fine, nice and open.
Can you tell me what happened to the crust as it cooled?  Perhaps I didn't bake long enough, and the steam remaining in the high-hydration bread softened the crust as the bread cooled?  Or should I use water instead of the egg white wash?  
 Another curious thing that I have seen before was that the crumb was much more open at the top of the loaf than the bottom.  The baking stone was pre-heated in the oven for nearly an hour.   Could the stone have been on too high a rack in the oven, ie too close to the upper heating element?  

althetrainer's picture

That will make it a lot easier for us to see where the problem is.

pmccool's picture


Per your formula, this bread is at 85% hydration.  As the bread is cooling, some of that moisture is going to migrate to the crust, causing it to soften.  Just toss the bread back into a warm oven for a few minutes before serving and the crust will re-crisp as the moisture nearest the surface evaporates.


cake diva's picture
cake diva

Louis' question brings to mind a recent experience I had at the SFBI Artisan 1 class.  We had different types of bread made one day, and our instructor pointed out that the whole wheat bread (50%ww, 50% bread flour, 75%water) would come out of the oven with a hard crust and then in a few minutes would turn soft, and sure enough, that's what happened.  Or, maybe as PMcCool suggests, there is a threshold amount of water in a bread formula above which the hardened layers of crust is made softer by the internal moisture that is still escaping towards the surface even after the bread has been taken out of the oven. I'm sure there's literature out there on this phenomenon.

louiscohen's picture

Thanks to everyone with ideas and suggestions.  It would be interesting to find out if this is a WW issue (as bakers obviously make crusty white bread that stays crusty).

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

One thing that can lengthen the life of a crispy crust is to let it sit in the oven for an additional 10 mins or so after it's finished baking, and the oven is turned off. This helps keep the crust crisp while internally, the loaf is cooling and liquid is evaporating towards the surface. This technique needs to be 'played with' a bit to find the perfect post-baking formula. Some pull out the rack a bit so the loaf isn't completely inside the oven, while others just let the door sit open. A lot depends on how aggressively your oven retains its temperature after it's turned off. If you find your crust remains crispy longer, but the bread is a bit overdone inside, then cut the actual baking time down before shutting the oven off.

This same technique is used when baking pumpkin pies to prevent the top skin of the pie from cracking.

- Keith