The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Search for the perfect crust continues . . .

ClimbHi's picture

Search for the perfect crust continues . . .

I've posted on this topic before, and read similar posts with much interest. I've never really gotten a good answer to what/how different baking factors affect crust. I'm pretty new at bread, but have been baking bread just about every weekend for a year now. I'm focusing on basic white flour sourdough based on the BBA recipe. I usually make batards or epi. I've been satisfied with the crumb almost since I started -- moist, buttery, rich crumb. Great just eaten plain.

But crust is another story. I've been plagued by crust that is, for lack of better description, too tough / thick / gummy -- take your pick. In short, not complementary to the wonderful crumb that hides below it. To improve the matter, I've been more careful with forming the loaves so I get nice surface tension. I also steam generously -- a garden sprayer in the oven (wood-fired) 3X in the first 3 or 4 minutes, and crack the door for the last 10. I also shoot for higher hydration doughs.

Yesterday, I think I made a further, albeit unplanned, advance in my quest for the perfect crust.

We had several events planned for the day so, to work around them, I built the dough early in the a.m., let it bulk rise for 4 hrs., and popped it into the fridge for about 3 hrs. to hold until I could return to form the loaves. Later, I pulled it out and shaped the loaves, then left for another engagement, intending to return after 3 hours to light the oven so I could bake 5 hours after loafing. Plans change though, and I was over an hour late in getting back to start the fire. Then, the oven was a bit slow in heating (wood issues). Bottom line is that the loaves were proofing almost 2 hours extra. (BBA recommends 4 hrs + 1hr if the dough is refrigerated -- I was at almost 7 hrs by the time the oven was ready.)

It seems that I may have been underproofing my loaves all along. These baked up really well, with crust that was really encouraging -- thin, golden brown with caramel highlights, and just the about the right tenderness. -- I would have preferred a little crisper, but I'm pretty sure that was due to my haste to get these guys into the oven and didn't have the patience to properly temper the oven. (Walls a bit too cool, and the floor a bit too hot.)

Bottom line -- add "too short proofing time" to the list of factors that can adversely affect the crust.

One more step on the journey. ;-)

Pittsburgh, PA