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Cracked Dough - Some Help Please

breadnut's picture

Cracked Dough - Some Help Please

I've been  making bread for a while. Yesterday for the first time, I saw the dough cracking while beeing fermented and proofed. Never had that problem before. All the steps I took yesterday have been done before, but I cannot for the life of me figure out why it happened (well maybe because of mixing, but not sure). I took pictures of the process and I will post them.

The recipe: Starter (very active), flour (70%), Rye flour (30%), Water, Salt. Hydration was 68%. I've baked with hydration levels before ranging from 60% to 85%.

I followed one of Dan Lepard's methods (which I've also done before).

Here are the steps and pictures of the process.

1. The dough at initial mixing. (starter, water, flour). No salt was added yet. Mixed for a few minutes by hand. Covered and let autolyse for about 1 hour (I've done this autolyse time before and never had problems).

2. Here's the dough after 1 hour Autolyse

3. Added salt and mixed a couple of more minutes. It looked like this

4. Covered for 10 minutes. then turned out on a lightly oiled surface and kneaded for about 15 seconds, covered for another 10 minutes and kneaded again for 15 seconds and put the dough back in the bowl. Here's what it looked like then.

5. Covered it another 10 minutes, briefly kneaded and back in bowl.

6. What it looked like after 30 minutes

 7. Same procedure. brief knead, back in bowl and covered 1 hour

8. Same as before for another 1 hour (This is where the dough started cracking)

9. Didn't make much of it. I figured it will be ok when shaped, but it didn't work out like that. this is what it looked like when shaped

10. I let it be. I wanted to see what was going to happen in the final proof. Final proof was supposed to be about 4 hours. This mess below was only after 40 minutes.

At that point, I was not going to pursue it any longer. I couldn't figure out why it was doing that, so I improvised. I put the dough back in the bowl added a tablespoon of water and mixed it real well this time. I was digging deep to try to get it cohesive. Then I covered it for 20 minutes, put it on an oiled surface, gently folded it, put it back in bowl for another 20 minutes, folded it again, and back in bowl for a final 45 minutes. It seemed to be working fine. The dough was not cracking and it was looking good. So I shaped it and covered it for 1 1/2 hours. About 30 minutes after shaping, It cracked again, so I waited until it was proofed and threw it in the oven. I wasn't going to bother with it anymore. It turned out a mess. Real ugly looking, but I expected that.

The only thing I'm thinking that might have contributed to this disaster was the fact that the initial dough was undermixed. I normally go through about 6-8 minutes of hand mixing, then autolyse 30 minutes to 1 hour, add salt and mix about 3 minutes. This time. mixing time was less than usual, and by reading the handmade loaf, Dan suggests to barely mix the dough and cover it and let it do its work (unless I misunderstood what he said). Maybe this is what cause this to happen, or maybe it is another factor that I can't figure out. By the way, the dough was raised in the same place it always rises, there was no draft, or wind to cause it to dry out and crack. So I don't think it was the environment. If anyone has any clues as to why this happened, pleaaaaaaaaaaaaaaase let me know. Any comment, feedback or idea is really really appreciated. Thanks a lot.


SourdoLady's picture

Your original dough looks quite dry to me. The recipe contains quite a bit of rye flour and rye flour absorbs a lot more liquid than wheat flour. I think that may be what was going on. The longer it proofed, the more it absorbed, to the point that your dough was too dry. Rye doughs should be very sticky in the early stages.

breadnut's picture

Thanks for the reply Sourdolady. I actually did think about the dough being too dry when it was mixed, but the actual recipe called for 275g of water. I actually put 310g when I first mixed which brought hydration up from 64% to 68%. I've also baked with rye flour before, where the recipe called for 20% rye flour content and hydration of 58% and I didn't have that problem. I know the content of rye of the previous recipe is 10% less than the mess I made yesterday but so was hydration. 

pmccool's picture


Any possibility that your house is drier than it was a few weeks ago because of your heating system?  The earlier photos seem to indicate a dough with adequate moisture, but the one taken at 11:41 looks as though it has lost a lot of that moisture.  If the air is dried out from having a furnace running, it may be evaporating more moisture from your dough than you would expect.  I can already tell how much the humidity level has dropped in my house by the increase in static electricity, floors squeaking, etc., now that the furnace is in use.  Not sure from your account what you use for covering the dough, but you might want to try some oiled plastic in direct contact with the dough to prevent moisture loss.


breadnut's picture

No furnace was running. Weather was sunny, about 75F, humidity about 80%. As for covering the dough, If you notice the last picture, the dough was covered with plastic wrap and a towel but I removed them (you can still see them) to take the picture. Actually, that last picture was taken while the kitchen was warmer from simmering a stock that was actually producing quite an amount of vapor.