How to get an even more open crumb
Hey everyone. I've really been into high hydration (~85%) sourdough lately and the chase of the open crumb is alluring. I feel like I'm so close to a breakthrough but I'm not there yet. My loaves could stand to be more open so I'm just looking for advice. Here is my routine currently. Make Levain at 1:1:1, for a 20% starter for the loaf. After 2 hours the levain doubles and I mix 280g of bread flour with 70 grams whole wheat, plus 300 grams of water and autolyse for 2 hours. After 4 hours my levain is tripled and I add the levain in, mix via rubaud mixing for around 5 minutes. 10-30 minutes later I add 2% salt and mix again. Then 30 minutes later I gave it a strong fold and rest for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes I start my coil folds, I do 4 coil folds every 30 minutes over a period the first 2 hours. Then after my 4th coil fold I wait an hour and do my last coil fold, so total of 5 coil folds plus the additional strong fold in the beginning. Then I bulk for anywhere from 5-8 hours and shape and fridge. I get a nice open crumb, good ear and no spreading when done this way but my crumb isn't as open as I expect. What can I do to improve the openness? Right now I'm thinking either reduce the coil folds (but when I experimented with just 3 folds the dough was slack and didn't hold shape when baking and had a tight crumb) or reduce the intensity of the coil folds and be more gentle when folding. But other than that I'm not really sure what the problem is.
No advice huh. :(
However i'm not really an open crumb chaser. I'm actually happy with an even crumb even if it's more closed than the photo of the loaf you have shared. To me the most important things are a dough that has been perfectly fermented, risen well and tastes delicious. As long as it's not too dense i do love a more hearty loaf as supposed to a very airy crumb. I saw your loaf and thought it looked very nice indeed!
Appreciate the reply anyway. :) It's only been the past few months that led me to this open crumb obsession, I normally stick to the 70% hydration range but I wanted to challenge myself and I have indeed been challenged. Definitely not as easy as people online make it seen haha.
There are other videos on how to get an open crumb on this channel as well. This is a good place to start.
i’m with abe; i’m not as concerned with having the most open crumb, so not an expert in finding it :)
have you tried pushing the fermentation a little farther? i found i didn’t really know what the possibilities were for my bread until i got some slightly overproofed loaves and then i could work back toward “perfect” proofing. the first photo looks ever-so-slightly/maybe underproofed. the denseness of the crumb btw the bigger holes is what makes me think that. the second pic doesn’t look underproofed, tho.
i don’t think reducing the coil folds will give you a better crumb. you need a strong gluten network to hold the bubbles. then you need just the right amount of proofing to inflate the bubbles throughout. that’s my understanding, anyway.
hope this helps,
Thanks for the reply! I'm also thinking its a proofing error, I've been experimenting with loaves and what I've noticed is whenever a dough feels slack and lacks tension when doing my final shaping (doesn't look as tall, isn't as poofy or jiggly etc) I get flatter loaves and a tighter crumb. But those loaves I've proofed for 6-7 hours so they should be proofed properly for my starter and temp but they come out incredibly closed and nothing like the loaves in the pictures I uploaded so I've actually been regressing in terms of crumb. But I think maybe I'll push my proof beyond the 6-7 hour mark and see how they hold up.
if the dough seems slack and lacks tension at shaping, i would have thought it was overproofed, not underproofed. another possibility is that the gluten network is less strong for some reason. if you skipped coil folds or did less development during initial mix, that could be why. or, if your flour/mix of flours changed? or: if your starter is too acidic, i think this can happen as well (that’ll get sorted out in reply to your question below about strengthening your starter).
hope that helps,
The crumb looks overproofed on my latest doughs for sure. I don't know how to explain it but the end goal looks overproofed but the shaping reminds me of underproofed dough. Like if there's a lot of gas in the dough the dough has a lot more tension but when shaping it feels slack. But I'm really not sure at this point clearly lmao. Another reason I'm leaning towards underproofing is due to me realizing how weak my levain is.
I think i've identified a problem. My starter seems to be getting progressively weaker. My levain (1:1:1) used to double in 2 hours and triple in 4 hours and now its barely doubling in 4 hours. Any advice? I usually feed 1:5:5 twice every 12ish hours but haven't been super consistent with that lately. How do I get my starter back to optimal strength again?
a few questions:
- what is the ambient temp where you keep your starter/levain after feeding, and has that temperature changed?
- did your flour change (change type or just a new bag of flour recently), or water?
- how long have you had your starter?
Abe is great at helping people strengthen their starters, but i think the answers to these questions might help determine what the problem is.
76-80 ish degrees, and that's been consistent.
No flour changes at all. Same with water.
A few years now.
The only variable I could think of is that I haven't been consistently feeding it the past 3 weeks. Some days I would feed just once a day sometimes every 2 days and things like that, but the past week I've been fairly consistent but it's currently at its weakest so I'm not sure. I've noticed my starter and especially my levain have been watery, a lot more liquidy and loose as it ferments which I thought was unusual but didn't really pay much mind to until today when I realized how little my levain rose.
sorry, a few more questions:
- is your starter always kept at that warm room temp or do you refrigerate between feedings? 2 days at 76-80F with no new food would likely be a major disruption to the system.
- after a 1:5:5 normal feeding, have you ever let it rise all the way to peak, until it’s just starting to fall back down? if so, how long did that take?
- when you said upthread that you feed 1:5:5 twice every 12 hours, do you mean twice a day (every 12 hours) or every 6 hours (twice in 12 hours)?
- how does the starter smell when you’re about to feed it? sour? alcohol-y? something else?
i’m trying to get a sense of whether your starter is underfed or overfed. you say it didn’t get fed as regularly for a few weeks, that makes me think it was underfed, but feeding 1:5:5 every 6 hours sounds like overfeeding. hence my questions.
and, if you never wait for it to peak before feeding, i would think you’d end up overfeeding it, diluting the yeast.
Always at room temp.
That's a good question actually. So I honestly don't really pay attention to peak rising and falling if I'm honest. But when I do my night feed, anywhere from like 10pm-2am, in the morning when I do my morning feed, around 10am to 12pm, it's either still active and bubbly or collapsed. Today it was still very bubbly, but other times it's collapsed.
Yeah so I feed every 12 hours.
It never smells like alcohol, but when its collapsed it's definitely more sour and pungent and acidic smelling.
I also can't really gauge how far the starter rises because I only have like 110 grams of starter that I maintain in my wrex jar and to see any notable rise or doubling I would need more so I usually just gauge based on smell and bubbles.
i keep 2-3oz of starter (less than 100 g) in a standard mason jar. by scraping down the sides, so that the whole mass is pretty level at the bottom after feeding, i can clearly see the rise. i have one rubber band placed at the initial height and then another that i will roll up to wherever it has risen to (if i’m around and awake) if i want to check for sure if it is done rising. the top rubber band is not super-important since i can usually see on the glass whether the starter has risen and is falling, leaving some behind as it goes.
if i’m understanding your last answer, your overnight feeds can be anywhere from 8h (2am -10am) to 14h (10pm-noon). so that might be why it sometimes seems to be before peak and sometimes after peak when you next feed it.
if i were you, i’d try to be more consistent about feeding at or just after peak, changing jars or scraping down so that you can see when it is rising and falling. and maybe keeping track of what peak is (how high in the jar) to see if you are getting more rise as you feed more consistently.
another thing that will increase the amount of yeast in the starter is to stir it down (without feeding) when it is at peak and let it peak again. it will peak more quickly (a few hours at your temps), so this is best done when you can be around and keeping an eye on it.
i’m no expert (i’ve never had major problems with my starter, going on 8 years now), and i don’t think one has to be super precise and regimented with feedings in general, but since your starter seems unhappy, that’s what i’d do first.
hope that helps!
The bottom of the weck jar is rounded and my starter amount sits well below that so it's harder to gauge an accurate doubling with smaller amounts because of that.
Yeah my feedings aren't super consistent and my starter never seemed to care and I've since grown out of the habit of being extremely diligent and precise with my starter. But I think I should get back to that at least for now until it's back to normal.
I actually did give it a stir a few hours ago so let's see how things turn out in the next couple of days.
I appreciate all the tips.
Has there been any issue that may have affected your water? It's a factor many overlook so I thought I would mention it
When my water filter needs replacing or we have had a flood that affects the water quality my starter always slows.
My levain tripled today, I think you were correct that my timings were throwing it off so I'm just going to baby it for a while and be extra diligent about feeding at peak. Thanks! Now I just need to work on getting more of an open crumb lmao.
I suspect the cause of your crumb issue is shown in your cross section/
It looks like you don't have enough base heat in your oven for this loaf or the loaf is too cold when going into the oven
...Compare the crumb of the top section to the bottom and you can see the top of the loaf is very promising but the base section only has tiny pockets that never expanded in the oven.
If you can get more rise in the base section, I suspect the top half will also benefit and fully develop the crumb you are looking for.
Oh wow this is super valuable insight thank you! Right now I preheat a dutch oven for an hour at 500f and put my loaf in with three ice cubes and spray with water. What do you think the best way to push more heat into the loaf would be? The loaves are straight from the fridge after a 16-20 hour retard. Should I raise the oven temp slightly?
If that is your process, then it sounds more like the dough is too cold when you place it into the Dutch oven.
I.e. The dough is too cold to expand when it hits the high direct heat of hot Dutch oven base. This means the air pockets can't expand sufficiently so that high heat is locking in a stunted structure...where as the upper parts of the loaf are more exposed to radiant heat that allows the dough to warm sufficiently to be come playable - so the pockets to stretch the loaf giving the rise you are seeing in that portion.
I would first try letting the dough sit a little longer once it comes out of the fridge (come closer to room temp) before putting it in the DO.
So I didn't see this until now so I actually wasn't able to try this but will still try this sometime this week for science. However I've noticed that when I bake sourdough loaves warm I get less oven spring.
1st - your new load is so much better....so do what works for you.
However if you are going to experiment, and cold is helping your spring, then just warm it a little or even better warm it on top of something so only the base warms just enough to allow it to fully stretch the pockets in the Dutch oven. You will notice that on your updated loaf, it affected section is way smaller but a small section along the base where it is still a little stunted.
But don't make more work for yourself if you have it working again.
I'm somewhat satisfied by the crumb but still stuck on getting better oven spring. More coil folds would just tighten the crumb, and don't even seem to affect oven spring. If I add more tension to the final shaping it also compresses the crumb. So what else is there? The one thing I've been thinking about is that is it possible that my banneton is too large for my dough? I use a 10 inch banneton and have 720ish grams of dough. Perhaps maybe a slightly smaller banneton would keep the tension in the dough better? I'm grasping at straws here but I really don't know where the problem lies.
that crumb looks gorgeous! glad your starter is back in good health.
this contradicts other advice you got upthread, but i get better oven spring when i bake straight from the fridge. i also get better oven spring if the loaf is underproofed, so i find a trade-off in getting the best crumb and getting the best spring… your mileage may vary!
one thing about your baking process: have you tried baking in the dutch oven without adding ice cubes and spraying? i bake in a dutch oven as well and my understanding was that doing so traps the steam coming off the loaf and extra sources of steam are not necessary. no idea how that would change the oven spring, but it probably does decrease the temp inside the dutch oven which could affect the spring.
just my $0.02,
Oh yeah I agree with all of this. That last loaf I baked I actually only sprayed and didn't use any ice so there's merit to that theory. I'm trying to find the perfect medium between oven spring, open crumb, and shape, so it's going to take a lot of experimenting to get there but I feel like I'm getting close.