The Fresh Loaf

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Sandwich bread crumbly towards the edges

sahilkwatra's picture

Sandwich bread crumbly towards the edges

Hello everyone, this is my first post ever. I live in a community with 15 other people and bake 4 tinned loaves twice a week. I've been baking for more than a year now. I use a combination of strong white bread flour and strong wholemeal flour In all kinds of proportions depending on my mood. However, a consistent thing that I have noticed is a lot of times the loaf is crumbly on the outside such that you can almost remove the a smaller slice from a bigger slice if it makes sense (please see the picture). Could someone please help? From outside they look perfect. The process I follow is - 

Crumbly slice


Usual ingredients 

2 KG flour (doves farm 13.5% protein)

1200-1250 ml water (60-65% hydration)

30g salt 

25g yeast 

1. Activate the yeast and mix the ingredients (at the moment, I do not measure the temperature) 

2. Wait for 25 mins

3. Knead for 8-10 mins

4. Bulk ferment until double in size

5. Shape and put in the tins

6. Bake at 180 C for 40 mins 

tpassin's picture

That separation looks like it's the shaping technique to me.  It looks like you rolled up the dough into a log - which is fine - but the layers didn't quite merge.  It might be that there was a little too much flour on the dough, the dough was on the dry side, or simply that you need to be more firm and press the layers together a little more.  

SweetApple's picture

Check the moisture of the dough. If the dough is too dry, it can result in a more brittle bread structure. You might want to try increasing the amount of water in your recipe a bit.

tpassin's picture


If the dough is too dry, it can result in a more brittle bread structure.


[it might be that] the dough was on the dry side

Combined with the hydration range you gave, I think there's a message here.

Petek's picture

I noted that the left side of the loaf is darker than the right side. Perhaps your oven's temperature is uneven. You might try rotating the loaves halfway through the bake. I don't know whether this will fix the problem, but it can't hurt.

semolina_man's picture

Toast is pictured in the photo

Agree it's a shaping defect accentuated by low hydration. 

Increase hydration to 67%, being precise about the measurement, and use no bench flour when shaping. 

Petek's picture

Thanks for clearing it up that the photo was toast. Hope you succeed with your bread!

sahilkwatra's picture

Thank you so much everyone who helped! I did try another batch today and increased the hydration to 68%. Btw both the batches were 100% wholemeal flour. And I did see some difference, it is definitely softer and less crumbly but still there is some separation towards the edge. I did not use any flour while shaping (and anyway I don't use much). Should I increase the hydration even further or do you think there is a problem with my shaping technique? Could you maybe recommend some? 



tpassin's picture

That's quite a fine-looking WW loaf.  I do notice that the density is higher towards the bottom, decreasing towards the top, with a hint of separation under the crust. I think those features reflect the shaping technique.

It looks as if you are pressing down or tensioning the layers on the inside of the log you are rolling up.  Then when the log has gotten fatter you can't or don't tension it press it as firmly.  That's understandable.  So either go more lightly as you start rolling, or modify the method so that only part of the shaped loaf gets rolled. The rest could be folded.  Or fold it with letter-folds first, and then roll up that form to fit the pan.  Remember, you don't need to fit the pan very accurately because the dough will reshape itself to some degree as it proofs.

A wetter dough will reshape itself more.  Even if you get the dough so wet you can't even shape it, you can still scrape it into the loaf pan and bake a fine loaf of bread.

The question about more hydration can be answered mainly by whether the layers of dough seem willing to stick together as you shape or whether they seem to resist merging because they are a little too dry. As I hint at in the preceding paragraph, don't fear increasing the hydration.

sahilkwatra's picture

Thank you so much for replying! I also think that it has to do with the way I'm shaping, even after baking 100s of loaves in the last year or so, I still am not really comfortable with shaping. Maybe that's because my hydration has been low and whenever I try a new method it doesn't seem as smooth as they show in youtube videos like this -

Even today, the dough seemed to be resisting when I was pressing down like it was ready to unroll itself if it makes sense. I'll increase hydration to 70% or maybe 72% and report back.

Also, "It looks as if you are pressing down or tensioning the layers on the inside of the log you are rolling up.  Then when the log has gotten fatter you can't or don't tension it press it as firmly" this is definitely happening with me :) Would you have any youtube videos or something which show the way you are suggesting to roll? Thank you, again!

tpassin's picture

I would encourage you to use more water in the dough.  It will make the dough more sticky, and you can deal with that by spraying your hands lightly with water, or by light dustings of flour, or even by dusting your hands lightly with flour.  The key word here is lightly. You'll see what I mean when you try it.

Your video link shows a technique that certainly can work well, but I think it takes quite a bit of practice.  Also your WW dough probably won't handle and stretch as nicely as his.  I don't have an alternative link, but I can describe a method that isn't hard and generally works decently for me. Keep dusting your hands or spraying them *lightly* if you get any sticking.

Start by stretching or patting the dough into a rectangle or square.  The width should be a little less than the length of the pan, because the loaf will lengthen during shaping and we don't want it too get too much longer than the pan.  Don't try to be precise.  If the dough doesn't want to stretch out, a rest will help.  It's better to stretch it from underneath closer to the middle if you need to even out the thickness.

The rectangle should be lined up in front of you with one edge parallel with the edge of the work table.  Use your bench scraper to make sure the far side of the dough is free from the bench.  Then lift that far side up - you can stretch it a little away from you - and fold it towards you over the rest of the rectangle.  Bring that edge to the middle or farther to the 2/3 point.  This kind of fold is often called a letter-fold.

Press down gently on the part you folded over, much like your video shows - gently - you want it to bond with the matching dough and you want to squeeze out large air bubbles.

Loosen up the dough with your bench scraper and rotate the dough 180 degrees.  Now take the (new) far edge and fold it over the near side just like the first fold. Press it down again.  This is all faster and easier than it sounds in the written words.

Now you have a somewhat narrow rectangle roughly the width of the loaf pan with the long axis running from left to right. Fold the far side up and over the near side so that their edges are lined up right in front of you.  You can press, squeeze, or pull a bit to even things out.  Now you have a king of log with a big fat seam or opening right in front of you.

Take the flat of your hand - let's say the right hand to be definite - and press down near that front seam to flatten it onto the work surface and squash the upper and lower parts of the dough package together. You will probably need to move your hand a few times to get the whole seam pressed. You now have a sub-shaped log with a flattened seam sticking out.  Don't worry, that tab-like dough will merge in during proofing and baking.

Now with both hands rotate the log of dough about its long axis so the tab-like seam is underneath. Next pick up the log - the bench scraper can be helpful - and ease the loaf into your loaf pan.  It's best to start with one end lower so you can compress the log against it to fit the pan in case the log got a little too long.  Make sure the seam is at the bottom.

I'm not going to claim this is the "best" way or even that it will make for a perfectly even crumb.  But it's fast and easy and will produce a very acceptable result.  You can go on from there.

If the dough doesn't want to merge during any of these steps, spray those surfaces with a little water and use more water in your dough next time.  If your dough is kind of too wet and gloppy, lower the hydration next time.

BTW, the last picture you showed is already pretty good.  Anyone would be happy to eat a slice like that.

Good luck!

clazar123's picture


Wholemeal dough is a little deceiving if you talk about bakers percentage. WW flour needs a higher percentage of water but more importantly, it needs time to absorb the water into all the little branny bits.  You could give it even 80% or higher and if you do an overnight retard in the refrig, you will have a soft, moist dough that will bake into a nice soft (non-crumbly) loaf. 

I've done a number of posts in the past on baking with 100% whole wheat flour. Look up some of the posts. It needs a little different handling than all purpose flour. 

AsburgerCook's picture

I've found that kneading right away after roughly combining the dough at the very start is often the source of the problem here, along with shaping. I concur that adding some water will be helpful, but I haven't seen any mention of a "rest," better known as "autolyse," or "autolysis." 

If you feel the dough isn't coming together and are tempted to add water willy-nilly, you can end up with other problems. The better way is to use all your initial water to dampen as much flour as you can -- whole meal, strong flour, AP flour, or any combination -- it doesn't matter. 

At some point, you'll run out of water, but will still have some flour that looks and feels dry. Particularly with sandwich bread, which is pretty low hydration anyway. I run out of water pretty quickly, with quite a pile of dry flour still left at the bottom of the bowl. Try this:

If you can push the gathering "ball" of damp dough out of the way, then drizzle in some additional water on top of the dry flour. Use your fingers to push it around and try to get as much as you can damp. If there's more left, drizzle in some more water.

"Drizzle" would be just a common teaspoon (not a measuring tsp) scooping up a bit of water from a bowl or cup. Drop that water on some dry flour in the bowl.

When all the flour finally gets damp enough to stick loosely to the main ball, that's enough water.

Handle the dough ball, on the counter or just between your hands, like a ball of clay. Smoosh it around, just to press the flour together enough that it sort of sticks. Put it in an oiled bowl, spray a little oil on the top (to avoid building a skin), cover the bowl. Don't worry about the temperature or humidity; it doesn't matter yet.

Let this heavy, dryish, dampish ball of "goo" sit for at least 30 minutes, but somewhere around 45-60mins is better. It's not the same as a "retard," as mentioned above. This is a chemical step.

You're allowing the flour to incorporate water. It allows the enzymes in the flour to begin "eating the flour." Auto-lysis means "self-digest, loosen, break down." 

It allows the proteins in the flour to begin changing and forming gluten.

At the end of this period, uncover the bowl and you'll find your dough has become a lot more damp, softer, and is a lot easier to work with. 

I tend to mix all my ingredients at the start, before adding liquids. Many others do this "autolysis" using only the flour and water, leaving all the other ingredients for the next step. I just think it's easier having them all together, including the salt. I too, make mostly sandwich bread that has a pretty low hydration.

If you try this with dry yeast that first has to be activated, make sure you stir the salt all around in the other dry ingredients to give it a buffer from the yeast.

However, if you use instant yeast, it won't need the buffer and you can just casually stir all the dry stuff around. Instant yeast, or "Bread Machine Instant Yeast" (not the same as "fast rising") can tolerate salt far more easily than typical dry yeast. I see a whole lot of recipes now switching to the instant yeast.

DO leave out the fat: butter, oil, lard, margarine, etc. The fat coats the flour and acts like waterproofing. The flour can't easily connect with the water to begin breaking down into gluten. You'll add in the fat after the autolysis, and before you begin kneading.

As for the shaping, I'm having trouble too. Now that I've learned how to get a very nice, flexible and extensible dough, I've also begun following a lot of other bakers: I'm using a rolling pin to flatten the dough (after it's fermented and ready for shaping). Then I'll make it a large square. I'll tuck in the two far corners a little, then start rolling the "log" toward me.

With good dough that passes the windowpane test, it also is a whole lot more durable than I ever thought! You're pushing out gas, but the yeast is still active and will re-rise everything in the pan. Use some pressure as you roll, to press out any gaps between the part you're rolling and the still-flat rest of the dough. Squish and pinch that dough together wherever you see a "crease" or line or edge.

At the end, you can actually use your index finger to jam the ends into the log with some pretty solid pressure. Then fold the edges of the end in over the "hole" you just made. As it presses up against the ends of the pan, it will flatten out and pretty much smooth into the bread.

That crack you have is a nemesis I'm working on! It can be at the side, like yours, or at the top. It's (I think) where the dough has developed enough "skin" that it doesn't merge with the dough next to it. If you understand.

Try the autolysis. And as several have said, let yourself put in a bit more water. Just go slow. With this autolysis rest, the "dry" dough is going to get a lot more damp!

Too much water before the autolysis will then show up as actually wet dough. You want damp: Like how the back of a Post-It sticky note feels. Or "tacky," as you'd feel with almost dry varnish or paint.

tpassin's picture

Handle the dough ball, on the counter or just between your hands, like a ball of clay. Smoosh it around, just to press the flour together enough that it sort of sticks. Put it in an oiled bowl, spray a little oil on the top (to avoid building a skin), cover the bowl.

I've streamlined the process to do all this rough mix handling right in the mixing bowl.  I leave the dough in the bowl for its initial rest, covered with plastic wrap.  It's not even necessary to oil it.

sahilkwatra's picture

Hello All, Thank you for your help. I made another batch yesterday increasing the hydration to 70%, autolysing / mixing the ingredients and letting the dough sit for 45 mins (which I was doing before as well) and trying to be a bit more tight with my shaping. I think I'm getting there but not fully there. I have sliced two loaves and one of them seems more or less ok and the other one has some separation towards the top but lesser crumbly than before I think. Will try increasing hydration to 72%next. I find this crazy how much water whole meal flour can absorb and my earlier hydration was definitely too low. 

tpassin's picture

That's coming right along. isn't it?  Nice looking loaves.

I find this crazy how much water whole meal flour can absorb and my earlier hydration was definitely too low.

Yes, and some whole wheat flours take some time to absorb all the water.  So you think you've put in too much and then half an hour later the dough might feel a little dry.

AsburgerCook's picture

I'm using their recipe to get an everyday loaf of I think what you're calling "whole meal," being also "whole wheat." When I started playing with poolish, I did a calculation on the original recipe's hydration: 74%

I'm guessing you have quite a bit of "wiggle-room" on the adding the water. :-) EVENTUALLY it'll be just what you like, right? Persistence...that's the ticket.

jo_en's picture


Have you thought about softening your dough with a little bit of olive oil and a bit of sugar? 

It won't be a purely lean loaf but it won't be nutritionally devastating either. :)

AsburgerCook's picture

Here's a video I have stored, showing a different way to shape bread from the typical "envelope" method. I tried it, and it works nicely. However, it requires a nice flexible dough, that will pass the windowpane test and have some nice stretch (extensible and elastic). WHEN you get that with the hydration experiments, this may help on the shaping.

The Stages of Bread Making page

How to Shape the Dough