Q&A Dense Crumb

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Q: The crumb of my bread is dense with small holes, how do I fix this?

A: There are several things that we have found that can help you to achieve a crumb with a nice open hole structure:

1.  Make sure that your dough is not too wet or too dry, both extremes will result in a dense crumb. You can check to see if you are using the right amount of water for the type of flour you use (click here to check).  And make sure you are measuring using the scoop-and-sweep method, click here for a video of that.

2.  Be gentle! Once you determine that your dough is the right consistency then make sure you are handling it very gently. We find that people tend to want to knead the dough, even a little. This knocks the gas out of the dough and will give you a dense crumb. When shaping the dough be very careful to leave as much of the air bubbles in tact as possible. These bubbles will create the holes in the bread. We say to shape the dough for about 30-60 seconds, but we’ve come to think that even that is too long. Try getting it down to 2-40 seconds!

3. Try a longer rest after shaping: In our first book (Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day), we opted for a very short rest time, usually 40 minutes for one-pound loaves made mostly with white flour.  For most readers, that was enough to prevent dense results.  But others found this to be a little dense, especially if your kitchen is cooler than 68 degrees.  Try 60, or even 90 minutes for white-flour loaves, and see what you think.   Whole grain loaves almost always need a 90 minute rest.

4.  Longer-stored doughs may be best for flatbread: If you are using a dough that is close to 2 weeks old or older, you may want to stick to pizza, pita, naan or another option from the flat bread chapters in the books, or from our third book, due in 2011, which will be all about flatbread and pizza.  The yeast will not have its full power and if baked as a high loaf it may come out denser than you want.

5.  Check your oven temperature:  Use something like this thermometer on Amazon; if your oven’s off, you won’t get proper “oven spring” and the loaf can be dense.

The “refrigerator rise” trick is convenient and results in a nice open crumb:

It’s also super-convenient, allowing you to shape your dough and then have it rise in the refrigerator for 8 to 14 hours before baking. This is what you do:

1. If you want fresh dinnertime bread or rolls, then first thing in the morning cut off a piece of dough and shape it as normal. Place the dough on a sheet of parchment, loosely wrap with plastic and put it back in the refrigerator.   If you want to bake first thing in the morning, shape and refrigerate at bedtime.

2. Eight to fourteen hours later, the loaves or rolls may have spread slightly, and may not seem to have risen at all. Don’t panic, they will still have lovely oven spring! Because you don’t handle the dough at all after the refrigerator rise the bubbles in the dough should still be intact. Preheat your oven with a stone on the middle rack to 475 degrees. When the oven is nice and hot take out your cold dough, slash it as normal and bake per recipe directions. Allow to cool and serve.

More in The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and our other books.

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651 thoughts on “Q&A Dense Crumb

  1. I have just started trying the bread in 5 min./day using the original book. The loaves are turning out with a peak in the center (the bolle) – am I not cutting the scoring lines deep enough? – oven temp seems ok. – but I could try a bit hotter. I need to try the spray steam method as the water in a pan method doesn’t seem to stay in the oven. Bread tastes good and texture seems good. Just not looking as pretty!

    • Hi Carol,

      Try letting the bread rest an extra 10 to 15 minutes before baking and score the loaf a bit deeper. This tends to do the trick. The water is meant to evaporate after about half the baking time, no need to add more water.

      Thanks, Zoë

      • Thanks for the very prompt reply! I did let the dough rest longer this time (20 min. or so) – until it jiggled nicely and scored deeper. I also used the misting method for getting steam in the oven as I have a Kitchenaid gas oven which seems to be too well ventilated to produce steam with the broiler tray method.
        Bread is still in the oven, but looking much better. I will be anxious to try it when cool to see if texture is improved as well. Thanks again.

  2. My husband and I have been embarking on a lifestyle change involving more exercise and better eating (need to keep up with our 20 month old!). Over the last 5 months we’ve been moving toward a clean eating lifestyle, so hbi5 was right up my alley! I am not a baker, never tried. But the reviews on this book made me believe I could do it. I’m so glad I’m trying.
    The first thing I wanted to make was the soft whole wheat sandwich bread on page 92. The bread tasted great but the crust fell apart when cutting and the crumb was pretty dense. So I came to this faq and have read all 601 comments searching for answers. Based on the comments I made the following changes:

    1. Added 2 tablespoons water to the dough I had left and let it soak in over night. I believe my dough was too dry. It stretched and I had to cut it to get a 2 lb piece, but it didn’t seem to have the same stretch as in your videos.

    2. Made sure to set my timer to 40 seconds to make sure I didn’t over shape (cloaking I think it’s called – I’m trying to get the lingo down). When it got to 10 seconds left, my ball of dough was still not smooth like in your videos (better than my first try however) but I went ahead and stretched it out into an oval and threw it in the 8.5 x 4.5 loaf pan to make it in time – lol!

    3. I let it rest for 90 minutes.

    4. I preheated my oven and this time I made sure my oven thermometer read 350 (I have to turn my oven to 385 to get it to actually be 350.

    5. I put the loaf in and baked for 40 minutes. By this point the crust was nice and brown. The first time I let it bake for 45 minutes and the crust was a little too done and more crumbly for my tastes.

    6. I let it rest overnight (I’ll admit I cut into the first loaf waaaaay too soon).

    The result was a better loaf of bread than the first. However, when cutting it the bread still crumbles. The crust and about 1 inch down crumbles and then the rest stays together. The whole thing is still too heavy and dense with small holes. It tastes great and we’re eating it, but it can’t be used for a sandwich.
    I am using unbleached all purpose flour, scoop and sweep method, gold medal white whole wheat flour. Not sure we’re I’m going wrong except that perhaps even with the addition of a couple tablespoons of water, the dough was still not wet enough, and my shaping still needs work.

    Jeff and/or Zoe – please, please help me because I am so excited about this.

    On another note, I have the honey graham bread dough from p 268 doing its initial 2 hour counter rise. This dough is more wet like the doughs in your videos (I added 1/4 cup water since I am using bob’s red mill stone ground graham flour). I also did better with the scoop and sweep method after watching your video. I am planning to shape a loaf tomorrow and do a refrigerator rise and then bake from this point. Hoping it gives me a better outcome!

    • Hmm, not sure why you can’t get a nicer result aesthetically (I’m assuming it tastes good). OK, I know this goes against what we told you– but shape a little more vigorously, using my video as a guide (see http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/2010/02/16/new-video-how-to-shape-a-loaf-using-whole-grain-dough). You may just need to give a little more structure.

      Underneath all this– you may find that homemade whole grain bread is denser than what you are used to– that’s part of it. But I want to get your crust and top part of the crumb to be a little more adherent.

      • Jeff,
        Thanks so much for your reply. I have watched that video several times previously. I will take your advice and shape better. I won’t go on for 3 minutes but I won’t panic at the 30 second mark (lol)! I will try with the graham bread tomorrow and see what happens when I slice it for breakfast on Thursday. I will do a refrigerator rise with this loaf.

        I did a refrigerator rise with the last of my first batch of dough (made rolls) and they came out great!

      • I have had great success with the honey graham bread! I believe it was a combination of a better scoop and sweep method, wetter dough that was more in line with what your dough looks like, better shaping of the loaf, and the refrigerator rise. The bread came out excellent! The crust was nice and chewy and the crumb was much lighter (although still dense – but as you indicated this is probably what I can expect with whole grain homemade bread). When I sliced the bread it didn’t fall apart. Toast with a banana and tea made an excellent breakfast this morning.

        Thank you for your help. I now have confidence to move on to the free-form artisanal loaves.

      • Hi there. I’ve been baking the second bucket now and although I’m still on the experimenting stage I have to tell you this I AM GLAD I CAN BAKE NOW!
        However, my bake always comes out chewy-gummy on the inside although I get good crusty crust outside.
        I have let it risen for almost 2hours today in a more cooler condition because of the wet day we have now. I’m living in hot humid weather year long by the way. Not sure if that causes the bread to dry out easily.
        My bake tends to be denser after cooling period. That’s why I opted to take them while it’s still warm.

  3. Using the master recipe in 5, have made 4 loaves and several pizzas. All of it the most beautiful bread I have ever made. And all of it as tasteless as cardboard.

    What gives? Weighed all the ingredients, oven temp is accurate, used both pans stones and cloches.

    My previous baking has produced not one loaf as beautiful as these, but all of them irrestibly tasty. How can this beautiful dough produce such tasteless bread? Is that the weakness in this method?

    • Hi Robert,

      Well, I am glad that your loaves look good, but lets try to figure out the flavor. One thing you may want to try is increasing the salt. The level of salt in the Healthy bread book are lower than those in our other books. You can increase the kosher salt to 1 1/2 tablespoons per batch and it will make a difference in the flavor. I for one am a fan of more salt in the dough.

      The dough improves in flavor if you give it some time to ferment. I would say after about 48 hours the flavor starts to develop and if you can wait longer you will get a more complex flavor.

      You may also prefer a lower yeast batch. Reduce the yeast by half and just let the dough rest for a bit longer. This slower rise is sometimes more appealing to people.

      Let me know if any of these things help.

      Thanks, Zoë

  4. Hi Zoe or Jeff,

    My latest efforts have been trying to perfect the whole wheat master recipe (I’m competing with my wife’s tendency to buy loaves at Whole Foods!). I’m using King Arthur WW flour, fresh vital gluten, fresh yeast, etc., and I’ve looked over most of the FAQs. The loaves I make before refrigeration are turning out well–they have small bubbles and are not too dense. The problem I’m having is that the loaves I make after refrigeration of the dough are very dense and almost gummy. Of note, when I pull dough from the container in the fridge, there is no stretch. They are also not sticky at all. I tried adding more gluten, but it didn’t seem to help. I am at 6000 feet elevation, but the only comments I see related to that is a recommendation to cut down on yeast. I don’t think that would help.

    Thanks much,

    Chris

    • Hi Chris,

      It sounds like your dough is very cold. Try letting the dough rise for an extra 20 minutes. I would also try the refrigerated rise if that doesn’t work.

      Thanks, Zoe

  5. I have made 2 bathes from the artisan bread book I use King Arthur all purpose flower. I use an overnight thermometer. My crust us great but the bread is very
    Dense and chewy and still slightly moist after baking. I let is rise for 50 mins before baking. What am I dong wrong??

  6. I made one loaf of pumpernickel bread from New Artisan Bread, p 123-126, using 1/3 of the 4-loaf recipe. I made my own caramel, adjusted the water measurement accordingly, and weighed all the ingredients. I used a pizza stone, & water in broiler pan for the steam. My loaf has a great crisp crust, and the crumb is a bit dense & chewy (which I really like for pumpernickel), but I got very little oven spring. I did NOT cloak the dough. The recipe said to shape the dough with wet hands, & did not mention cloaking…should I have cloaked the dough? I’m going to use my cast iron Dutch oven next time – I think that method gives more oven spring (used it for a different recipe). Any suggestions? This loaf is very satisfactory in every way except only being 2″ tall at tallest point. Thanks, in advance, for your reply. I am enjoying this book so much, especially the very detailed explanations of technique!

    • It’s a little challenging with wet fingers, but yes, you should cloak the dough and you’ll be happier with the shaping. That said, pumpernickel has more trouble holding it’s shape than some of our other breads– it tends to spread sideways, which makes it seem like you’re getting no oven spring.

      You could try drying it out a bit (lower the water 1/8 cup or so)?

      • Thanks so much – I’ll try your suggestions soon… my husband is already lobbying for another loaf of pumpernickel. I’ll bet the next one will be better-shaped to make an aesthetically excellent Reuben…;-)

  7. I’ll try to keep this brief. This is my first loaf with the HBi5 master recipe. I let it rest nearly two hours after minimal shaping, oven temp was correct (I have an oven thermometer), using pizza stone and parchment paper. It browned beautifully. I’ll admit I cut into it about an hour after it came out of the oven, the holes are very small and even now about 4 hours out of the oven – it feels moist. Not necessarily gummy or underdone, but super dense and as I said, almost moist. If this is just normal for the whole wheat bread, I am fine with that. It looks great and tastes wonderful and will make beautiful toast. I was just wondering if there was anything I could change to make it a little more airy (aside from the refrigerator rise trick – which will be my next experiment). Thank you!

    • Had the same problem. On my second loaf I baked it for 50 mins and used a instant read thermometer to
      See if the internal temp was 200 f. The bread had a great flavor and was properly cooked all the way thur the loaf

    • The recipes from HBin5 are definitely denser and moister than typical American bread, but the key is total cool-down– let it sit for two hours after it comes out of the oven before you decide what you think of it. That means don’t cut it until completely cool.

      You could try a little less proportionally of whole wheat (I’m assuming you used the vital wheat gluten). Also, did you use typical commercial WW? Something like Gold Medal? Because Bob’s Red Mill, Hodgson Mills, and other stone-ground WW will give a denser result. Same for home-ground whole wheat.

      • Thanks for the reply! I did use Bob’s Red Mill. I guess I didn’t realize that it wasn’t the same as most other commercial WW flour. Knowing this, I may try a slightly higher content of white flour in my next batch. I’ve now made 3 loaves and, while dense and moist, we (my 7.5 month daughter included) love the result. Thanks for the tip!

      • Great– let us know how you make out. It’s just a slightly different result, not better or worse. But typical supermarket flour creates a less dense crumb.

  8. I would like to try the refrigerator rise trick with your recipe for soft whole wheat sandwich bread on page 92 of the HB in 5 book. I was wondering how long I should leave the loaf out on the counter in the morning. My oven takes about 30 minutes to come up to temperature for bread. I’m concerned that the dough will still be pretty cool in the middle of the loaf pan. Should I be concerned? Is 30 minutes enough time for a 2 lb loaf? Thanks, my family loves your bread and makes me get out of bed reeeeeaaaally early several times/week to make more! :-)

    • We’ve always said that 20 or 30 minutes is long enough for a one-pound loaf (after a refrigerator-rise), and we’re happy with the results. Remember that the dough has been “relaxing” and expanding all night. For a big pan-loaf, maybe 2 pounds, you may find the center a bit dense. But the time-savings is worth a try– if you need to, extend the resting time the second time you try it.

  9. Hi, I found the boule recipe on line and loved it so much i bought the new book. But i am having a problem with getting a less tough crust. I have tried both the white bread recipes, p 324(American white) and p 327(Buttermilk) and the bread tastes great, the inside crumb while a bit dense is still fine but the crust is hard and very chewy, Help!! what do i need to do?

    • Hi Sheila,

      So pleased that you are enjoying the bread. One way to get a softer crust is to brush the loaf with some butter before it bakes and after it comes out of the oven. The butter prevents it from getting a hard crust. Try that and see if you like the results better.

      Thanks, Zoë

  10. I have tried three of the heartier grain recipes (most recently the oatmeal bread) from the original artisan book, and none have turned out (the result is very flat, dense loaves that taste yeasty). I have successfully made heartier grain sandwich loaves before using a traditional kneaded approach, and I have not been able to figure out what I am doing wrong here.

    For the recipes in the original artisan book
    I have let the bread sit for over 2 hours before putting it on the oven (because it does not rise very quickly after refrigeration for me) and there has been no rise with any of the recipes for me during the baking. I do very little shaping before putting the dough in the loaf pans. I have also erred on the side of not using more flour than the recipe calls for, so the dough has been extremely sticky.

    I am wondering if the problem might be in my initial rise and refrigeration. I have let the dough rise longer initially before refrigeration because it seems to rise slowly. Could that result in the yeast dying before it gets refrigerated? The dough has not risen in the refrigerator at all for me; in fact it doesn’t really look like bread dough. In my most recent attempt I refrigerated the dough for 2 days before shaping/rising/baking it. I have waited longer in the past with poor results, so I thought I would try a quicker mix-to-oven time frame. The end product wasn’t much different this time.

    Do you have any advice? I’d like to get this to work for me!

    • Hi Diane,

      Sorry you are having such troubles, we’ll see if we can’t figure it out. There are several things to address from your note.

      1. Yeasty flavor, you can reduce this by using a smaller amount of yeast, but that means you will have to allow for a longer resting time: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/2007/12/19/low-yeast-version-of-our-master-recipe

      2. Are you making any substitutions to the recipe? What type of flour are you using?

      3. Sticky dough, this can make it hard to shape, so this video may help you handle the dough. The way the dough is shaped can actually have an effect on the rise: http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/2010/03/08/new-video-shaping-the-ball-from-a-very-wet-dough

      Let me know about these things and we can take it from there.

      Thanks, Zoë

      • Thank you for the response. I found the video after I had made my most recent attempt. I’ve been handling the dough much less than this when I take it out of the fridge and using much less flour.

        I did not make substitutions in the recipes, and, at least in the recent recipe, I used plain store-brand unbleached white flour where white flour was called for. Sometimes I use King Arthur white flour. I’ll give one of the recipes a go with a focus on the shaping as the most likely culprit for lack of rise.

  11. Found your 5min bread online.
    I wish to add sugar, for sweeter loaf.How much sugar do you recommend?
    Thank you
    Wilhelmina

    • Hi Wilhemina,

      Which recipe are you wanting to hadd sugar to? If you mean the master recipe, you can add 2 or 3 tablespoons without great changing the recipe.

      Thanks, Zoë

      • Sorry Zoe,
        Yes, I should have mentioned the Master recipe. And thank you for your reply, will give it a try.
        Wilhelmina

  12. Hi guys! First off, I’m so excited to just have gotten the ABin5 book. My wife is from Germany and although we’ve been able to make decent traditional sourdough-based breads over the last year, one thing we have always been disappointed by is how it is NEVER as good a day or two old as it is fresh…and since we would usually not have time to bake one of those breads daily, we’ve been stuck with bread that is tasty but that rapidly deteriorates in terms of its texture as the week progresses…Enter ABin5 (woohoo!). After reading the book, all the methods are making sense and, again, we’re quite excited by the prospect of fresh bread daily!

    Coming to my question, then, I am wondering if the 475 degree temp listed above for the “refrigerator-rise” technique is ONLY for the pre-heat? Or for the whole baking period?

    And, is there any trade-off for the refrig-rise technique? i.e. doesn’t rise during baking as much as loaves that are shaped and rested the day you’re actually baking?

    We’re just curious. Because of our schedules, we’d love to try and bake our bread early in the morning, so that we can use for lunch and dinner. And, it’s not like the refrig-rise will save tons of time (compared to shaping the loaves in the actual morning) since we need to wait 30 mins or so for the oven anyways, but we just figured if we can have the shaping and the majority of the resting steps out of the way, those are two less things for our tired heads to remember to do in the morn as we stumble into the kitchen and start baking ;)

    Thanks in advance for any help you can offer. Really appreciate your advice/knowledge that you share with the community!

    • In our discussion of the refrig rise trick, we don’t specify a temperature, because each recipe is different–it’s whatever the recipe calls for, and it’s for the whole baking period. The trade-off is that you’ll get a little more sideways spread– not a big deal, but it won’t be as tall and won’t slice into tall sandwich loaves quite as well.

  13. Hi, thanks for writing such a clear well explained book. I tried my first load today. I’m using the artisan book. The loaf was delicious (the family wiped out a small loaf for breakfast) but I ran into two small issues. I was wondering if you could help me out. The loaf didn’t grow very much in the oven and it was a little rubbery. Also not very many holes inside. I did let the dough rest for 90 minutes after I shaped it. Also I tried not to handle it too much while shaping it. I made the master recipe last night, left it out in a container with a little crack open and then put it in the fridge for two hours this morning. I took my grape fruit size chunk out (it dropped a lot at that point without me punching it down). The one thing I did at the wrong time was adding a dusting of flour after shaping it, before resting… Your instructions say just before cutting the slivers and I forgot… Not sure if that affected it. Thank a million.

    • It’s not the dusting, that shouldn’t cause what you describe. The higher protein content in Canadian all-purpose flour is the issue (I see you have a .ca e-mail address). That requires a little more water; assuming you have The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (http://amzn.to/17Rw23Y), see page 10 for the adjustment (near middle of the page).

      • Wow! I can’t believe I got a response this fast. Thanks so much. I will try your recommendation today. I’m really looking forward to impressing the family with awesome bread. They already loved even this first version. Take care.

  14. Hi, guys. I’ve just started making your breads from the original ABin5. It’s been a really fun and delicious process, but I am also having issues with a dense crumb. I’ve read through the FAQ and comments, and think the issue is that I need to add additional water to the dough (I’m using Trader Joe’s AP flour, which after a little research I discovered has an even higher protein content that KA). Here’s my question: I have a batch of mixed dough stored in the fridge now. Can I add additional water now, even though it’s already gone through its initial rise, to try to correct the crumb or should I wait until I’m ready to mix a fresh batch? And if I can add water now, how much? For a fresh batch I would probably add a 1/3 cup extra water, but I’ve already made one loaf (grapefruit sized dough) from this batch. Any guidance would be greatly appreciated! Thanks!

    • Hi Melissa,

      You can add more flour to this batch, but it’s a bit of work. If you have a stand mixer I would use it with the paddle attachement and add the water 1 tablespoon at a time. Maybe 3 tablespoons total and see how the dough looks.

      Thanks, Zoë

  15. I am so excited to bake fresh bread for my family. I have Hb in 5 recipe book and am making the master recipe. I am on my second dough batch, but with the same results. My dough does not stretch when I pull it out. It snaps right off. It is very airy. The first batch tasted awful, too much flour. This time I weighed everything precisely, using Hodgeson Mill Whole Wheat flour (stone ground), Gold Medal unbleached flour, Fleischmans Rapid Rise yeast (2 packets) and Hodgeson Mill Vital Wheat Gluten.

    I am uncertain why it is not looking like your video. Any advice on what to change in my next batch? Thank you!

    • One additional piece of info, the first batch I used Pillsbury Whole Wheat Flour instead of Hodgeson Mills. Same result with the airy, breaking off dough. Is it the yeast that is my problem? Thank you again – I am determined to have incredible bread!

      • Hi Lori,

        Sometimes a dough that breaks off and has little stretch when taking it out of the bucket can be a result of a particularly cold refrigerator. Try shaping the dough and allowing it to rest for an additional 20 minutes.

        Be sure your baking stone is thoroughly preheated before baking the bread. The stone will help with the oven spring and make a less dense loaf.

        Thanks, Zoë

  16. I have made many successful loaves using your Master Recipe. Thank you!

    One thing I have not been able to figure out is how to get a very open crumb. I don’t know how to describe it other than Google “open crumb bread” and look at the images. I like those REALLY BIG air pockets.

    Is this possible using your technique? What can I attempt to obtain it?

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