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Why is my bread crust not crusty?

I've been making a variety of artisan-style breads, including the no-knead, and in pretty much every case I get a loaf that LOOKS like it has a great crust, and even has that nice knocky sound when I go to take it out of the oven. But invariably, once I take it out and let it cool, the crust softens up and goes from firm to spongy. I have tried steam, no steam, hotter oven, longer baking time...I cannot achieve that good, crunchy, artisan-bread crust that you can really tear into with your teeth. What am I doing wrong?

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  1. Are you doing Jim Lahey's baking in an enclosed hot pot? Nothing I've ever done in 30 or so years of home bread making has had such a salutary effect on my crusts.

    I get my pot incendiary hot before the dough goes in and use as wide and shallow a pot as is available. I've found a tagine to be ideal for me but deep casseroles used upside down on a stone have worked for me too.

    After about 3/4 of the baking time enclosed in the pot, I take the loaf out and let it finish uncovered. I have finally gotten the "singing" crusts that I worked for for decades.

    1. Are you taking it to the proper internal temperature before you remove it from the oven? I like to use 205-210°F as a good baseline for crusty breads.

      1. That is strange. In my limit experience (only worked with no knead bread), I always get crusty crust. In fact, I couldn't not get crusty crust. There are two main reasons. First is that your definition of crust is much different than mine. Maybe you really very crushy. Second popular reason is that the temperature is not hot enough. Either the oven temperature, or the pot temperature (no knead bread).

        Now based your statement that "it has a great crust, and even has that nice knocky sound when I go to take it out of the oven. But invariably, once I take it out and let it cool", this sounds like the oven was hot enough to first create the crusty crust. So this must be signiciantly more water was inside the dough, so as water slowly leached out and soften the crust. Have you tried cooling the bread is a more opened area (as opposed a close environment). This should help allow the extra water to escape.

        1. I have used the covered hot pot for my no-knead breads, yes. I put it in my Viking oven and turn it to 500 for 45 minutes before dumping the bread in using the parchment paper sling method. I do measure the interior temperature with a thermometer, too. And I let my loaves cool on a rack on the kitchen counter, so they shouldn't be getting soggy in the cooling process. The one thing I haven't done is taking the lid off before the end, as rainey recommends--will try that. However, not all of my loaves have been cooked in the pot--I've only done that for the no-knead variety. The one thing I've pondered but not tried yet is to turn up the heat for the last 15-20 minutes of baking, after the in-oven rise is complete. Maybe that will do it.

          2 Replies
          1. re: travelmad478

            "The one thing I haven't done is taking the lid off before the end, as rainey recommends--will try that. "

            I think that will definitely help for no knead bread. I cannot say what happened to your regular bread baking.

            1. re: travelmad478

              I don't just take the lid off. I remove the loaf from the container entirely. And I use the hot pot method for ALL my bread now.

              I enjoyed seeing the no-knead technique in practice and greatly admire what Lahey did for home bread making in the process of spreading the no-knead gospel. It confirmed everything I've believed about the inevitability of yeast producing bread and the folly of being intimidated by it. But, tho I will bless Lahey all my days for his hot pot method, I no longer bother with the no-knead business of constructing a dough. Pre-ferments and old doughs are good enough for me. Meanwhile, even my conventional bread is 100%-1000% better for baking with the enclosed pot.

            2. Even really crusty bread, if left out in high humidity, will quickly lose its crunchiness. Could that be it?

              3 Replies
              1. re: visciole

                No, my house isn't particularly humid, and this has happened over many different loaves on many different days.

                1. re: travelmad478

                  Are you using a significant amount of dairy or other fat in the dough? Do you cover the cooling bread in any way? Are you sure your loaf is fully cooked before you remove it from the oven?

                  When I bake a bread that I *want* to have a soft crust I cover it with a tea towel as it cools so that the moisture that remains enclosed within the crust can steam the crust back to supple for easy slicing.

                  1. re: rainey

                    > Are you using a significant amount of dairy or other fat in the dough?

                    Not in most of my attempts. I have made some loaves that include olive oil, maybe 2 T in 3 cups of flour. But this is happening with every bread I bake.

                    > Are you sure your loaf is fully cooked before you remove it from the oven?

                    I normally use a thermometer and get the interior to 210 or so. On my last loaf, I forgot to do that. But the bread was certainly bread in the middle, not dough. It probably could have stayed in the oven longer, but I took it out when the crust made a hollow sound when tapped...only to soften up when it came out! That one was not made in a pot, just on a baking stone.