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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.

              2. The spray bottle trick works pretty well. Take a spray bottle and fill it with water. Then, spritz the entire outside of your bread and place it in a 375 degree oven for five to ten minutes. The crust will become crispier than before, and the inside of the bread will heat up nicely as well. HTH.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Cheese Boy

                  Yes, I've done that, to no avail...thanks though.

                  1. re: travelmad478

                    Steam in the oven and spraying the loaf before baking are meant to allow the loaf to achieve greater volume--oven spring--before the crust sets. Fat in the dough will produce a softer crumb, and also a softer crust. I do not know what effect turning up the heat after the first 20 minutes will have, but it is contrary to accepted practice.

                    Do you use a high-protein or a low-protein flour? Have you tried weighing your ingredients? When I make no-knead bread I use 74.5% hydration, that is, the weight of the water is 74.5% of the weight of the flour. I bake it in a preheated enameled cast-iron casserole, covered at 450 degrees F for 30 minutes, then uncovered at 400 degrees F for another 20 minutes. My oven is a convection oven, so that gives me another effective 30 degrees or so. And I use low-protein flour, because that is all I have available. With high-protein flour you may need a different hydration level.

                    Good luck.

                    1. re: bcc

                      Thanks for all that. I do have a scale and have weighed my ingredients when the recipe gives weights/hydration ratios. This is not just one recipe I'm talking about here, but pretty much every loaf of bread I've made in my several-months-long novice-bread-baking extravaganza. I have not yet progressed to the stage of knowing high-protein from low-protein flour. My various breads have used bread flour, all-purpose, wheat, or combinations thereof.

                      The idea of the convection oven is intriguing, and I may try that. My oven does have a convection setting, which I haven't done much with (I've only been working with this range/oven for about 10 months and so far I've stuck to my old non-convection ways). The few times I have used the fan, I have noticed that things dry out a lot quicker. So maybe that strategy will work with the bread crust, too.

                      1. re: travelmad478

                        Are you trying to get an especially thick crust? Using steam and spraying the loaf are tools to get a thin, crispy crust. If you want a thick crust, then you would want higher temperatures, and you may want to let your loaves rise a bit less.

                        1. re: bcc

                          I'd take thick or thin as long as it stays crispy. My assumption was that the steam was helping on the spring part, not the crust part. I will try no steam. As far as a shorter rise time, what does that do for me? Would I end up with a denser loaf?

                          1. re: travelmad478

                            A shorter rise would mean less volume, a slightly less balanced bread, but a thicker crust. The steam helps on the spring by preventing crust formation at the beginning of the baking. I can't help wondering if your dough is not too moist. It sounds as if your bread is moistening the crust from inside. Does this sound plausible?

                2. I thought maybe you were using a bread machine and their crusts, at least in my machine, do come out looking like crust but that's about all they do, look like it.
                  see that it's artisan breads you're making though and only have one thought.

                  when I do "no kneads" the crust is really nice and lasts but not if I put it into a zipper bag for storage, gets soft and the snap is gone

                  1. I've kinda become addicted to the ABin5 methods these days. Their stuff has virtually foolproof for me and has created better bread than any other recipes I've tried. At 8500ft, some other recipes (adjusted or not) don't seem to work well. Here is a post from their site on crusts http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/201... Good ideas and good comments from others, too.

                    1. Scanning the responses so far, I have two thoughts:

                      1. I believe that you MUST remove the pot lid half-way or so through the cooking, in order to allow needed evaporation, or, as rainey does, remove the loaf entirely form the pot halfway through.

                      2. The other way to end up with a crisp crust softened is to bag the loaf airtight, whether before or after cooling. Loaves need some air circulation or the crust softens. Paper bag is okay, or just leave it out in the open. Cool it on a rack.

                      1. OK, my next attempt will be no steam for a non-pot-baked loaf, or lid-off-last-20-minutes for a pot-baked loaf. I'm also going to try using the convection fan in my oven and see how that works. Maybe I can get very fancy and do steam AND convection. From looking at the website that travelerjjm linked to, I might be in line for an oven thermometer, also. My oven is about 25 years old and who the heck knows what's going on in there.

                        Just to recap, I am having this squishy crust problem for pretty much every loaf of bread, baked in a whole variety of ways (i.e. not all the no-knead, bake-in-a-pot variety. I always cool the bread fully on a rack, so I know that's not the issue.

                        Thanks to all for the help!

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: travelmad478

                          I do think you need to test the oven temp! I have an electronic probe thermometer and found my current oven (also a traditional/convection) is spot-on. I found other oven's I've had to be up to 15 degrees off. BTW. I do use convection almost all the time. I turn the temp down for most convection cooking.

                          Oh, if your oven is gas, the moisture released may not be the best for a good crust. For some reason it is not the same as inducing steam. I prefer a gas cooktop, but I have found that an electric oven is far better for baking.

                          1. re: travelmad478

                            Bada Bing makes a good point. Do you wrap your finished bread? I never do. Although I do wrap and freeze half of each loaf. And do you let your loaves cool completely on a rack? I cool my wheat breads for a good 12 hours, rye breads for 24 to 48 hours.

                            1. re: travelmad478

                              Steam in the first part of cooking is valuable both for keeping the outside of the expanding dough pliable (and therefore expandable) and also for the later evaporation effect, which dries and crisps the crust, just like an air conditioner dries the air inside a house.

                              I use a gas oven, so I know it can work great despite any moisture that might go along with gas. It's definitely important to check your oven temp, but, in the end, if the loaf is 205+ degrees inside, it's fully baked. Good luck!

                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                Hi Trav,

                                Reviewing the posts in this thread, mine and others', impelled me to get out my copy of Professeur Calvel's "The Taste of Bread (Le Goût de Pain), English edition from 2001. In a box on page 73 Prof. Calvel states: "Proper oven temperature is determined by the size and density of the loaves to be baked, and proper baking involves simultaneously achieving desired crust color and crispness. High oven temperatures lead to browning before the crust is formed, which leads to crust softening after cooling." So your oven temps may be too high.
                                He also states (pp73, 75), in reference to oven types, " ... the presence or absence of steam in the baking chamber during the first part of the baking cycle has a much greater impact on the taste of bread". In the ensuing paragraphs Prof. Calvel speaks of the use of steam "during the first moments of baking" (p. 75). not afterwards.

                                1. re: bcc

                                  Yes, it does stand to reason that oven temp should be relative to loaf size.

                                  Just like frying chicken: at a given temperature, only a certain size achieves the optimal browned outside at the same time that the interior is cooked.

                                  1. re: bcc

                                    Aha! That "crust softening after cooling" is exactly my issue. I have already ordered an oven thermometer from Amazon and it's en route. I am traveling now for the next 12 days but I will start the experimentation as soon as I get back. Hoping for "bread weather" by then!

                              2. I finally got home and managed to bake another loaf today: no-knead, in the pot. This time I used my new oven thermometer and discovered that my elderly Viking oven is about 20-25 degrees too hot (Eureka!). So I baked it at *actual* 450 F instead of what I had been doing, which was about 475. It took 30 minutes of lid-on and an additional 30 minutes of lid-off to get the loaf's interior temperature to 210.

                                I did get a much better result for my crust this time, but it's not QUITE there yet. I may have a little too much hydration. The no-knead recipe I'm using (the original from the NY Times) just calls for cups, not weights, but next time I'm going to pull out the scale and go the 74.5% route.

                                I did not use steam for this loaf and I was actually slightly disappointed with the spring (or lack thereof). So I might try to steam the next one. I also didn't experiment with convection yet, but that is on the list for a later date.

                                I'm keeping a bread diary with notes on what works and what doesn't. Maybe in about 5 years I will get this thing perfected!

                                Thanks everyone! I'll get there!

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: travelmad478

                                  Once the bread is done (i.e., at about 210 degrees F), just leave it in the oven with the heat turned off and the door cocked open for about 5 to 10 minutes. Does a great job keeping the crust crusty.

                                  1. re: zamorski

                                    Thanks, I'll try that next time too!

                                    1. re: zamorski

                                      What zamorski said.

                                      Professional hearth ovens have vents in them that are opened after the steam has done it's job letting the dough expand as it is rising and turning into bread. Also the steam helps to gelatinize starches on the surface of the dough...something like that....anyway......opening the vents (or your oven door with a wooden spoon) with about 10'15 minutes left with help to "bake it out" ie...let the steam escape so the crust can set up in a dry environment.

                                      Don't be afraid to get some bake on that bad boy. Color = flavor!

                                    2. re: travelmad478

                                      When I baked the original Lahey recipe, I found that the dough was really wetter than necessary. Rosa Levy Beranbaum (see her website) experimented and got better results with 75% hydration, and that's what I use for no-knead doughs. It helps to weigh the flour. However, keep in mind that flour that has absorbed humidity from the air can really skew the actual hydration. So pay as much attention to how the dough feels as you do to the hydration specified in a recipe.

                                      1. re: travelmad478

                                        Lahey changed his proportions for the no knead bread in My Bread and cut it back to 1 1/3 c. water.

                                        Here's the recipe with weights (although the directions have been changed from the book, the recipe is the same)

                                        http://www.seriouseats.com/recipes/20...

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          Well, that's interesting. The recipe I have been using (the one originally published in the Times) calls for 1 5/8 cups of water. This certainly changes things. Thanks for the link!

                                          1. re: travelmad478

                                            Yes, I started with the 1 5/8 which was a hard to manage dough. CH recommended cutting back to 1 1/2 which helped. After I got the book last year, I cut back to 1 1/3 and get a better loaf. I don't bake crusty bread over the summer because it's too hot but your post has been making me crave it again. Time to get back to baking bread!

                                            1. re: chowser

                                              Exactly--now that the heat's on in the house, I am inspired to turn on the oven too! I took the summer off bread baking but now I'm back in business.

                                      2. I haven't read all the replies, so I'm not sure if someone answered with this comment yet. Spray the interior of your oven with water when you put the bread in, then a couple of times while it's baking (very quickly). The steam helps make a crunch crust. Look up recipes for French Bread and you'll get the idea a little better. Hope this helps!

                                        1. I am a little late to this thread but reading (what I think is the majority of) the replies, I think I got this one from a different angle:

                                          The no-knead pot baking dough is very hydrated. It relies on having lots of water to ferment and propagate the yeast and encourages an organic gluten breakdown rather than mechanical one (kneading). The water therefore must be abundant in it in order for it to work. The covered pot serves as a mock steam oven as it circulates steam around the loaf during the early baking to create a proper crust. Crusting, as you probably know is a chemical reaction of the dough with the water -it isn't just toasting a dough to brown it.

                                          Remove the lid too late = very thick crust, with lots of water still circulating in the bread.
                                          Remove the lid too early = miss on rise action and crust formation.
                                          Remove the lid on time = thinner crust which allows water to evaporate out of the dough and without lid -to escape as they should

                                          In other words, should you remove the lid too late, once you take the bread out, steam will continue to be created and push upwards, by the power of heat softening the upper crust within a few short minutes. This gets worst when you shock the bread in cooling temperature and dry air. It naturally seeks thermal/hydration equilibrium (dynamic equilibrium) and the extreme difference causes it to accelerate the process so much; the dough saturates with moisture faster than it can dry. (Notice that the bottom crust is still crisp because the steam only move upwards).

                                          I have had this problem myself and there are a few easy things I do to fix it:
                                          - Remove the lid 5 minutes earlier
                                          - Finish the last 5-10 minutes of the bread in the oven -out of the pot
                                          - Cool the bread in stages. I place the cooling rack on top of the hot oven for the first 10-15 minutes so it doesn't cool down so quickly
                                          - Turn the bread upside down on the cooling rack first (You can also do that during the last few minutes of baking!). This makes the steam go out the bottom first. If the bread is light enough I sometime let it "cool" in the hot oven on the rack, first -as the oven cools down.

                                          Alternatively, for a long time I have had a quick fix for these soft crusts: Simply cool the bread down as you normally would. Once cool, bring up the oven back to 500°F or so (depends on your bread) and hot-shock it for 5 minutes. It will re-toast the crust to crispiness without heating the inside too much. (Of course make sure not to over-brown or burn the crust)

                                          Let me know if this helps

                                          Here's a 5-grain no-knead I did last week using this method (60% bread flour, 20% whole wheat 10% rye flour. Grains: Rolled oats, oat bran, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, dutch caraway seeds)

                                           
                                          1. Did you ever manage to achieve the perfect, crusty loaf? Curious as I can't seem to perfect that wonderful, chewy, continental style crust, despite trying water, sprays, olive oil, less oil, etc. etc.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: wbloo

                                              Actually yes. This thread was extremely helpful in that regard. My recipe hasn't changed as far as ingredient proportions, but I did a lot of experimentation on baking strategies based on suggestions I got here. What I came down to is: baking the bread for 35 minutes with the lid on and then another 25 with the lid off, and opening the oven door for the last few minutes also. The crust is now everything I want it to be. Thanks, CH!

                                              1. re: travelmad478

                                                Oh great, will follow that one then, just about to make a batch. Cheers!