Bread Too Crumbly? 5 Little Secrets You Need To Know

Is your homemade bread too crumbly? You wanted a soft-textured, springy loaf and you got crumbs? It's a common problem. We can fix this.

When you've spent precious time and effort making bread, you really want it to be WOW! And yes, it's very frustrating when it turns out to be more like 'meh'. So, if your homemade bread is underwhelming, don't worry. You've come to the right place.

If your bread is tending to be drier and more crumbly than you would like, I have five 'secrets' of success for you.

Here we go...


1) Hydration matters. Don't panic: it's easier than you think


Crumbly bread can be the result of dough that was too dry. Too-dry dough is characterised by being stiff to work with and reluctant to rise. Ensure that your dough is not too dry by checking that you have the right level of hydration.

'Hydration' is the term that people use to describe how much water is in the dough. There's a useful article on 'Dough Hydrations for Fantastic Bread' here. In it, I explain that measuring your ingredients carefully can ensure that you use an optimal amount of water for the best-textured dough. White flour needs slightly less water than wholemeal flour. Getting the balance of flour and water correct can make a real difference to your finished bread.

In baking parlance, hydration is given as a percentage. White flour needs a dough hydration of around 63%, wholemeal flour requires around 70%. NB The hydration level is calculated based on the amount of flour, not, as you might think, the total amount of dough. So, using the example of white flour, for every 100g of flour used, you need 63g of water. All my recipes are based on this formula. My Awesome Everyday Loaf uses a mixture of wholemeal and plain flour at 63% hydration. So, if you're following a recipe, chances are your hydration levels are fine. However...

2) Individual circumstances differ: don't be afraid to adjust


Your particular flour, the humidity level in your particular location and even the accuracy of your weighing scales can all have an impact on the success of your finished loaf.

When it comes to mixing dough, whilst it's wise to follow a recipe, it's also useful to be a bit flexible. With more experience, you'll be able to tell if your dough is slacker or stiffer than usual and you will start to notice that a stiff dough doesn't rise as easily as a slack dough and also results in drier bread.

If your dough seems too stiff: if it's not pliable and easy to shape, you can carefully add in a little more water until you have a workable dough. Don't worry if the dough seems very sticky. I have been known to accidentally overdo the water, give up on the idea of ever being able to shape the dough then end up having to pour/plop the dough into a tin and hope for the best. Actually, the results of these sloppy-doughed-loaves have been very good, so it only goes to show that all this fancy shaping and taking-care is somewhat over-rated.

3) Wetter is better: try to resist adding extra flour


Adding a little extra water to dry dough may be beneficial but I'd caution against adding extra flour to sloppy dough. Unless your dough really is runny and unmanageable, erring on the side of too-wet is better than too-dry when it comes to a great finished texture.

4) Good dough is clean to work with


Crumbly bread is often due to too much flour in the mixture. This can result, as we have said, from using the wrong quantities or from adding extra flour to compensate in dough that seems too wet.

Many people also flour their work surface liberally when it comes to kneading. If you've got the balance right in the first place, your dough will be clean and you will not need any flour on the worktop when kneading. If you are going to flour the worktop, do so sparingly so as not to alter the balance of ingredients and end up with a lower-than-desired hydration.

BONUS TIP: If my dough, in the bowl, is clearly sticky and too wet to handle nicely, it never even makes it onto the worktop. I just don't want the mess. I either shape, roughly, in mid-air, or drop the whole lot directly into the tin. It works fine that way. No stress, no mess.

5) Beware of fats


It is tempting to think that adding fats, such as oil or butter, to your dough would result in bread that is more supple and moist. Alas, this is not so.

Oil and butter are 'shortening' agents. This means that they limit the length of the gluten strands that form in the developing dough. Long, stretchy, gluten strands are required to make a net-like structure and hold onto the bubbles of carbon dioxide gas made by the yeast. The longer the gluten strands the better when it comes to pliable dough and soft bread. Adding fats into the mix leads to crumblier bread (think scones and pastry as extreme examples of this).

There's more detail on the topic of oil/fat in bread dough in this article: Oil In Bread Dough - Yes or No?

There's more


You can keep up to date with the latest from Freshly Baked, by email. Please sign up and receive your FREE guide to Fresh Bread In 20 Minutes.

For a screen-friendly, concise version of my growing recipe collection, download The Recipes here.

To learn more about baking better looking bread, get my Bake Beautiful Bread tutorial package here.

As ever, do get in touch to let me know if you have any questions.

2 comments:

  1. What is the best way to keep home made bread, that doesn't have any preservatives in it.
    I make bread with one third Brown flour to two thirds wholemeal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi!
      I prefer to store bread in an airtight container. I use a clip-lock plastic box. A sealed bag is pretty good too. You can freeze bread, of course, if you want to keep it for longer than 4-5 days. A good idea is to slice the bread prior to freezing as it can then be defrosted more quickly or even toasted from frozen.
      Storing fresh bread in an airtight container stops it from drying out too quickly and, if kept cool (room temperature is fine in England but if your room is hot, maybe a fridge would be better) a loaf will last for about 5 days without becoming too dry and unappetising. If there is dampness and condensation in the container, the bread will quickly go mouldy; so bread should be cool before it is sealed away and should be kept out of direct sunlight so that it doesn't sweat.
      Bread rolls, doughballs, white bread and focaccia have a tendency to dry out more quickly than loaves and wont stay fresh for so long. They can be revived the next day in a hot oven: sprinkle with water and place in the hot oven for a few minutes to refresh. This can only be done once as the bread will become harder after that.
      Stale bread can be turned into breadcrumbs and frozen for when you need a breadcrumb topping.

      Delete