SOLVING BREAD CRUST PROBLEMS (All that is not crust is crumb)
Nothing makes a bread loaf more desirable than a nice, even brown-coloured crust--not too soft and not too dry. It is the first impression of the bread's donesss and an advertisement to it's taste and texture. On the other hand, nothing deters us more if we make a loaf that has some serious crust problems. We are going to try to address some of the causes and how you can solve them in your baking.
Is the crust pale, thick, and tough?
Probably the oven temperature was too low. Did you use the sweetener and/or milk the recipe called for? Breads without sweetener or milk are best when baked with steam at a higher temperature. If you did include the sweetener, but you can't taste it in the bread, the dough may have risen too long or got too warm, or both. Honey when used as the sweetener will produce a browner loaf of bread than using sugar.
Is the crust terribly dark?
Is it dry inside? It just baked too long. If there are dark areas, or if the top or bottom are particularly affected, your oven has a hot spot. Rotate the bread partway through the baking or move it down or up in the oven to compensate. If the bread has a lot of milk or milk products (like cottage cheese etc.) or sweetener, the crust will brown deeply because of this. Bake at a lower temperature, usually 325 F. degrees.
Did the top crust lift off?
If the bottom edges are rounded, as well, probably the bread was underproofed or under risen. The dough may have been too stiff because of too much flour. The dough may have dried out and crusted over during the final rising period. (Risen in too warm an oven). Slightly overproofed bread made from rather slack dough will often collect a pocket of air just under the crust. Slashing helps, but best of all is not to overproof. We put a timer on while the bread is rising to tell us when to start to bake.
Does the crust have blisters?
These can be caused by not deflating the dough completely when you round and shape the loaf; by overproofing a dough that was underfermented: by letting condensed steam drip down on the loaf while it proofs.
Is the crumb coarse and holey? (We don't mean religious)
Big holes in an otherwise even crumb come from careless shaping of the loaf. Did you grease or oil the bowl in which the dough rose? Did you use oil on the counter when shaping the loaf? Some of this fat may not get absorbed; the dough separates at these points and gas accumulates. Using too much dusting flour can cause the same problems and so can letting the dough dry out during the second rise, or while it is resting. If the holes are only at the top of the slice, while the bottom is pretty dense and maybe the loaf even collapsed a little, it was overproofed. Did you forget the salt? It is easy to over-rise salt free bread as it will rise in half the time salted bread would take. If your oven was not hot enough at the beginning of the baking, the bread will continue to rise when it should be baking. If all the crumb is open and also moist, the dough was too wet.
Is the crumb crumbly?
Usually, the crumb is crumbly if there was too much flour and too little kneading, but it can also be caused by "overing": overkneading, overproofing, overfermenting (too much yeast). Too much wheat germ, bran, oat flakes, and such will do it too.
Is the crumb uneven?
Cold dough proofed warm may have an open texture on the outside, and be dense in the centre. Warm dough that is cooler in the final rise may be holey in the centre and dense near the crust.
Are there streaks or hard spots in the crumb?
You get hard spots when you pick up bits of hard or gummy crap from the kneading table (not common when mixing in the Bosch machines); the best place for the stuff that rolls off your hands after kneading is the compost bin. Avoid using too much dusting flour. Like I have pointed out earlier, we like to use oil on the counter during the shaping process. You also get streaks when the dough is chilled or dries out during the risings. If fermenting dough gets really crusty there will be gummy places in the bread where it couldn't bake properly.
Is the flavour poor?
If the bread tastes bland and flat, you probably forgot the salt. Bread that is underfermeted will also be a little bland and will stale quickly. If the bread tastes yeasty and looks gray, its rising was too long or too warm or both. Or did you use too much yeast? Is the flour old or the oil rancid? Did the butter spend the night alongside a half onion in the refrigerator? Fats, flour, milk, eggs -- all of them can absorb off-flavours in storage. Were you experimenting? a new combination of good ingredients doesn't automatically work well. For those of you milling your own flour, each year brings a different crop of grain that will taste and behave slightly different that the last depending on the growing conditions, moisture and protein content of the grain.
Does the bread get stale too quickly?
Most of the factors that make poor flavour also make for poor keeping quality, Since no one wants to eat the stuff, it can be around a long time, which doesn't help either. Overbaked bread is dry and hard, and seems stale from day one. Bread made in a short time can never keep as well as leisurely loaves do, ene when it is made properly. Dough enhancer that we like to add to the bread in the mixing does create a moister and longer keeping loaf of bread, even making it with the single rise technique that we like to use in a hurry. Some ingredients help bread stay moist and fresh-tasting longer: cooked cereal, stewed or steamed fruit, fat, honey, milk (especially cultered milk)\
Hope this helps!