I wish there was no knead for this question
April 3, 2020 5:18 AM   Subscribe

Another baking question: I've done 6 or 7 loaves following the Jim Lahey book basic recipe and technique to the letter (I believe). The crust always comes out super tough and bitter/burnt tasting, although not overly dark I don't think. I'm baking in a dutch oven, and using a hanging inside the oven thermometer so I think the temp is ok. How do I get a more tender crust?
posted by CheeseLouise to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't know what you feel is super tough and bitter/burnt but the Lahey recipe makes the kind of bread you used to get in red-sauce NYC Italian restaurants: thick, dark, crunchy flavorful crust with a moist, full of holes, stretchy interior. You don't need butter. You tear the pieces by hand and use them to mop up the rest of the sauce. You may be getting what the recipe intends. The Lahey bread isn't a sandwich bread, an old-fashioned white bread.
posted by tmdonahue at 5:45 AM on April 3, 2020

If you are dusting the loaf with fine flour, that might be burning more easily in your Dutch oven than if you use something coarser, like cornmeal. My own iron pot seem to be pretty hot, so I'm at the lower end of the baking times; 30 minutes covered, less than 15 uncovered.
posted by bendybendy at 5:51 AM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

That slightly bitter, chewy crust is what people generally want, believe it or not. But it's an acquired taste and I know people who don't really like it.

A lower temperature ought to help, and moving the bread lower in the oven will reduce the browning on the top of the loaf. You should be able to take the loaf out while it's a lighter colour, and still find it's cooked through. The bread may come out a bit less moist and aerated though.
posted by pipeski at 5:58 AM on April 3, 2020

Follow up to pipeski. Julia Child instructed to put an instant read thermometer in the bottom of the loaf. Done bread should be 200 degrees.
posted by tmdonahue at 7:07 AM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I bake all my bread in pullman loaf tins because I can't be doing gnawing my way through crunchy crust for my sarnies.
posted by Vortisaur at 7:27 AM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've had the same experience with some dutch oven breads (although I've never done the Lahey recipe - I'm more partial to Forkish myself). When my bread is too crusty, I leave it at room temp in a sealed ziploc bag for about a day. The humidity softens it up just enough. I would also recommend experimenting with removing the dutch oven lid a little sooner - as I understand things, more in-oven humidity & oven spring = more crustiness.
posted by mosst at 7:48 AM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I make that bread often, but I bake it in a smaller, oval-shaped enameled iron pot instead of my big old lodge dutch oven. It makes the loaf bake taller and more medium-dense sides-y, less dense bottom-y than in the dutch oven. Also using wheat bran instead of flour on the final rise/shaping burns less than flour.
posted by niicholas at 8:17 AM on April 3, 2020

When I bake bread in a bread pan I cover the loaf with a Tea towel as soon as I remove the loaf from the pan. I leave the towel in place until the loaf is cool - this results in a chewy rather than hard crust.
posted by chr at 8:19 AM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Dutch ovens are meant to simulate hearth baking -- it's a method specifically intended to produce a very crusty loaf with a darkened, blistered surface, and it's often paired with very lean bread doughs (lean = just water, flour, yeast, and salt). If you want a tender, sandwich-bread-type loaf, bake in a loaf pan and look into bread recipes that are enriched with fat, sweeteners, and/or milk. Both the baking method and the enrichment will lead to a more tender crust and crumb. This Just Bread recipe produces a perfect whole wheat sandwich bread, for instance. Here's a similar recipe for white sandwich bread.
posted by ourobouros at 8:28 AM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Confirm that you wait until the loaf is totally cooled before you cut into it?
I have found that the “speedy no knead” bread recipe that calls for a 4 ish hour rise gives me a somewhat lighter crust than the overnight recipe also.
posted by tangaroo at 9:26 AM on April 3, 2020

The crust gets much softer 2 days after baking, can you wait that long before eating it? I usually can't so it's just the last few slices that are like that.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:52 AM on April 3, 2020

Does his recipe use an egg white wash and do you add steam to your oven while baking? I just a cookie sheet and a handful of ice cubes about halfway through.
posted by annathea at 10:20 AM on April 3, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I'm definitely not expecting sandwich bread but at the same time it hadn't actually occurred to me that somewhat tough crust and some bitterness are a feature not a bug, so re-framing my expectations will probably help. Still, I don't feel like the crust should be so tough that it tears up the roof of my mouth if I can even bite into it at all. I'm going to try a few more times with the some of the tips in here, and if I don't wind up with something that pleases me I'll move to a new recipe! Thanks all!!
posted by CheeseLouise at 10:27 AM on April 3, 2020

Try rubbing the crust with butter while it's still warm.
posted by kate4914 at 10:46 AM on April 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

You might try one of the sandwich bread recipes from Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day (here's their discussion about loaf-pan breads), like the brioche. The basic 5-minutes-a-day recipe is intended to make a European-style loaf with a firm crust, so you'll be working against it trying to get a different result. Starting with a recipe meant to be sandwich bread (with a more tender crust and smaller crumb) will probably save a lot of frustration.
posted by Lexica at 12:26 PM on April 3, 2020

I use a very similar recipe. The crust was more tender after I switched from baking it in an enameled iron pan to a relatively thick-walled pottery casserole. Also, I set the oven 5 degrees cooler than the recipe calls for.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 12:59 PM on April 3, 2020

I would suggest making a wetter dough.
posted by Nothing at 11:16 AM on April 4, 2020

I do the ~Lahey recipe only, but I do not preheat my dutch oven.

Also, I just this week tried something that a commenter on the OG NYT article said, which was to do the final 2 hr rise with the dough *on parchment paper in the mixing bowl*, and then just put the whole parchment paper + dough into the dutch oven before cooking (since you are not flipping it, make sure to score the top of the boule!). This gave me a much finer grain and much less crisp crust for the same baking time as I have always used (30 min lid on + 12 off).
posted by annabear at 6:24 PM on April 4, 2020

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