Holey-er than thou

Holey bread 1

A lot of my recent bread has been fairly dense, with a close crumb. I like bread like this, especially with wholegrain breads like the 100% wholegrain wheat and spelt I’ve been making recently. They’ve tasted great and when fresh aren’t bad for open sandwiches and when a bit old they’re perfect for toast. But the favoured style of “artisan” bread these days is all about the open crumb. A nice crisp crust and an open, irregular crumb with a variety of big holes.

I know I’ve made holey bread like that in the past, but, I dunno, through all my experiments the past few years with seriously rustic flours, bought from farmers’ markets in Rome and here in Sussex, I seem to have lost the knack slightly. Learning to bake is one of those life-long challenges, especially if you’re a home baker and aren’t churning out massive batches. But it’s funny to feel you’ve learned something then forgotten it again.

High extraction challenge
It does seem that holey breads are a particular challenge if you’re using flour with a high extraction rate. The extraction rate is the amount of the grain that remains in the milled flour. So a genuinely wholegrain flour in principle should be 100% extraction. Modern, industrial, nominally brown flours, however, may only be about 80-85% extraction, whereas white flours, which have been sieved or bolted1 may be closer to 70% extraction – with the bran and germ (ie, the healthiest bits) removed and just the starches and proteins remaining. 

I’m sure the masters of the contemporary bread scene, especially those who work with ancient and heritage grains (like Chad Robertson of Tartine and the bakers producing the great looking results of the Brockwell Bake) could get a nice open, irregular holey crumb from 100% extraction flours, but not me. The wholegrain flours I’ve been buying lately have been very branny, stoneground, and I suspect probably close to 100% extraction. They taste great, but I need to get at it to open that crumb out.

I did go back to a classic Dan Lepard 100% white sourdough recipe the other day, and did get a holey crumb. Bit it’s wholly too holey. Holey-er than though. With giant crazy giant holes. So I’ve gone from one extreme to the other.

I reckon the next few weeks, I’m going to try and make breads that are 50/50 white and wholegrain and try the so-called “no knead” method. This seems to be very popular among US bakers and does seem to give holey crumb loaves. It involves mixing up the dough, resting it, and giving it a few stretch-and-folds over time. This does seem very similar to Dan L’s method of mixing, doing a short knead, resting it, and doing another short knead, then repeating, as those kneads basically just involve folding over the dough. I generally use Dan L’s method, with a few stretch-and-folds anyway. And there’s arguably a fine line between “kneading” and “folding”.

In the meantime, here are some pics of my comically holey bread. The flour was nothing fancy2, but the loaves still tasted pretty good. Even if they weren’t idea for making sarnies.

Holey bread 2


1 Etymology geek chums, bolting generally means sieving – or indeed sifting – through cloth. The word comes from 12th century Middle English bulten, from the old French bulter, which is probably from the Old High German būtil, meaning bag.)

2 Strong white from Waitrose supermarket. Although Waitrose/John Lewis does has its own farm,  the Leckford Estate in Hampshire, my home county, and to the west of Sussex in the south of England, they don’t seem to grow wheat that produces a strong white bread flour. The Waitrose own brand strong white is “produce of more than one country” – they, and even the likes of Dove’s Farm and Shipton Mill, Britain’s two big organic flour brands, don’t seem to be forthcoming about which countries. Presumably Canada, Kazakhstan, India, etc. I’ve now ordered some strong white flour from Stoate & Sons now instead. I believe they do manage to locally source and mill  a strong, high protein variety of wheat  in Dorset, the next country along from Hampshire.)


Filed under Baking, Breads, Discussion, Flour & grain

5 responses to “Holey-er than thou

  1. Ma

    Holey or not, it looks delicious.

  2. I am afraid I think you will find the Michael Stoates uses some Kazhak grain in his Strong White most years. Its actually not as white as our own typical flour. Whether you can get the same “holiness” as some produce nowadays using a Sussex, Kent, Essex only flour I am not really sure, but I am quite convinced you can do most other things. But if you would like to try lets try to get some flour to you.
    Andy Forbes
    Brockwell Bake http://brockwell-bake.org.uk/wheat/

    • Hi Andy. Thanks for stopping by.

      Yes, I did wonder about then when I reread the Stoates page. I also noticed subsequently that Waitrose do produce a strong white bread flour (13.6% protein), nominally from the Leckford Estate in Hampshire. The Waitrose stuff is probably whiter and lower extraction. I don’t mind off-white “white” – prefer it actually. Was uing a lot of Mulino Marino and suchlike in Italy, and that’s more typically off-white, probably higher extracter.

      And yes, Italian bakers get a holey crumb with lower protein local flours. I’m sure British bakers did too before we started buying cheap, high protein grain from N America in the 19th century.

      I’ve never tried the Damant – will try and buy some this year.

      Wish I’d know more about your project when I lived in south London near Brockwell Park…

  3. Hi Dan,
    Where are you now Dan? Sussex? Our mill is currently on WoWo Farm, Sheffield Park, E. Sussex, north from Lewes. I’ll be down on Tuesday through to Wednesday.

    Any stone ground flour obviously is going to be less white than roller milling can achieve but tempering before milling (adding 1% or 2% moisture) can help get bran off in bigger bits so more easily sifted out. Stoates doesn’t temper at the moment and neither do we usually for our current BBA flours but I think Stoates sifting cloth must be coarser than ours, or some difference in our stones. Our strongest protein grain at the moment, Paragon 2013 from Hammonds End Farm, Herts is 12.66% protein – don’t usually use by itself.

    We’ve been bulking up heritage wheat lines with origins in South East England dating back at least to 1620, with good historic milling reputations from 10g genebank samples since 2009 but so far it all goes back in the ground. We did get 4 samples tested for protein by NIAB, the main government test station in 2012 and they came out as the top four for that year NIAB had tested that year, from 14.4% to 13.9%. But it seems highly likely not so much of total protein are the gluten, insoluble protein pair, gliadin and glutenin as in modern wheats – which may make heritage wheats more digestible and nutritional.

    Personally I think very strong flour is one root to “holiness” but another factor which may explain the weaker Italian flours in use there which you mention is the gutenin/gliadin balance.

    You are welcome to try the Paragon (or any other of 4 wheats we have currently). Might be able to get you a Stoates sample as well.


    • Hi Andy. Funnily enough, I just emailed WoWo last week. I’d bought some spelt and oats from Toos Jeuken of Laines Organic Farm in Cuckfield, and I asked if she was growing any emmer or einkorn, after reading about diploid and tetraploid wheats vs hexaploid in the latest Bread Matters. She said she thought Paul Cragg at Wowo might be growing some – so presumably she’s referring to the work you’re doing with the Craggs. I’ll drop you a line at your atty email – be good to meet up to discuss more. Cheers, Dan

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