The baking process provides us with a series of challenges in each part of the way to the perfect loaves. One of the common problems first time bakers encounter (and, to be frank, experienced bakers can encounter as well from time to time) is that the bread splits in different places of the loaves.
So why is the bread splitting and bursting in all the wrong places? The reason is either too much internal pressure built up in the bread or your bread formed a crust too early.
Here is a list of the when and where your problems can arise from:
- The dough is too wet or too dry
- Shaping and skin tension
- Tight seam
Yes, making a burst free loaves is a tricky business, but gladly I’m here to help. So let’s go over this list in more details and see if you can spot your issue.
1. Dough is Too Wet or Too Dry
When the dough has too much moisture in it, it can create extra steam inside the bread which will add to the pressure already build by the gases released by the yeast. All this pressure will cause your bread to burst and not release evenly from the slashes in your bread.
If your dough is too dry it can form a crust before it had time to rise in the oven. This will cause the crust of your bread to crack and let the air out of the bread wherever it cracks and expand those cracks into bigger cracks or “bursts”. For more on moisture and steam read below section on STEAM. There is more useful information there.
2. Shaping and Too Much Skin Tension
Another factor that can dramatically influence the outcome of Your bread regarding splitting is your technique of shaping the bread or molding.
When you shape your bread you actually wrapping a smooth skin of dough around a greater mass to obtain a certain shape. You need to make sure that you do not leave air pockets in the dough. These air pockets can be a result of a bread that is too loose and can end up close to the surface of the bread. The baking process will expand and push out of the crust wherever they are, causing a burst or split in your crust.
Tip: before molding the bread be sure to get all the air out of the dough first. This will reduce the chance of air pockets in your bread.
When talking about skin tensions in the molding stage ( tightening up the bread and folding it into shape ), you can create too much skin tension. The skin will end up being too thin.
When inserting the bread in the oven and it undergoes the initial rising stage. The thin skin will then split and allow gases in the bread to escape out of it. You need to make sure that there isn’t too much skin tension. If you mold your bread and start to see the outside ripping apart it means you have it too tight.
Pay attention to the feel of the dough when molding. You will be able to feel the tension in the skin when pulling on it. This is especially true at the seams of the bread. If it feels like it is about to rip, loosen it up a bit and try to mold again. Breathe this time. 😉
3. Tight Seam
Think of your bread as a beautiful garment, the seams should be in a placed hidden from the eye, the same goes to your bread. That means the seam needs to be hidden in the bottom of the bread as appose to the top or the side of it. Also, you have to make sure the seam will be sealed properly because if it’s not, it will tear in the weak areas.
So what to do? Make sure you are getting a good tight seam when you shape your bread before final proof. make sure you have the right tensions in your dough as explained above in the Shaping segment. If you are creating a round loaf, once you have gathered the dough into the center of the bread give the bottom seam a 90 degrees turn before laying it down for final proof. If you are closing up an elongated loaf, push down with the heel of your hand on the seam and move along the full length making sure you have put enough pressure on the entire
4. Under Proofing
what is proofing? proofing is the stage where you let your dough rise after you finished shaping the loaves and before it goes in the oven. It is the stage of fermentation. If you don’t let it rise long enough, and put it in the oven too soon, it is under proofed. in the same sense if you take your time and wait too long before getting your dough into the oven you have over-proofed your dough.
While every recipe is a bit different most of them should give direction to the amount of time you need to proof your dough or at least what to look for.
It is worth to emphasize that circumstances like temperature where you bake (if you are in a cold winter or humid summer), type of oven you use, etc.. will force you to make adjustments to your proofing time. The bottom line is you have to “feel” the dough and know what to look for when its time to get it in the oven.
How do I know my bread is proofed enough? Well, you can perform a simple test in most cases. Poke your finger into the bread. If the bread bounces back right away it is under-proofed, if the dough does not bounce back at all it is over-proofed and if the dough bounces back about halfway in the hole you poked it’s just right. Just like goldilocks 🙂
So whats proofing got to do with bread splitting or bursting? well, if you under-proofed ( under prooved ) your dough will have not gone through the full fermentation process. When you put your bread in the oven, it will accelerate this process and there will be too much pressure built up in the bread from the gasses released by the yeast. This pressure will release anywhere it can find space. Even if you make deep cust in your bread it will not ensure that these gases will be directed their way. These gases will find the shortest rout out of the bread hence creating a burst in the bread.
Again, what’s happening is that your bread crust is hardening before the expansion is done, and the crust splits at the weakest point. moisture can keep the dough soft and pliable until it stops expanding. There are a couple of ways you can go about this.
- Put a pan of water in your oven, preferably before baking. By the time your bread will be ready to put in the oven, your oven will be full of steam. This is crucial. It is best to place the water before placing the bread and allowing your oven to heat up. This way you do not lose heat when opening the oven to insert the pan. The less you open your oven door the better.
- Use a dutch oven: Put your bread in a large cast-iron pan with a lid, then remove the lid. The lid keeps the steam in, removing it allows the crust to harden just in time. ( Check out our products review page for best dutch oven here )
Steam is important to ensure your crust does not form too early. Not enough steam will cause bursting as explained. But steam and moisture is also crucial during the final proofing or rising of the bread before baking. Professional bakeries use a proofer. It is basically a steam box. This way the bread proof in a warm and humid environment ensuring that a crust will not form at this stage.
Since you are baking at home and do not have the luxury of a proofer you can place your bread in a closet or maybe even a microwave and place beside it a cup or bowl with boiling water. This will create humidity in the environment and will give your bread a good proof. You can replace the water from time to time.
If you are proofing without steam make sure that you cover your bread with a towel ( even a damp towel will be great ) or with a plastic wrap “saran wrap”. You can also give your bread a couple spritzes of water before covering it. This will help with the moister as well.
Steam is a crucial part of baking. It is not only to prevent your crust from bursting but also helps form the proper crispy crust.
The loaf bursts due to pressure building up after the crust hardened. You can try to fix it by scoring the bread, which allows air to escape just enough where it won’t burst. Slashing or scoring your bread is basically giving your bread a chimney or ventilation. However, make sure you don’t wait too long between slashing the dough and putting it in the oven. Waiting too long can make this ventilation close up, putting you and your bread in square one.
Also, make sure you slash the top deep enough. A good 3/4 inch deep is probably advised.
Follow these guidelines to see where you can spot your bursting issues can arise from. Bread is a science,