Bread holes can be a great thing, especially when it comes to ciabatta where we strive for the long-awaited result of large wholes in your crumb.
The problem begins when it comes to an unwanted result in plain yeast loaf when the holes are so big that half your slice is just one big whole. Or you have a big hole at the top of your crumb that runs through the whole bread, also known as “tunneling”.
These wholes come from the gasses released by the yeast that feeds on the starches and sugars in the dough that result in them releasing carbon dioxide which in turn helps your dough rise. When you have an uneven spread of these gasses it is the cause of the big unwanted holes. Here below are various reason of why this uneven spread can happen.
- Not kneading the dough long enough which results in a weak gluten mesh
- Too much flour use in final shaping.
- Not giving enough time to the first rise ( the bulk fermentation) or Underproofing.
- Not scoring or slashing the bread or not deep enough slashes
- The oven is not hot enough when you first put the bread inside
- High hydration level in your dough
- Using too much yeast or leavening agents
- Dough temperature is too high
- Not enough tension in your dough when shaping
- Use heavier flour or whole flour.
Let’s break these down a bit further in order to understand the causes and get et the wanted results of an even spread of wholes in your crumb ( crumb is the term for the texture and spread of wholes in your bread )
1. Not kneading the dough enough
The action of kneading dough is what helps to create a gluten mesh. This gluten mesh is what helps to trap the gasses in the dough. If your dough did not develop a good strong gluten mesh it will result in an uneven spread of the gasses as this mesh will be weak or none existent in some parts of the dough. The parts of the dough that did develop gluten mesh will have the burden of holding excess gasses which result in very large uneven wholes.
This is a common result especially in the new trend of “No-knead Bread”.
The trick in “No-Knead Bread” is to make sure you give enough time for the dough between folds to form the gluten mesh naturally rather than kneading it. This longer process along with the fermentation stage of sourdough bread is what gives them that tangy taste.
2. Too much flour or oil when shaping
When shaping your loaf try to avoid excess flour. This flour can prevent the dough from sealing onto itself. This can create large holes in the final product as you have now trapped a big air pocket inside the loaf.
Same goes for oil as it too can capture air inside the loaf when molding your loaf.
When shaping your loaf don’t be afraid to be more aggressive with it and give it a good slap on the table. This will get unwanted, large air bubbles or air pockets out.
3. Underproofing or not giving enough time for fermentation
After you have mixed and kneaded your dough, then shaped it, you must give it time to proof and ferment.
This proofing stage allows the gluten mesh to relax a bit and become more flexible. This also gives time for the yeast to do its thing and expand the gases in your dough.
If you do not proof your bread long enough the yeast will still be very active and have a lot of energy to burn through. When you put your loaf in the oven for the initial rise the yeast will release gasses very quickly and with lots of force resulting in big gas pockets in your bread.
Underproofing will not only result in big wholes but your bread will also not reach its full potential in its size or growth. Also, under-proofing your bread can cause your bread to split or burst in unwanted places.
A great tool to help to proof your dough with the right amount of moisture is using a proofing box. Which controls your proofing temperature and injects steam into the environment you are proofing in. Read my review for the proofing box I use in my home.
If you want to know more about why your bread is bursting or splitting you can read our in-depth article here.
Check to see that your bread is fully proofed. Just use the poke method. Poke your bread and if the indentation that you created pops right back, your dough needs to proof a bit longer.
4. Scoring or slashing your bread properly
Scoring your bread before inserting it into your oven is very important. This action allows excess gases in your dough to release. If you did not slash your bread deep enough these gasses will be trapped inside the dough creating big wholes. The result to not slashing or not slashing your dough deep enough can also cause bursts or split yin your crust if there is just too much gas that your gluten mesh could not support.
Make sure to slash your dough about half-inch deep. Better go deeper than too shallow with your scoring/slashing.
5. Oven not hot enough
The most important stage of baking is the initial 10 minutes. This is when your bread does most of its rise in the oven. It is very important to have a high temperature in this initial stage. This high heat is what activates the yeast and gives is that push. If your oven is not hot enough the yeast in your bread will not receive even heat and some of the yeast will activate more than others in the dough resulting in uneven gas spreading in your dough.
The cause for a fall in temperature is very common. You set your oven at a high temperature of about 220 degrees celsius and when you open the oven door to load the bread the temperature drops drastically. In order to prevent this set your oven temperature higher by about 20 degrees celsius to help compensate for the loss of heat when you open the oven door.
Also, using a baking stone or baking steel surface can drastically help in these cases as they can hold the high temperatures and help with the initial rise of the bread. It is highly recommended that you use one of these in your oven at home.
6. High hydration levels in your dough
If you do have big wholes in your bread it is not a bad thing as long as they are spread evenly. High hydration levels in your bread will result in large wholes. If you do not want these large holes, make sure to keep your hydration level at around 55%. meaning for 100 grams of flour you will use 55 grams of flour.
The biggest reason I see with home bakers that result in unwanted high hydration levels in their doughs is that they use measuring cups instead of using a scale. Measuring cups are unaccurate and you never really know the exact amounts of flour or water or any other ingredient you are putting in your bread.
Throw away your measuring cups when baking! this is a very poor practice and your results will not be consistent. Baking is chemistry and you need to be exact with your measurements.
I have spent many hours and money testing out various scales in my lifetime and I have found the perfect scale for home use. Check out my recommendation for the best kitchen scale at the best price right here.
7. Too much yeast or leavening agents in your dough
Bread making sometimes takes longer than we would like it to. Some try to take shortcuts by increasing the amount of leaving agents in their dough to cut down on the proofing times.
If you have too much of your leavening agent being yeast or sourdough starter it will create too much gasses in your doughs resulting in an uneven crumb. Try decreasing the amount of your leavening agent and giving your dough the proper proofing time.
If you’re interested in making your own sourdough starter, check out this cool article I wrote right here. This step by step guide is foolproof!
8. Dough temperature is too high
High temperatures in your dough can also result in big uneven holes in your bread. This high temperature can originate from a couple of different things.
- water temperature was too warm
- your environment
- over mixing or mixing at high speeds
Water temperature is important. Make sure to use water that is cool. This is especially true when baking during the summer months where your home is a bit hotter. If your water temperature or your environment is too hot your leavening agents will release gasses too early and too quickly in the proofing and fermentation stages and will result in large holes. So keep in mind your environment and water temperatures to avoid this.
If you are using a mixer to mix and knead your bread it can raise the temperature of your dough. Do not mix at high speeds and watch the mixing times. Check your dough from time to time to see that your gluten mesh has formed and that you are not overheating or overmixing your dough.
These high temperatures can also tire your yeast and can result in over proofing your dough. If your dough is over-proofed it can collapse on the inside when baking, resulting in the tunneling effect where you usually see a large hole at the top of your bread running through the whole length of the bread.
If you want to make sure your dough temperature is spot on, a dough thermometer can go a long way. Here is an article I wrote about the benefits of using one. You should definitely check it out.
9. Not enough tension in your dough
This stage is often where I see problems with large holes as well. When shaping your dough into your loaf you need to make sure that your dough has enough tension in it. If you do not create this tension you will have a loose dough that will allow gasses to spread unevenly resulting in an uneven spread of holes in your bread.
Look at the surface or skin of your dough and give your dough a slight squeeze to see that you have some tension in there and some bounce back in the dough. If you squeeze your dough and it does not push back you will need to fold it a bit tighter.
10. Using heavy flour
Try adding some whole flours to your bread. I recommend about 30% of your flour to be whole wheat or rye, this will give you a tighter more dense crumb and will also enhance the flavor of your bread.
White flour is very light and yeast loves this high starchy flour resulting in large amounts of gasses.
Quick Tips to Combat Large Holes.
To sum it up I have created a shortlist here that will help you combat this issue of uneven large holes in your bread.
- Use a scale to control your hydration levels. This is good practice and will always yield consistent results.
- Use less yeast or sourdough starter. Don’t take shortcuts and give your dough the time it needs.
- Test your dough for a proper gluten mesh. You can stretch out your dough between your fingers. If you can stretch it thin enough so you can see some light shining through without the dough breadking you will know you have a proper gluten mesh.
- Try Throwing in a couple of ice cubes in your water if you are working in a really warm environment.
- Get a good book and learn from the masters. We have compiled a list of the best bread baking books and sorted them by the level of expertise. Reading these books will give you a good base and will eliminate many mistakes you could be or will be making in the future.
- Before adding your yeast activate it. Take the portion of yeast, add it to a bit of water. and melt it or incorporate it into the water. Add some flour to it ( this mixture should be runny and if you have sugar in your recipe add it as well). Let this mixture sit for about 30 min ( some call it a sponge and in sourdough making it is usually referred to as leaven, which can sit for up to 2 hours). This will help kick start your yeast and enable the spread yeast in your dough more evenly.
- Using some milk to replace your water will break down the gluten strands. It will actually reduce the length of these strands and will result in a more dense crumb.