One common problem that many sourdough home bakers have is that their bread crusts are too hard. If the inside of your bread is coming out with perfect texture and flavor, but your crust is too hard, there are a couple of ways to fix this.
I had this very same problem when I first started baking sourdough bread at home. After several comparisons, experiments, and lots of trial and error I came up with a solution that works for me almost every time.
So, how do you get a softer crust on your soudough bread? This is the easiest and most effective way I have found that gives me a super soft crust:
- Wrap your sourdough bread neatly in a thick damp tea towel.
- Place loaf in a large sealed container for about an hour.
- Take it out of the container and place on a cooling rack still wrapped in the damp cloth for the remaining cooling time.
- Once it has cooled, you can remove the damp tea towel and you’ll find a lovely soft crust!
There are many things that affect how thick, thin, crispy or chewy your bread crust can be. Some of it has to do with what you do after taking your bread out of the oven, but some of it has to do with what happens during the baking process, and even before that.
We all have different preferences when it comes to how soft or hard we like our crusts to be, and there ways to tweak how crusty your bread comes out. Let’s take a look at what affects your bread crust…
Factors Affecting the Crust on Sourdough Bread.
There are a couple of things that will determine the result of your crust:
- How thick or thin the crust is.
- How rigid or flexible the crust is.
- To get a super soft crust, you need the crust to be very thin, and very flexible.
- To get an extra hard crust, you need a rigid crust, that is thick.
- A crispy crust, comes from a rigid crust, that is thin.
- And finally, a thick crust that is flexible, will result in a chewy crust.
Here’s what influences the type of crust you get on your bread.
Fermentation Time will Determine the Initial Development of Bread Crust
Sourdough Bread is fermented for a very long time compared to it’s commercially yeasted counterpart. And this makes sourdough bread have a very distinct character in it’s crust.
A long fermentation time means the dough develops a more aerated protein structure. This makes the surface of the dough caremelise while depositing flavor onto the crust as the vapour escapes the loaf. In simple terms, this means the crust is more likely to come out thin, which is what you want if you like a softer crust.
The second ferment is also important in crust formation. Making sure it enters the oven at just the right time will give it a good oven spring, resulting in a thinner crust.
QUICK TIP: Try putting melted butter on your loaf just before putting in the oven to keep it’s surface more plyable for longer.
Steam will Affect Crust Formation on Bread
When the loaves are baking, steam escapes quickly due to the heat, and the gluten structure of the bread starts to set. This initial big escape of steam causes the loaf to rise further, as it’s surface is still soft and plyable (usually referred to as ‘oven spring’). This rising of the loaf continues until the crust is formed, and once the crust is formed, it will continue to become harder and/or thicker.
Therefore, the longer you can make the crust formation time, the longer the bread has to continue to rise, and the less time the crust has to harden and thicken once it has formed.
How do you increase the initial steam retention phase?
Well, if you have a professional oven, you don’t need to worry about this, because those ovens don’t let steam escape from your oven, but that’s not helpful information to those of us with regular ovens!
Here’s a couple of ways to keep that steam on your loaf for longer so that your crust can be thinner.
Dutch Oven – Although a big purchase, buying a Dutch Oven revolutionized my bread baking. Baking your bread inside a closed Dutch oven will keep the steam inside for much longer than any of the other methods, and it will give you a much thinner crust. (Check out my Buyer’s Guide to a Dutch Oven here).
Tray of water – Putting a thin tray of water in the bottom of your oven with your bread will help to keep the baking environment more moist, keeping the surface of your loaf more plyable for longer.
Water sprayer – Some bakers like to spray their loaf with plenty of water at the time of putting it into the oven, in order to keep the surface of the loaf more moist for longer.
Check out my article “3 Ways to Make Amazing Sourdough Bread Without A Dutch Oven” for some more tips on how to retain steam in your oven.
Hydration Levels will Determine the Rigidity of Bread Crust
Generally speaking, the higher the hydration level of your bread, the softer the crust is likely to be. Having a higher water content in your dough, naturally means you have more steam in your loaf.
Your ‘oven spring’ will last a longer time, giving your crust longer to form, and less time to develop a harder thicker exterior. For more information about sourdough hydration levels, check out my article here.
Baking Time and Temperature will Affect the Thickness of Bread Crust
Once the initial crust formation time is over, your bread is busy cooking on the inside, but as the crust is already developed, it will continue to harden and thicken during that time.
So one way to make the crust thinner and softer, is to adjust your oven temperature and timings.
I like to put my oven at the highest temperature it will go when preheating. This gives my bread the best possible initial rise. But to lengthen the crust formation time, I put the bread in the oven and immedietely decrease the oven temperature to around 430F (220C).
I used to cook it at a slightly lower temperature, but found that I had to cook it for longer, and this made the crust thicker. Increasing the cooking temperature means your loaf has less time for the crust to harden and thicken. A little trial and error with oven temperature and timings will help you find that balance for a good crust.
QUICK TIP: Try cutting your dough in half and making 2 smaller loaves instead. This will reduce your cooking time and form a thinner crust!
Fat content in the Bread Recipe will Affect the Type of Crust Formed
Traditionally, sourdough bread doesn’t contain any fats. They are made of simply flour, water and salt. But if you’re making an enriched loaf i.e. with additional ingredients such as yoghurt, milk, butter, etc. the additional fats in the dough will result in a loaf with a softer crust.
This is why many sandwich bread recipes contain these additional ingredients. Try making an enriched loaf for a super soft crust finish. Check out my recipe for “Super Soft Sourdough Bread Rolls”
What Can I do to Get a Softer Crust After My Sourdough Bread is Baked?
The trick to getting a super soft crust, is to make it as thin as possible, using the methods talked about above, and then using a combination of the methods shown below.
Butter the loaf while it cools –As soon as your loaf comes out of the oven, slather it with some melted butter on all surfaces, and leave on a cooling rack with a drip tray underneath. This will help soften the crust as it cools.
Cover the loaf with plastic wrap while it is cooling – This will stop all the moisture from escaping while it cools, resulting in that moisture staying on the surface of your loaf, softening it as it cools.
Cover loaf with a damp towel during cooling – In my experience, this is the method that has had the most effective result of having a softer loaf. The thicker the damp cloth you use, the more moisture gets into the crust, and th softer the result.
NOTE: It’s not a good idea to leave your loaves in this moist environment once they have cooled down. Once the crust has softened, keep your loaf wrapped in a fresh cotton bread bag or wrapped in a dry tea towel. This will keep it at it’s best for longest.
How do I keep crusty bread crusty?
If you like your bread crusty, and don’t want it to soften, then keeping it in a paper or cotton bag can help. Plastic coverings or bread bins will soften the crust eventually as the environment may be too moist.
How do I keep sourdough bread from drying out?
Sourdough bread is best kept in a cotton bread bag, as this has enough air flow to inhibit mold, but also has enough covering to stop it from drying out. If you want your sourdough bread to be super fresh everytime you eat it, the best way is to freeze it in ready to use slices. For more information check out the Best Way to Freeze Sourdough Bread to Lock in Taste and Texture.