Holes are the holy grail of bread making for many and yet those pesky holes can be elusive. There are various techniques you can follow to get the holes in your bread and in this post we will discuss your options.
The five consistently necessary parts of achieving holes in your artisan bread are:
1. You need a wet dough to get holes. Wet dough is lighter than dry dough and it moves more easily and more quickly.
2. You need to do the stretch and fold throughout the first rise of the dough. You do this for various reasons, all of which lead to your dough continuing to ferment (rise) as best it can. These reasons include: to degas the dough in a gentle way without eliminating the bubbles that have already formed, to thin the dough membranes, to strengthen the dough, to provide the yeast with new food. If I want holes in my bread, I stretch and fold the dough every 60 minutes or so during the first rise of a sourdough bread and every 30 minutes or so during the first rise of a bread with added yeast. Depending on the sourdough bread I am making, the first rise may be as few as four hours or as many as eight. I let my “yeast” dough rise for 2 hours. Set a timer to remind you when it is time to do your stretch and fold. As an aside, if you over proof or under proof your dough you compromise the hole situation (arf, arf). The video below shows you how to do the “stretch and fold”.
3. You need to shape your dough gently so that you don’t squish out all the wonderful air holes that have been forming. Scrape the dough out of the bowl gently and lovingly onto the counter. Stretch and fold it one last time for the reasons listed above. Be gentle when you are working the dough into its final shape for its final rise.
4. You do need to use a flour that has a lot of stretchy gluten. This limits you to white wheat or spelt flour, and that’s about it. White emmer, einkorn or kamut would work as well too, depending on where they are grown and how much stretchy gluten they have. However, too much whole meal, rye, or other kinds of flour whether or not they have gluten and you simply do not have the raw material you need to get bread with holes.
5. Too much “filling” whether it’s nuts, fruit or seeds will weight down the dough making it harder to get holes. An open crumb, yes. Big uneven holes, not really.
Other aspects of the baking process are optional:
1. Using a form to ferment and/or bake your bread. You do not need to proof or bake your bread in a form to get holes. Traditionally, ciabatta are neither proofed nor baked in a form and neither are baguettes. On the other hand, if you would like to proof and/or bake your bread in a form you can. Using a form will neither help you nor hinder you in achieving your holes. If your dough is too dry and/or you cannot resist degassing it by punching it back you will probably not get holes, no matter what you do.
2. Using high protein or low protein flour. You can use either. Neither Italian nor French flour is particularly high in protein. However, most types of French and Italian bread are flatter than a big, huge round loaf that has been proofed in a basket. So, if you only have access to low protein flour you need not despair – simply adapt the final look of the loaf and give up trying to get something huge. There may simply not enough gluten for that. Shape baguettes, fougasse, ciabatta, pane genzano or a host of other kinds of bread. Have a look at recipes in The Italian Baker and Dough for ideas, both of which you can see here.
The holes, therefore, are neither a function of equipment nor of level of gluten in your flour. However, they are a function of ingredients, hydration, practice and patience.
Still not sure? Come and take a bread course. We have courses on how to bake both sourdough and non sourdough bread and during any of the classes you will learn how to work with wetter doughs, how to do the stretch and fold and how to achieve a final shape without necessarily “punching back” your dough. We don’t guarantee holes on your first try but we do guarantee that you will learn what you need to so that, with practice, you will get the holes!