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Friday, October 23, 2015
The Crust that Shatters
Every now and then, I discover something earth shattering totally by accident. And, I must say, what a wonderful bit of serendipity this discovery was! Over the years, I have made a lot of bread of many different types. I have posted about french baguettes and boules, and most recently about high-hydration artisan loaves. In all that time, I was rarely able to obtain the really shattering crust for which I was looking. Oh, sure, occasionally it happened (with my almost no knead recipe in particular- now I know why!), but it was never consistent. The crust mostly just came out... hard. It might be crisp, but it wasn't shattering.
If you don't know what I mean by shattering, then you are missing out on the best the bread world has to offer. It's a delicate crispness that only lasts while the loaf is fresh, but is one of the best reasons to ignore prudence and jump into that loaf before it's fully cooled. Shatter is truly the world for it because the second you start to bite down on it, the crust breaks into a million flavorful pieces in your mouth. It is divine. It was elusive.
I have been working on a rye boule recipe for some time now. It's just about ready to share with you, but it took a while because there were some issues that had to be dealt with. The biggest issue was that the finished loaf was often gummy. After quite a bit of research, I came to find out that is a particular issue with rye. Apparently, it has more of a certain enzyme that converts starch to sugar, leading to a gummy crumb. The cure? Acidity. And here's where the serendipity came in. The very first time I added citric acid to my loaf, the crust dramatically changed. Not only did that tiny amount of acid fix my gummy crumb, it improved my crust a hundred fold. It was absolutely magical. I have since tried adding a little acid to a variety of artisan type loaves with great success. For a 600 gram flour boule, I use a mere half teaspoon of powdered citric acid. This certainly explains why the almost no knead bread often had that crust - it has vinegar in it, providing some acidity. I suppose you could just add some vinegar to your water when making bread, but I think the consistency the powdered citric acid gives is very nice. In either case, the acid imparts no meaningful flavor to the final product, but, oh, what a difference it makes in the crust!