how do you get a bigger contrast between the cuts and the crust?


I've been following this site and referring friends to it for some time and only just signed up.  I am a big fan but slow to ask for help!

I bake a lot of sourdough and it's going pretty well but I suffer from terrible crust envy.  I'm talking about the big contrast between the floury bit and the cut bit.  I'd like a rich dark brown colour under the flour and a lighter, golden colour in the cuts.

I prove for anywhere between 4h to 12h and to form the boules, I dust a tea towel with rice flour, then dust more heavily with wholemeal, form the boule, put it in the cloth, bundle it up, then let it prove in a big mixing bowl for 2 hours.  I make the cuts with a craft knife and bake at 250C in an injection fan oven with lots of steam for 15 minutes and then turn the heat down to 200C for 25 minutes.

325 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2015 June 8

Hello badgerbrook,

I know what you are describing and it relates to the rate at which the intact skin separates to expose fresh dough to the heat of the oven and the timing of that separation.  If the parting starts early and progresses during the baking period you will get a browned 'grigne' with some sort of graduation in colour that reflects the progression of the expansion.  If the parting is late in the baking, you will get a stark contrast between the browned intact skin and a virtually white 'grigne'.

Two factors can have an effect here.  One is the humidity in the oven in the early stages of baking that will allow or prevent the intact skin from stretching and the other is the way that the loaf is slashed which determines the way that the loaf will spread and expand as the oven spring occurs.

You say you have steam injection so humidity should not be a problem.  So the other suggestion is to check your slashing technique and make sure that the blade is at a low angle to the surface of the loaf so that there is an undercut which will allow the lip to form and rise and also offer some protection to the freshly exposed dough.  Vertical slashes will open and expose the fresh dough immediately.

The hydration of the dough can also affect the way the loaf responds with a slack dough likely to result in a lower contrast than for a tighter dough.


Good luck with your projects.



badgerbrook 2015 June 9

Gosh.  I have read about the angle of cuts but never thought it made any difference and my dough is very wet.  Sounds like angled slashes and firmer dough might be what I've been looking for!  Thank you!

I'm baking tomorrow, so will post the results...

badgerbrook 2015 June 15

Hmmm, I've baked twice since posting last and both times made the slashes at an angle.  The cuts are definitely lighter in colour but not by much.  I'm thinking maybe I'm letting the dough prove too long after forming.  Right now if I use warm water to mix, I wait one hour before forming and 2 before baking.  Maybe if I bake 1 hour after proving it would not only make a perter loaf but also open more dramatically?  I'd post a photo but I can't figure out how to...

farinam's picture
farinam 2015 June 15

Hello badgerbrook,

One way to add photos is to use the little picture icon at the top of the comment dialog box but this requires you to have the image stored somewhere on the web which can be in the gallery on this site or somewhere like DropBox or other online storage and then you need the URL to point to the image that you want to post.  An alternative 'hack' is to copy the image (preferably one that has been reduced in size (say 600px*400px and saved in jpg format) and paste it directly into the post.  That is what I did above.

As for the other things, I am now a bit confused.  In your first post you gave 4 to 14 hours before shaping and now you say 1.  One of these is followed by 2 hours final prove.  Either way, I am wondering if you are actually underproving the dough.  Though you also do not mention the temperature that you are working at which will obviously have a big effect (the warm water, some, but room temperature more importantly)

So, what criterion are you using to decide when your loaf is proofed.  Is it purely time or is it the volume and appearance of dough?

Just to put it in context, if I am working at room temperature (depending on the season) I would be looking at 4 hours for pre-ferment and dough development (I use stretch and fold) and 4 to 6 hours proving after shaping but during winter that can be out to overnight (9 hours) on the bench.

So, perhaps you could give a bit more detail on your recipe and process and if you can post some pics of your 'problem' it might put things a little more into context.

Good luck with your projects.


badgerbrook 2015 June 16

Hi there, Farinam,

I mix the dough before I go to work 6-7am and give it a good mix, rest and stretch and fold (or as much as I can while getting my stuff together for the day!)  I then put the lids on the big plastic boxes I use for bulk fermentation and set them aside - but they are not refridgerated.

Usually, I would come back at 6pm, then scale the dough and put into loaf tins.  The dough is quite sticky, so loaf tins suit me fine and the bread is nice and moist and open textured.

The thing is, though, I want to learn to bake boules and when I use the dough at the end of the day, it's just too floppy so I've gone back to Dan Lepard's recipe (when in doubt, read the recipe...) and noticed he only proves for 1 hour after mixing and stretching and folding and then 2-3 hours for the second proof.  I started wondering whether the gluten was giving up the ghost while I was at work, so I tried using warm water (my house is around 20C) and making the bread in a shorter time.  I have noticed the dough is much easier to form when I shorten the proving times.

farinam's picture
farinam 2015 June 16

Hello badgerbrook,

One thing to remember is that the timelines published by anybody, including me, are only an indication of what to expect and they can be influenced by any number of other factors that are unique to your particular situation.  However, you do have some means of control and one of those (and probably the most powerful) is temperature.

Have a read of SourDom's Beginners Blogs on this site (there is a link at the top right of the page) and he goes through a number of variations in schedule that can be used to fit bread making into a daily schedule.  This includes the use of retardation to cover hours away from the task due to work or other committments.  He also covers such matters as dough development and proving and becoming familiar with the tests and visual clues will go a long way to getting you to your aim of making free-form loaves.  His recipe for Pane francesa is also a very good and reliable recipe to use for practice and I would recommend working with that on a regular basis until you are familiar with how the dough changes in feel and appearance through the process.  It is also at a hydration that should be able to be handled without difficulty under most circumstances.  The loaf that I posted a picture of before was made with just that recipe and basic technique.

Also, have a look at this post of mine ( which I posted to give a better idea of the process that I use.  This was also done using the Pane francesa recipe.

So, I suspect that you have been working at extremes.  Your early efforts with long pre-ferment were almost certainly too long and you are correct in deducing that the soft sticky dough was a sign of over-proofing (and I am guessing a pale and sometimes spotty crust).  Now, I suspect that your latest efforts are probably underproved (and maybe under-developed).

Good luck with your projects.


badgerbrook 2015 June 21

Hi there, Farinam,

I'm going to try the Pane Francese recipe (just read the post) but this week I've been having a good hard look at my mixing/stretch and fold/proving phase and have been really surprised by how bubbly the dough has got with the successive stretch and folds!  Much easier to work with in this way.

Not sure what I can do about the long period when I'm at work.  I can't really justify baking first thing in the morning (I'll be late or too tired to work!) or buying a fridge just for my bread.

badgerbrook 2015 July 27

Ok, lots of loaves later, good things to report.

I tried the Pane Francese recipe and was really surprised by the small amount of starter used in the preferment.  The other thing I've been playing around with is the firmness/slackness of the dough and have come to conclusion that my dough is just too slack to hold it together.  One problem with baking almost exclusively sourdough is it changes your point of reference, being a stickier dough than yeasted.  So no Mr Slack Dough for me, now.

Here is a photo (I hope) of a loaf I slashed at an angle, then went back and cut again to get really big openings.

badgerbrook 2015 July 27

So not a lot of grigning going on but a lot bigger openings than before and a whole bunch perter.

photo here:

and cross section here:



farinam's picture
farinam 2015 July 27

Hello badgerbrook,

Good to hear you are making progress to your satisfaction.

Yes SourDom's recipe does start with a small amount but it just goes to show how effective the cultures are at multiplying when there is a goodly amount of food available.  I have taken to using more of my culture (90g) to make up the 180g needed for the loaf mainly so that I can give the stock a reasonable feed as well without having to discard anything.  Some people who bake every day just use the scrapings left in their culture container to inoculate the flour and water for the next day's levain.

Were you saying that you modified the hydration of SourDom's recipe or just of the recipe that you had been using previously as from my experience I wouldn't have thought that the Pane francesa made a particularly slack dough?

Another thought on getting a good grigne relates to how you shape the dough to go into the banneton and how you slash it.  If you flatten out the dough into an oval/rectangular shape and roll/fold it into a log before pinching/pressing the seam that goes up in your banneton  (and down on your peel) you create a nice tight skin with circumferential stresses that will help to hold the shape of the loaf and which will give maximum relief if the slashes are not too far off the line of the long axis of the loaf.  Yours seem a bit more on the diagonal and, while there is nothing wrong with that, I don't think you are necessarily getting the maximum effect possible.  The layering of the dough produced in the log making together with an undercut in the slash will enhance this effect.

Good luck with your projects.


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