Do you prefer bread with a really crackly, crispy crust or bread with a soft and tender crust? The more bread I bake, the more I find that people fall into one of these two categories with their preferences and, while they may enjoy other breads, they ultimately want the one with their crust of choice. As people start to bake their own breads, the question of how to achieve the crust of choice often comes up. I get asked about this all the time and more often than not, people want to know how to get a soft crust on their bread.
The thing about crusts is that you cannot mix and match the bread and its crust; the two are a package deal. This means that if you prefer soft crusts, you’re probably not going to want to bake traditional baguettes because a thick crust is part of their appeal. If you want a soft crust, try to start with a recipe that will naturally give you one. Breads that have soft crusts are breads that are higher in fat, like challah, brioche and sandwich breads. Almost any amount of fat added to a dough will soften the crust, whether it is from eggs, whole milk, butter or oil. There are a few other ways to soften a bread crust without changing the basic recipe you’re working with. One is to rub butter on top of the hot crust when it comes out of the oven and the other is to simply cool the bread underneath a clean tea towel. The former works better than the latter method, but the towel will certainly help and doesn’t involve a half stick of butter.
Crispy crusts are harder to achieve most of the time, especially if you’re going for a bakery-like artisan bread. On this subject, I’ll just recommend that you work with a proven recipe with a lean, wet dough until you get the hang of it. Also, try to use a baking stone and a spray bottle of water (spritzing the loaf as you put it into the oven) to produce idea crust-development conditions for your bread when baking.
Hopefully these basic tips will give you a hand. If you have your own to add, feel free to leave it in the comments. I don’t know any bakers who will turn down a good tip when it’s about getting a great crust.