Bread baking has its own language. We talk about the flavor and the texture of a finished loaf of bread in the context of its two main parts: the crumb (the interior of the loaf) and the crust (the exterior of the loaf). The crumb constitutes the bulk of the bread and can be either lean and chewy (the result of using just flour, water, salt, and yeast) or enriched so that is has a more luxurious flavor and soft texture (from the addition of dairy, butter, and/or eggs). The crumb can be tight or closed, meaning it lacks interior holes if the dough contains a relatively low amount of liquid, or it can be open, meaning it features larger and sometimes irregular holes if the dough contains a relatively high amount of liquid. The crust—the browned sheath that encases the crumb—varies across breads as well. It can be soft, golden, and barely detectable, or it can be dark brown and satisfyingly crunchy. We cover a world of breads in Bread Illustrated; below are the main categories and details on their crumbs and crusts.
These easy-to-make loaves rely on chemical leaveners and are often baked in a loaf pan. They require just some hand-stirring, as the goal is to avoid developing a lot of gluten, which can make quick breads tough. They are tender from the addition of lots of butter or oil, and have a cakey closed crumb and no defined crust. We often eat quick breads as a snack.
Sandwich bread is yeasted and typically features a soft, tight crumb, as it’s often conditioned with tenderizing ingredients. Think about the perfect white sandwich loaf, mild in flavor and a little pillowy. Baked at a low to moderate temperature, sandwich breads have a thin crust. They’re typically baked in a loaf pan, but there are also free-form versions. There are also textural exceptions, such as our Spicy Olive Bread, which has a little more chew and is more rustic.
Rolls and Buns
These small shaped breads often accompany breakfast if they’re sweet, or dinner if they’re savory. With the exception of our Rustic Dinner Rolls, which have the crumb structure of artisan bread, rolls are typically tender with a closed crumb and an unassuming golden brown crust. Some are intricately shaped, like Kaiser Rolls. They can be richly plush, like the butter-packed Parker House Rolls, or they can be leaner and more milky-tasting, like our Fluffy Dinner Rolls.
The class of breads you find at an artisan bakery are known as rustic loaves. They contain little or no fat and lots of water, and they develop a lot of gluten to support large air pockets. A good rustic loaf, such as Rustic Wheat Berry Bread, has a thick but crisp outer crust that breaks pleasingly to the chewy, complex crumb. Rustic loaves sometimes incorporate a sponge or even a natural starter, like our Sourdough Bread, for a more open texture and a tangier aroma.
Flatbreads and Pizzas
These breads are all about the crust, and they’re often meals in bread form. Though there’s a lot of variation across the category, these international breads are often rolled thin, sometimes topped, and typically baked on a baking stone. Other times they’re pressed into a rimmed baking sheet. Some styles, like focaccia, sport large holes, but the crumb structure is often more even rather than irregular. Thick or rectangular pizzas and flatbreads can be almost cakey—a desirable quality in our Sicilian-Style Thick-Crust Pizza—while others are chewy on the inside and supercrisp and charred on the outside, like Thin-Crust Pizza. Still other flatbreads don’t have much of a crumb at all, like Flour Tortillas.
A bread that is augmented with butter, sugar, eggs, and/or dairy is considered enriched. This category includes some sweetened, rich, everyday breads like Portuguese Sweet Bread and some downright luxurious loaves, like No-Knead Brioche, which has a soft, tender crumb and a golden hue from the addition of lots of butter and egg yolks. These breads aren’t very chewy, as the amount of fat in them impedes gluten development. Their crust is thin and soft.
Often more like pastry—think Croissants—than bread, a laminated bread is one composed of many alternating sheets of fat and dough, which bake into airy breads with many layers. The most traditional way to achieve this is to form a square block of butter that you wrap with a yeasted flour-and-water dough before rolling out and turning multiple times. In the oven, the water in the butter turns to steam, lifting apart the layers of dough, while the fat in the butter provides flavor. The concept of layering fat and dough is similar for recipes like Mallorcas, where you brush the dough with melted butter before rolling it to separate the layers with fat.