Bakers Journal

Quality threats in artisan breads

February 23, 2009
By Sonia Akbarzadeh MSc.

soniaFeb. 23, 2009 – Quality threat is a term used in the SQF level 3 program, in which
threats at each step of production are reviewed, and those that are
critical are identified.

Sonia Akbarzadeh, MSc.

Quality threat is a term used in the SQF level 3 program, in which threats at each step of production are reviewed, and those that are critical are identified.

SQF (Safe Quality Food) is a HACCP-based food safety and quality risk management system recognized as an international standard. HACCP is a food safety program and SQF is designed to manage both food safety and quality programs.

The SQF program is divided into three levels. Level 1 is food safety fundamentals and good manufacturing practices (GMPs). Level 2 is a HACCP food safety plan where food safety hazards and critical control points are identified and their monitoring methods and corrective actions are established. Level 3 is a comprehensive food safety and quality management system in which, in addition to food safety, product quality risks are assessed too.


In this level threats to the quality in each step of the process are assessed and preventive measures are established to minimize these threats to the business and customer confidence.

Now, let’s look at artisan bread quality threats in mixing, fermenting, final proofing and baking stages.

This is the first and most important stage of the process. Simply put, if mixing is inconsistent, products are inconsistent. The most important quality control points at this stage are: correctly scaling the ingredients as indicated in your formula; hydration; the dough mixing time; and temperature.
If dough is under- or over-mixed, you will notice it in the handling properties of the dough. If a scaling error occurs, the bread will show faults depending on the incorrectly weighed ingredient. If the temperature isn’t right, the fermentation rate will be faster or slower, which will influence the bread’s volume and crust colour.
The amount of water in the dough defines the changes in the size of the holes and the texture of the crumbs. More hydration will create more open texture and larger holes.

In this stage, first the yeast converts available carbohydrates to carbon dioxide gas, which enables the dough to expand; secondly, the enzymes soften the gluten and change the properties of the dough to allow more gas retention. In fermentation stage, the holding time, temperature and humidity are the most important quality control points. The fermentation time and temperature have a major effect on the volume of the bread, and lack of humidity can cause a dry crust.

Final proofing
Quality control points in this stage are the same as the fermentation stage. The proofing time, temperature and humidity play important roles in achieving the final volume and texture of the bread. The most common quality issues with artisan bread are formation of large holes and empty tunnels above the crumb and under the top crust. Although holes in the crumb are a typical characteristic of artisan bread, very large holes are a sign of poor quality.
What contributes to larger holes and gaping air pockets? Longer final proofing time, a dry crust and wet dough will cause formation of larger holes and air gaps. As a result of the weight of the dough pressing down, the holes near the bottom are smaller than the ones near the top. As we look at the loaf toward the top, the holes get larger, and the weight of the dough above the hole will decrease.
If the dough is left to rise for a considerable length of time, the holes in the top will become very large and eventually air gaps will form under the crust. In other words, if the dough continues to rise and pass the optimum height, the interior of the loaf will collapse, and because the top crust is dry, it can't fall back with the interior, so it stays up and a tunnel under the crust will form.
The three important quality control points are baking time, temperature and humidity. Baking at high temperatures will result in darker crust colour and low volume. High heat kills the yeast before it can produce enough gas to achieve desired oven spring. Baking at a very low temperature will cause lighter crust colour, poor taste and food safety risk.
Humidity in the oven is also important in baking artisan bread. Normally, steam is injected in the first zone of an artisan bread oven. This initial steam prevents the premature forming of the crust. As a result, the bread will obtain an ideal rise in the oven. Once the crust is formed, the bread cannot rise anymore.
Plus, the crust works as insulation, so it will be harder to get the core temperature up to the expected level. The trick is to wait to form the crust for as long as possible, so the bread can rise in the oven. At the tail end of the baking process, most bakeries use high heat to obtain the desired final crust.

Artisan bread production is a complex food process with many ingredient and process interactions. Therefore it is very important to establish the standards in each stage of the process to achieve consistent products every time. If you want to be proud of your bread, you need to be proud that you set up the standards and followed them over and over.

We are in a time when pressure on product quality and productivity has never been so intense, and the need to find quick and effective solutions is tremendous. Hopefully we have shed some light on your path to baking high-quality artisan bread.

Sonia Akbarzadeh has worked in the food industry for more than 15 years, providing services in HACCP and SQF implementations as well as product development and troubleshooting. Contact her at 905-821-9696 or, or visit

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