Bubbles are what make bread big.
Have you ever noticed the bubbles that litter the artisan loaf?
No, not those inner bubbles. Those bubbles that are elusive until the crust is cut and are so exquisitely enormous and irregular in such a bread are not the bubbles I mean. Those bubbles collectively make up the “crumb”. If you want to describe the crumb, just say what you see when you cut your bread in half:
Anyway, the bubbles I’m talking about are the ones that are immediately explicit. These are the ones that scatter the surface of some well-browned breads and I think are somewhat sweet:
These are Bird’s Eye bubbles. They don’t come by the quarter pound or are frozen within 2 hours of being picked, so I don’t know why they are called what they are. But their existence is telling. Their presence indicate your bread has been protractedly proved, and you can make them flourish by baking with steam.
While the science behind them isn’t totally clear to me, I like to think of them as little hernias breaking through a dried and cracking outer skin of dough. This rind forms during a long and cold prove, during your dough’s exposure to the fridged air. The steam you create by adding water to your oven superheats the dough and delays the formation of a crust, giving these bubbles a the power and time to break through without crisping up.
But these bubbles aren’t limited to the master baker; you can get them at home too. After you’ve shaped your bread and popped it into your proving basket, cover just the top with oiled cling film and prove in the fridge for a good 10-12 hours, or until doubled in size. Then, turn it out and pop it softly onto your hot baking stone and pour half a mug of water onto the bottom of your oven and bake as directed. It’s that simple. (If you’ve not got a proving basket, just prove your bread on a semolina encrusted surface to stop it sticking and make sure your dough can endure the whole prove without splaying out everywhere).
You might have noticed that bird’s eye bubbles are on trend. And rightly so, I say. They look pretty cool and indicate that the loaf you’re about to tuck into will have complexities of flavour that fast-proved doughs don’t develop. But they haven’t always been so hip. They don’t actually impart any particular distinctions into the finished product, apart from their aesthetic value. But like all things we see, that’s subjective, and if like many bakers of yesteryear you think you’d rather not see them, just wrap your whole proving basket loosely in cling film and high humidity will be maintained. You won’t form a skin and you won’t get the bubbles. Simple.