Bakers love to see an ear on their bread, and it’s easy to see why we get jealous over Instagram images of these mind-blowing sourdough crusts. It’s crazy how far some of these crusts can take off, the perfect ear is fantastic to look at. If you are not sure what one is, take a look at how the crust flies away from the bread in the image below. If you were to put this bread on its side, it’d look like an ear.
To make an ear, we have to take a close look at the dough, the proofing, the cut and the oven set up. All of these pinch points need to be spot on in order to achieve the big oven spring required for this elusive feat. Let’s look at each one in detail.
We need dough with plenty of maturity in order to make an ear. A good dough is needed for the gluten to stretch and retain the gas created during the oven spring.
To mature dough, a long bulk fermentation of 6+ hours is ideal. The use of prefermented flour, such as sourdough is advantageous.
You need to be pretty confident with the dough in order to shape this design. Though it’s nothing out of the ordinary, the rested dough should be degassed, pre-shaped, and left to rest for around 20 minutes before it is final shaped.
A firm touch is needed in order to build tension in the outer layer. This is essential for the bread to hold its shape as it rises.
To get the ear we have to master our technique of proofing bread. The key factor for getting an ear on bread is to underproof the dough. The optimum proof point is when the dough stays down for 2 seconds in the poke test.
More gas is created when baking under-proofed dough which forces through the weakest area of the crust violently as it escapes.
If the cut is done right it will allow the gas to escape and expand to create exciting designs on the bread including an “ear” shape. Cut 5mm deep around the edge of the bread, holding the blade at an angle of 30 degrees.
To get the perfect cut on your sourdough bread, you’ll need a “baker’s lame” with a sharp blade. If you don’t have one already, here’s my guide on selecting a bakers lame.
You should now have the perfect ear. If you are still struggling take a look at the tips below:
First of all look at the dough, is it well-fermented before shaping? Does it feel strong whilst slightly gassy? If not then focus on generating stronger gluten development and increase fermentation levels. If so, look at bread after it’s baked. Does it have a nice golden colour? Have the cuts opened up at all? Is the crust strong and crusty? If not take a look at how well you are proofing the bread and your oven is set up in order to get a nice even bake, the article about oven spring should help here.
If you have a decent dough, but without the ear, it’s probably the shaping or the cutting angle that needs work. Practice makes perfect here, focus on building tension when shaping and getting the angle correct when cutting.
It’s up to you whether you prefer to have an ear shape on your sourdough bread, personally, the crumb is a bit holey! But they do look very impressive. Regardless, I hope this helps!