What is it about a loaf that makes it a crust above the rest?

With bread makers across the country gearing up to enter Britain’s Best Loaf 2024 on Tuesday 30 April at the Birmingham NEC, we asked some of the industry experts on the judging panel to share what they would be looking to reward on the day.

“The categories that are to be judged, in my opinion, are to have initially one fundamental aspect,” says industry expert and Britain’s Best Loaf judge Neils Woods, “this being a demonstration of craftsmanship in the production and processing of the loaf”.

Enter Britain’s Best Loaf 2024 today

The competition, sponsored by ADM Milling, Bako Group, Brook Food & Bakery Equipment and Lesaffre UK & Ireland, will see winners found in eight different categories including White, Wholegrain, Plain Sourdough, Flavoured Sourdough, Innovation, International, Gluten Free, and new for 2024 – Seeded Sourdough. An overall champion from these eight winners will then be crowned Britain’s Best Loaf 2024.

Neil Woods - CBA

Source: Craft Bakers Association

Neil Woods

“Over the years I have seen the category of loaves widen and now we have listed, innovation and international breads and the new seeded sourdough,” continues Woods. “All of these will give the bakers entering the competition great opportunities to present wonderful new bread ideas, again showing their craftsmanship.

“I am looking forward to the competition as you have no idea what will be presented, it’s an exciting experience that I never tire of,” he adds.

Let’s find out more about the specific attributes that can prove the difference for winning loaves:


Bread should be attractive regardless of its type thinks veteran Woods, who was recognised for his outstanding contribution to the baking industry at the 2021 Baking Industry Awards. “Eye catching is a basic for attracting the judge’s notice,” he says.

This was exemplified by last year’s champion, the Brioche Japonais by Kuma-San Bakehouse in Matlock. “In all the years I’ve been judging, I haven’t seen anything like this before,” Woods commented at the time.

Brioche Japonais  2100x1440

Source: British Baker

Brioche Japonais by Kuma-San Bakehouse

Will Leet, bakery development technician at David Wood Baking who previously won the 2021 Rising Star award, notes: “When we go into a bakery or a shop, we buy we our eyes and so if you have a good-looking, eye-catching loaf you are already earning bonus points”.

Alliance for Bakery Students and Trainees president Lucas Fussnegger agrees with his fellow judges, reminding that the appearance of a loaf is a key indicator as to how much effort has gone into making it.


A closer inspection of the crust is next on the judges’ list. Leet reveals he is looking for a crust that has “that deep brown colour with a glistening shine to it covered in fermentation spots”.

Leets says he also likes to give a squeeze test to see how well it recovers, which a “good, aerated bubbly sourdough loaf should do”. He will then cut into it while listening out for “that distinctive crackling sound you get from having a nice thick even crust running around the crumb”.

Gail's sourdough crumb structure 2100x1400

Source: Gail’s Bakery

Sourdough crumb structure

Finally, he will glance at the inside to see if he can spot any moulding or shaping defects. “I am also looking for that nice open and bubbly texture that. If it is a plain white, it should be waxy with a tainted creamy colour to it other flours and inclusions will vary depending on what is being used,” he comments.

Woods says that perfect fermentation is reflected by good cell and crumb structure. Bad signs are uneven structure, streaky lines, or crumbling after cutting, which come from not leaving the loaf long enough to prove properly.


Judges will not be afraid to get breads right up to their nostrils with the hope of catching a nice whiff of fresh bread.

“You should be able to smell the lactic and acetic acid that is coming out of your loaf, sometimes even getting a lovely fruity aroma from the loaf, which is something I do love to get,” says Leet.

Woods shares that it’s a negative if there is no distinct smell to the loaf, or even worse a metallic odour. “If the bread is burnt underneath, you can still be able to smell it within the internal crust,” he adds.


Understandably, judges have the eating as their favourite part of the event. Fussnegger notes that, while making sure each entry sticks to the category rules, he will be grading on how well the flavours work together.

Will Leet takes part in judging for Britain's Best Loaf

Source: British Baker

Will Leet (centre) takes part in judging for Britain’s Best Loaf 2022

Leet expresses that the overall flavour should be nuanced. “You should get that lactic acid flavour at the front of your mouth as the bread first enters and then the rich tangy flavour that we all know and expect at the back of the throat from the acetic acid flavour as we swallow,” he says, adding “the crust should have a slight bitterness to it and should be a little chewy but not overly”.

Finally, Woods asserts that mouthfeel is also important. “It must feel pleasant in your mouth and not too dry, which is another sign it might have been burnt,” he concludes.

Entries are still open for Britain’s Best Loaf 2024, which is sponsored by ADM Milling, Bako Group, Brook Food & Bakery Equipment and Lesaffre UK & Ireland – deadline is Monday 18 March.

Visit the dedicated website here to check criteria for each category and submit your entries.