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No-knead bread is VERY forgiving!

Hey Hounds,

Among all the chat elsewhere about Bittman's no-knead bread, there has been plenty of worry about using dried yeast, or instant yeast, proving or not proving etc etc.

I screwed up when prepping the dough yesterday morning. Using the commmonly available Fleischman's Active Dry yeast (the one in the little foil sachet), I completely forgot to mix the dry ingredients before adding the water. So I was worried.

Early this morning, the dough had risen beautifully, and was stringy and elastic.

I then screwed up further (hey, it's early morning, and there's a lot going on in our household at first light!). After taking the dough out and folding it, I completely forgot about the second rising, the extra two hours Bittman calls for.

Into the oven it went, snug in a le Creuset pot. Out it came half an hour ago. I was expecting a sorry looking lump. Instead, I got a beautiful loaf of bread, just as good as my first time. And it tastes fantastic - delicious crust, beautiful crumb and texture.

So it goes to show that chemistry, yeast and flour can do their work, even if the baker is, like me, clumsy and forgetful! So take heart, and go for it.

- Sean

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  1. You mean Lahey's bread ;-) Bittman is only the author of the article.

    1. That's good to know! I started my first one last night and now I realize that I didn't really mix the dry ingredients thoroughly before adding the water. First thing I did when I got up was to check on it, and it looks like it's doing fine as far as I can tell.

      I was surprised that my dough wasn't more loose and wet (batter-like) as others have described. I even added a little more than 1-5/8 c. water.

      It's challenging finding a warm place that's 70 deg. in the house right now, but maybe I should just turn on the heat. Can't wait to bake this baby up!

      4 Replies
      1. re: Carb Lover

        Not like we need another report on this bread, but I do have some questions.

        So I made my first loaf and I would say it was moderately successful. It bubbled up beautifully during the rise and had a nice, mildly yeasty aroma.

        Photo of dough after 18 hrs. The blue glass bowl makes it look like the surface of the moon or something:

        I let it rise for another 3 hrs. and then baked it at 450F in my 7.25 qt. Le Creuset til it was browned and 210F internal temp.

        Photo out of the oven:

        Sorry I don't have a photo of it sliced. Like I said, it was decent but there were some problems that I want to understand:

        1. The crust was crackly and crunchy but almost too hard and thick. My bread knife struggled to saw through. I added a little more than 1-5/8 c. water so might this have caused the hard crust or??

        2. The air pockets in the bread weren't that evenly distributed. Seemed to be denser on bottom and more airy on top. Explanation or improvements? As I mentioned above, I forgot to thoroughly blend the dry ingredients first, so I wonder if this had any effect.

        3. I noticed a couple little pockets of flour in the baked bread. Was this because I didn't mix well or??

        4. Ok, I didn't do the towel thing. Instead I let it rise in the same bowl w/ a towel covering the bowl. Is rising in the towel really that critical?

        Overall, as others have said, this bread is very worthwhile and pretty foolproof. Baking in the dutch oven is brilliant. I didn't find the actual flavor very compelling, so I'm going to explore variations like using my sourdough starter and adding other flavorings. Thanks for help w/ any of my questions.

        1. re: Carb Lover

          I made this bread once so far. And, it was my first time so I can only answer one of your questions. I also had the same flour pockets in the baked bread. Other helpful posters informed me it's because I didn't mix the batter well enough.

          My next batch will probably have rosemary in it.

          BTW, the moon picture is awesome.

          1. re: Carb Lover

            The distribution of the air pockets may have been due to the rising in the bowl. I think it's RLB's site that mentions that rising in the bowl prevent's the oxygen from being able to migrate out of the dough properly.

            1. re: TorontoJo

              Thanks for your help, beetlebug and TorontoJo. I'll make sure to mix the batter more and try the towel next time.

        2. Don't worry, the ambient temperature isn't critically important. Time seems to be the most important thing.

          Also, the dough isn't all that watery. 1 5/8 cups should be just fine.

          - Sean

          1. I, too, managed to (presumably) sabotage my bread the first time out:

            I put the dough together last Thursday night at 9:30, thinking I'd get back to it Friday right after work. No instant yeast so I used a rounded quarter teaspoon of active yeast that had been in the freezer (for over a year). I also didn't mix it up until the water was added.

            What I'd forgotten was that I planned to attend a going-away party after work on Friday evening, so I didn't get home again until 9:30---a full 24-hour rise. I thought the yeast might have died by then, but it looked pretty good. Maybe the little extra helped.

            I placed it in the refrigerator until about 10am on Saturday morning. Poured it out onto a floured towel, let it come to room temperature, shaped it a little, and let it get another rise (a bit under the specified 2 hours). It was pretty darned sticky. Cooked at 475 in a Le Creuset dutch oven for 30 minutes covered and another 15 uncovered.

            It came out beautifully. I'm thinking you could go through the first rise and keep it in the refrigerator for a few days and still have the same success. Maybe it'll develop a bit more flavor, as well, since it is a little bland.

            I made it a second time, better planned, with a 20-hour rise and only 1.5 cups of water. I think the crust was better on the loaf that used more water. I also used more salt the second time and thought that helped the flavor.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Mrs Fang

              Same thing happened to me, i ended up with well over 24hrs. The bread didn't end up being very tall, maybe like 1.5in max...but it still tasted good! I'm glad to hear I wasn't the only one to let this rise rather too long and that the bread still comes out more or less OK!

            2. I posted elsewhere that I made this bread the moment I got home (to my pathetic little Beijing oven) and that the outcome was outstanding. I had a little technical trouble getting the dough folded after the 18-hour rise, but despite it not being particularly pretty when the dough entered the oven it came out beautifully. Now the absence of crusty bread in Beijing shops is no longer a problem for me! Woohoo!!

              2 Replies
              1. re: James G

                The one thing that is very wrong with this bread is that when you want some it will be a looong time before you get it! Be sure to start some before you finish the loaf you're eating!

                1. re: James G

                  Congratulations, James G!

                  Great to think of a little newspaper article creating such a bright spot so far away.

                  - Sean

                2. Sean is right. I have a second batch rising right now and plan to do EVERYTHING right this time. Called the Fleischmann's yeast hotline to comfirm that the "instant" yeast Bittman asks for is the same as "Rapid Rise," which I'm using this time, instead of the "Active Dry" we used last weekend. Also last weekend, forgot to mix the dry ingredients together, cut the second rise down to one hour, undercooked it a bit, and cut it while it was blazing hot and STILL it was pretty wonderful. Guess I didn't have to go to the trouble and it's good that this recipe is forgiving, because it's biggest drawback is having to start it the day before and then be there after 18 hours with a few more hours to do the final prep and cooking.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: eleander

                    and how many are you bringing for Thanksgiving?

                  2. And now I'm in a quandary, Hounds.

                    My latest attempt, using two cups of whole wheat flour and one cup of plain flour, has hardly risen at all, after 18 hours. THe yeast was ok (judging by the smell), but the rise is disappointing. It's on its second two-hour rise, and I'll bake it tonight. We'll see..

                    - Sean

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Sean Dell

                      I just finished baking a loaf of 1C whole wheat + 2C bread flour. It didn't rise very much over 15 hours, but had bubbles on the surface indicating that the yeast had been munching on it.

                      In the oven, it rose quite a bit more than my all-AP flour first attempt (which despite being a sticky mess during prep, turned into a very nicely-textured, if slightly bland, loaf).

                      The crust on this second loaf seems denser as well (hopefully it's not a brick inside!). I also added a few pinches of thyme & rosemary, and used parchment paper instead of flour-dusted towels, so we'll see how it turns out after it cools.

                    2. A revelation! I followed Mark Bittman's recipe to a "T" except after watching the video I let it rise for about 18 hours. I baked it in my oval Le Creuset. Used wheat bran. It was absolutely fantastic. Like my favorite Italian bread. My husband went absolutely wild over it.

                      It was definitely a mess during the prep, but I was prepared for that after watching the video. Bits of it dripping from my fingers. And I screwed up with folding it because it was so loose.

                      But....... so wonderful. Much better than any bread I've ever made.

                      1. My first loaf was gross!!! I used 2c all purpose flour and 1c whole wheat. I used instant yeast, not proofed, but heard that was OK.
                        There were bubbles, so the yeast was working.

                        The end product was flat, the crust thick and hard, and the inside (after cooling for over an hour) was gummy and flavorless.

                        I've got another batch working now, with Red Star active, dry yeast, King Arthur organic all purpose flour. But in over two hours, no bubbles, so I think this yeast is dead.

                        Now I'm working on the third dough, with the Fleishman's yeast but the new flour.

                        I am heartbroken. I know I'm a total novice, but now I feel like an idiot, if everyone is getting theirs to work but me...

                        Will report in the afternoon.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Sarah McC

                          I have failed miserably twice!
                          I used King Arthur Spedcial Bread Machine Flour (has even higher protein content than their regular bread flour...AND Fleischmann's Bread Machine yeast..even more active than their regular Rapid Rise)....No singing crackly crust, just basic failure with both attempts in the garbage...I called Fleischmann's and they said my combination of flour and their yeast should have yielded a very superior product!!!
                          I have now purchased a bag of King Arthur's Regular Bread Flour, and last night I tried again! We'll see what happens today....(I did proof the yeast to make sure it was viable and it worked fine)
                          If the problem persists, I also bought packets of Rapid Rise!!!
                          I'll get to the bottom of this if it kills me!!!

                          1. re: ChowFun_derek

                            You go! Sorry to hear about your failed attempts, but I'm sure you'll hit your stride soon. FWIW, I've been using Rapid Rise and it's worked well. The Fleischmann's people better be thanking Bittman and Lahey too!

                        2. Hey Sarah,

                          Worry not, the same thing happened me when I used 2c of whole wheat. It was just rotten, and came out like a lump of lead!

                          I think the whole wheat flour overpowers the yeast, somehow.

                          I'm sure your third dough will be fine.

                          - Sean

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: Sean Dell

                            Hey Sean,
                            I intend to try it next with home-milled whole wheat. Normally, I find you must knead whole wheat more than regular flours to develope the gluten sufficiently, but you can get a light bread that way. What I plan to do is to mill it very fine and bolt it to take out the coarsest bran and add 1/4 cup of rye to increase enzyme activity. I won't get to that for a couple of days, but I'll report back when I do. I think a really slow rise is important for whole wheat.

                          2. When folding the dough, if it is very wet, use a bench knife (dough scraper) blade or large spatula to lift it, as if you were folding a crepe in a pan.

                            1. They said it was quite an overwhelming phenomenon!
                              BTW..this morning I looked at my new version with regular King Arthur Bread Flour and the Bread Machine yeast and it has risen almost out of the bowl!!! So this one may be the key...I'll be calling King Arthur to ask why!

                              1. No!! My second loaf, with King Arthur white flour is just as bad as the first. It rose much much more, but looked just the same in the pot.
                                I used wax paper this time, covered in flour, and half the paper ended up in the dough. I picked through most of it.
                                The loaf is flat, the crust is really thick, the taste bland (even with more than 2tsp. of salt)

                                I have my last attempt in the oven, but I'm not hopeful, because it's the one with 1c. whole wheat.

                                I have pretty much convinced myself never to bake bread again. It's just so frustrating to spend this much time on a recipe that people insist is 'foolproof' and be wrong three times. The 2nd loaf was exactly following the recipe.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Sarah McC

                                  Try following the recipe exactly and you should get a better result. Too much salt will kill the yeast (or at least slow it down), so that could explain why your extra salty loaf ended up flat. I would suggest using a silpat (or other non-stick surface) for the second rise. I covered with cling film, then a towel to good effect. Also, are you sure that you have it somewhere nice and warm and not draughty? I put mine in the oven with the light on to provide a bit of warmth.

                                  1. re: eoj

                                    I also kept my dough in the oven, which is just slightly warm.
                                    I think the issue might be the pan. I was using a Calphalon pan that was wide and shallow, anodized something-or-other.
                                    My whole wheat loaf was cooked in a 3qt. Le Creuset soup pot and looked much better. But the crust was never crackly. Am I supposed to poke a hole to let out steam?
                                    I am afraid the 3qt. will be too small with all white flour, because it rises so much more than the wheat.

                                    I am taking a break from the bread business for a while, until my wounded pride heals. Then I'll try again. Thank goodness this is not an expensive endeavor.

                                2. I'm afraid to report that my second attempt with whole wheat flour, one c to two regular, was pretty bad. It rose well enough, if slowly. But after baking, it was pretty solid, not at all light and airy like the versions I've made using only plain flour. And the taste was pretty bland. Too 'branny'.

                                  Father K's experience with whole wheat flour may be the key here, so I'm resigned to going back to only plain flour, and abandoning the whole wheat until I have more experience.

                                  - Sean

                                  1. I have made this twice, following the recipe fairly closely and both times got an acceptable, but not great result. It's got the airy crumb and nice crust, but the whole loaf has a slight gummy texture. It's not concentrated in the centre like I'd expect if it needed more cooking time, it's even throughout the entire loaf.

                                    The first time I used 1-5/8 c water and baked it for 30 mins covered, 26 mins uncovered. The second time I tried 1-1/2 c water and an extra scant 3/4 tsp of salt and mixed in a lot of fresh thyme and baked it for 35 mins covered and 20 mins uncovered. Both times I cut the bread soon after taking it out of the oven, but I don't see how releasing the steam would lead to this texture. The result is alright, but I was expecting a drier texture given how much some people are raving abou this bread. With the first loaf, it still had the slight gumminess the next morning. Any tips on what to modify? It's such a different recipe from my usual bread that I'm not really sure what to tweak.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: eoj

                                      If you are playing with timing...I think I would bake it for just the 30 minutes covered (in its' steaming phase) and add the time to its' uncovered portion ..to let the steam have more time to escape... also do not cut into it too soon as the resting period also releases more moisture....I'm going to try to slash the dough with a razor blade to create more of a consistent release point for the steam..I'll see if that helps...

                                      By the way it makes EXTRAORDINARY toast!

                                    2. if its gummy, i want to say that you didnt cook it to a high enough temperature (i.e. 200 or so degrees) OR that your cutting into it before letting it rest and cool affected it. most likely i'd say both of those things together. not trying to bash you at all, just hypothesizing, yknow. i try to take the temp when i think its done. 205 is usually where i go to with these sort of slack, rustic loaves. anything with more ingredients like eggs, sugars, etc i only go around 180 or so. 205 will ensure you a nice, drier interior, evaporate all that water out yknow. keep in mind that the temp might continue to rise a little after you pull from the oven too. just like when you cook a steak or any kind of meat (well, i guess this will happen with ANYTHING at all, right?).

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: ben61820

                                        I cooked it at 450F and my oven is pretty reliable, so I don't think it was that. I definitely didn't let it completely cool, so I'll try to be more patient with the next batch. Another thread suggests that perhaps I need a bigger pot so that it's not touching the sides and air can circulate completely around it.

                                        1. re: eoj

                                          I cooked mine in 2 smaller pots because I don't have a dutch oven and they were fine; touching the sides of the pot wasn't a problem.

                                          I am not sure you understood what ben61820 was saying. It's not the temperature of the oven but the temperature of the bread. The most reliable way to know when it is done is to cook it to 200 degrees. Other posters have mentioned cutting the bread early makes the inside gummy so maybe that alone is the issue. Good luck.

                                      2. I don't own the type of heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) that the no-knead recipe calls for. Does anyone have any experience using a Calphalon Dutch oven (from the Calphalon One line) to bake this bread? It's a great pot for other purposes, but I wonder if it's heavy enough for this recipe.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: MC Slim JB

                                          A friend of mine used a Calphalon (not sure which size) and it worked great. She liked that result better than the pyrex. The key is pre-heating the vessel with the oven.

                                        2. A friend of mine often bakes this kind of bread in a rather small pot that confines it. You'll still get good bread, but do remember to take off the lid to release the steam.

                                          I intend to experiment with unglazed terra cotta bulb pots and matching saucer. I can't find any at local nurseries this time of year. But if you can find an 8 1/2 inch bulb pot and saucer, wash them with plain water and dry them. Then grease the business surfaces with shortening. Put them in a cold oven and heat the oven to 250. After 20 minutes, raise it to 250. Then after 20 minutes, raise it to 450. After 20 minutes turn the oven off and let them cool in the oven. This is supposed to prepare the surface, like the oil in an iron skillet. The terra cotta still remains permeable to vapors. To bake, put the pot and saucer in a cold oven, heat to your baking temperature, put in the dough and cover the pot with the inverted saucer. I have baked standard loaves on terra cotta saucers with great results--and they are cheaper than pizza tiles. Always wash the cold pots with plain water--you don't want them to absorb detergent or soap. I would expect this to work better than even cast iron pots. It might be necessary to put parchment or a piece of foil on the bottom because of the hole. But again, maybe not. I'll bring some pots back from Arizona in early January and see how they work.