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To towel or not to towel?

More no knead bread...

So for the second rise, is it critical to use the towel method demostrated by Jim Lahey? Will using a bowl and saran wrap alter the quality of the bread?

My first bread was all whole wheat and didn't come out so well, but I did follow the instructions of the recipe, save for the WW flour. The towel part was a just a hassle and if a bowl works fine, I would definitely prefer it. I just want to be sure because I really want a nice loaf after the so-so results of the first try.

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  1. I dispensed with the towel after loaf #2, and it made very little difference, except that I ended up with quite a bit more bread, and no clogged sink from trying to wash out towels covered with gunk.

    After the first rise, I dump the dough on a floured surface and fold and wait 15 minutes as instructed, but then I put the dough into a lightly greased glass loaf pan for the second rise. I cover lightly with a towel, but do not let the fabric touch the dough. I then dump the whole mass into a Superstone loaf pan, which is an oblong covered ceramic baker. The crust is incredible.

    2 Replies
    1. re: phofiend

      phofiend--the covered cast iron creates a steamy environment, but the Superstone *absorbs* steam--and still a great crust?! Is your Superstone about 14" long and 5" wide? About how high is the loaf you've made? Thank you!

      1. re: blue room

        That's the one. The crust is very crisp. I just measured the remains of yesterday's loaf, and it is 2 3/4" inches high, though most of the center part, which was higher, is gone. The crumb is a bit denser than when baked as a circular loaf, but I actually prefer that, as it is easier to slice and use for canapes.

    2. I wondered the same thing, so didn't use a towel for my first loaf and just put back into the bowl and covered w/ the same plastic wrap. Didn't want to dirty more items.

      Second rise looked great, but the baked loaf had an uneven distribution of air pockets. That is, crumb was denser on the bottom and more airy on top.

      I asked hounds about this and TorontoJo said the following (direct quote):
      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.

      I'm thinking I should use the towel next time, but I look forward to hearing responses from those who've done it both ways...

      1. I haven't used a bowl, but did use flour sack towels and had no problems at all with either corn meal (which I didn't care for) or flour (which I preferred).

        Uh, now that I reread that, let me say I had no problems with the dough sticking to the towel. I still wasn't thrilled with how shallow the finished loaf was and will try again in a 4-quart, rather than a 7.25-quart LC. And my first bread, which I kept on the towel for the second rise, also had very uneven distribution of air pockets (although my second loaf did not), so there may be something at work here other than just the bowl rise that causes that to happen. No idea, though, what it might be.

        1. I'm getting ready to make my first batch and I'm wondering about the towel myself.

          Never having done anything like this (technique-wise) I have a couple rookie questions to ask:

          1) what type of towel are we talking about? (Size, weight, etc.) I know not to use terry cloth, but I don't have flour sacks ... might I use a clean t-shirt?

          2) do you really need two towels?

          3) if you've succeeded without the towel, what was your technique?

          Thanks!

          2 Replies
          1. re: NYChristopher

            After making this bread about 5 times w/ no towel, I think it works just fine to do the second rise in the bowl. I just flour the bottom of the bowl, put the dough ball back in, and cover w/ the same plastic wrap. My last loaf was my best and I used 1 c. King Arthur whole wheat flour to 2 c. KA all-purpose.

            1. re: NYChristopher

              I use a cotton napkin (from Pier 1) - it's got a smoother texture than my towels. I've never had any problem with sticking, just rub some flour into it first. I usually also dust with either cornmeal (white bread) or wheat bran (wheat bread).

              I was in a bread-baking class this weekend and the instructor was using lovely cloth-lined baskets for his dough to rise in. I'm sure he bought them from some fancy baking supplier, but I have seen similar canvas-lined baskets at World Market . . . I'm thinking of trying that.

            2. Just to throw in another option - I read the other posts and decided... No towel, I floured a silpat type mat and put it on that, I then raised a trivet thing and put a towel over that (not touching the dough). It worked fine. It's the only way I've done it so I can't compare to any other.

              1. I like the towel method, and I keep my towel "dirty" and encrusted with flour. It becomes really non-stick after a few goes. I always make sure to dry it out before putting it away in a ziploc bag.

                I put the dough in the towel into a colander. I figure that helps with air flow. I've had the problem that Carb Lover describes, with uneven distribution of holes. I wondered if that might be because when you flop it into the pot, it crushes the air out of the bottom of the loaf. I can't think of a way to get it into the pot gently!

                3 Replies
                1. re: Kagey

                  I've done the colander w/ a towel on the bottom and aluminum foil on top, directions from Cooks Illustrated. As the oven is warming, I put the dough on a piece of parchment paper, trimmed it, and then put it on the oven for the half hour (a little more heat/rising) and then slid the parchment paper w/ dough on it in the pot. It gets it in the pot gently, but when you watch Bittman on the video, he just plops it in there.

                  1. re: Kagey

                    Hi Kagey. You know, I haven't had problems w/ uneven distribution of air pockets since I started kneading (shhhh!) a little bit. I knead it just a little after the first rise when it comes out of the bowl; then I put it back in the bowl after the 15 min. rise. I personally enjoy the way the dough feels in my hand. Is there any reason kneading could be a detriment to this "no knead" bread?!

                    1. re: Carb Lover

                      That's funny! I started kneading a little bit too--well, actually just folding a bit more than the original recipe called for. It's worked out well so far!

                  2. -----

                    I use an oversize of bowl and a towel with excellent results. I have a local source that has the flour sack like material but I chose a heavier canvas like material.

                    -----

                    1. I used a lightly oiled bowl and had great results. Even crumb and wonderful crust!

                      1. I also use an oiled bowl after having some problems with the dough sticking to the towel. When turning the dough into the heated pot, I try to make sure I get it in by turning the bowl upside down into the pot. That way the top of the dough is now at the bottom of the pot so the distribution of air pockets is fairly even. It can be tricky getting the dough in just so because it's so sticky and the pot is so hot you only have one chance to get it in.

                        1. Thanks for the feedback everyone. I read elsewhere about "plastic dough scrapers" and then, based on what I read here, thought I'd run a search on "flour sack towels" (on eBay and elsewhere) ... between the two I should be OK. I may try the non-bowl technique at some point, but I think I'll give the flour sacks a try first.

                          1. After several attempts resulting in wet dough stuck to my towel and deflated dough ending up in the pot, I bought a bag of wheat bran and liberally coated the rising towel with it. That made all the difference...the dough easily flopped right into the pot with no sticking and no deflation, and I got some spectacular bread---great chewy elastic texture with lots of air pockets inside. The excess bran easily brushes off after baking. I've used the wheat bran method three times now, with great results each time.

                            1. for those of you who know, what is the towel actually for? Today I was considering leaving the dough on the same cutting board I used to fold the dough over a couple times. Do I need to move it somewhere? Bowl, towel or elsewhere?

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: ronla

                                I leave my dough on the floured cutting board for the second rise and just cover it loosely with some plastic wrap. After it rises, I use a spatula to push it into my enameled cast iron pan for baking. It works great!

                              2. Not only do I vote 'no towel', I also suggest no second rise. I decided to challenge the complexity of the technique and just leave it in the bowl for 20 hours, then plop it in the pre-heated cast-iron dutch oven. It turned out just as well as my first loaves with the towels.