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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.