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For No Knead Bread, What Does the Second Rise Do?

As I understand the Bittman article about Lahey's no-knead bread, the process is as follows: mix the ingredients and wait 18 hours, then fold it over and rest for 15 mins, then put on floured towel, sprinkle with flour. Leave alone for 2 hours. About a half hour before baking, heat the pot and oven. Put bread in oven and bake for 30 mins. Take off cover and bake for 15-30 more.

My husband and I have made about 7 loaves (including whole wheat and rye, herbs, different shapes) at this point and really like it. So now it's time to mess with it further.

Here's my question: If you're not kneading the bread at the 18 hour point, you are simply shaping and covering with flour and letting it sit for another 2 hours. So why is this considered a second rise?

Thus: If you put the dough in an oiled bowl instead of a floured towel, couldn't you just skip this "second rise" step and just put the 18-20 hour bread in the hot pot and bake without shaping/flouring? (Of course, it might look different and the oil might affect the crispness of the crust. But if you want the floury looking top, you could just sprinkle some flour on top.)

It seems like this would simplify the recipe further without sacrificing anything. Do you agree?

We're going to try this out. I'll let you know how it goes.

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  1. I think the second rise is important to structural integrity of the loaf interior.

    1. How so? My husband thinks we'd get pita bread if we cooked it without the fold/rise.

      Any thoughts?

      1 Reply
      1. re: kiwijen

        if you punched it down and immediately put in the oven, you probably would get a flatbread. I make naan, and between dough division and pulling out the individual breads, there is only a brief(15-20 min) rest.

      2. I think the primary thing is after you've shaped the loaf and disturbed/redistibuted the gas colony that develops during the ferment you let it have another rise to develop all the uniformly distributed pockets of gas that will give it the oven spring.

        Plus you're letting the "skin" develop on the surface. The skin is what will hold the dough together so it doesn't go wide or just burst and let all the gas escape but increases in a controlled manner like a balloon whose expanding air mass is contained within a membrane.

        3 Replies
        1. re: rainey

          thank you rainey. better said than I ever could have.

          1. re: rainey

            rainey, i really appreciate your articulateness in this response. if you are not a teacher by profession, you certainly have EXCELLENT communication skills- a most valuable asset in this world!

            1. re: opinionatedchef

              Thanks. How kind of you. I *was* a pre-school teacher once upon a time but that's some 10 years of tying to improve my breadmaking talking. ;->

          2. Thanks so much! I appreciate your knowledge!

            1. Will a *3rd* rise improve the bread further?

              2 Replies
              1. re: BangorDin

                Interesting question. If you think of the flour and water that are in the dough as the food for the yeasts and the oxygen that's present as it's atmosphere, then there is a limit to how long the colony can go on growing. You begin with a mere 1/4 teaspoon of dry yeast. But once activated they're multiplying like crazy in that rich environment. And that's a geometric relationship, so the longer you go the more there are reproducing, consuming starch & water and producing alcohol & carbon dioxide.

                Now, I'm guessing a third rise is possible. And I've often revived an overlooked batch of conventional bread dough by giving it additional flour and a good knead for aeration. But expect your dough to be much more liquid at that point and not optimal. Your loaf will probably be flatter and more sour. But, know what? The ingredients are cheap and the learning opportunity is there. Go for it and let us know what happens.

                1. re: rainey

                  Ah, you've just answered one of my newest questions--thank you! I just posted 2 others!