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No Knead Bread revisited

I attempted baking this bread for the 2nd time last week. I read the original article and its follow-up to refresh my memory. The results were less than desired and after allowing the dough to ferment for almost 24 hours, I still had that loosey-goosey glop. I baked it in a loaf pan, covered with aluminum foil for the 1st half-hour, uncovered for the next half-hour.

A friend alerted me to Martha Stewart's TV program on Thursday, 18Jan07 which had a demonstration of baking this bread. I was not at home at the time of the telecast, but accessed the website and copied down the recipe.

THERE ARE SLIGHT DIFFERENCES IN THE INGREDIENT AMOUNTS, A MENTION OF OLIVE OIL, AND BAKING TEMPERATURE.

I've come to the conclusion that too much water is being used in the recipe printed in the NYTimes.

I'm going back to my usual method of baking bread. I've had success baking ciabatta loaves and rolls in the past.

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  1. I think the recipe was revised to be 1.5 cups of water, as opposed 1 5/8 cup.

    Also, give the pot thing a try, it works better than other methods that I've tried.

    all that said, stick with whatever is working for you, regardless. This one just adds another arrow in the quiver, so to say.

    1. I can say my quick or lazy bread recipes are an envy to others, I cannot explain it well enough for the others to get it right. Also I never use oils as a fat in breads, only shortenings. I discovered oils tend to be overly wet, is what I am driving at.

      -----

      1. At 1.5 cups of water, works great for me. But use the dutch oven if you want great results. Also, experiment with some of the high gluten and European flours available at the King Arthur website.

        3 Replies
        1. re: bengoshi

          Thanks for the high gluten advice. I used bread flour and whole wheat flour in equal amounts, and I called Gold Medal to find out what the gluten percentages were for the 2 flours.

          1. re: bengoshi

            I've made this bread twice...the second in is the oven now. The taste of the first loaf was great but it was a bit moist inside. The dough was impossible to handle. I've been using 1 5/8 c. water to 3 3/4 c. spelt flour. The spelt flour may be the problem and the amount of water may be another problem. I will continue to experiment because the taste and crust are wonderful.

            1. re: etmoser

              So, I make this twice a week using: 1/2c soy flour, 1/2c spelt flour, 1c whole wheat, 1c white whole wheat and toss in some flax seeds. I find that using the 1 5/8c water works fine. BUT, this is definitely hard dough to handle and it always bakes up a rather moist bread. However, as I have grown quite fond of this, since toasted with butter and jam it's delicious, but the texture is definitely not like regular bread. Not sure what I'd compare it to, but almost like a crumpet in texture, at least in the inside, the crust is quite crunchy. Just my $.02. But since i noticed you were using spelt, as i sort of do, I figured i'd chime in!

          2. I'm using 1 5/8 cup water and it is turning out great. Some people talk of little oven rise, I believe that it is because they are using to little water. I also add 1T of honey and 1T of olive oil. My dough is almost impossible to handle but the results are worth the hassle.
            Baked in lodge 5 qt dutch oven 25 min covered 25 uncovered.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ibew292

              I got very little oven rise using 1 5/8 cups of water the 1st time using just bread flour, and 1 3/4 cups the 2nd time when equal parts of bread and whole wheat flours were used. I have a Wagner 5-qt. Dutch oven, but I want a high loaf to be used for making sandwiches.

              1. re: ChiliDude

                My mother is having trouble also. I don't know but I've never had a loaf that didn't rise. She deceided that it wasn't worth the trouble for her. I just completed my first sourdough NKB and its wonderful. What about putting a loaf pan in a cast iron covered pan? It may not be worth it to some people to do the NKB but my total time actually working with the bread is about 10 min. It is easier for me to know what I'm doing in 18hrs than where I be in 6hrs. I hope you keep making whatever bread that works for you. I don't know if it makes any difference but I use Dakota Maid all purpose white flour and King Arthur whole wheat flour.

                1. re: ibew292

                  A lot of posters have had luck in a covered Lodge.

            2. I've been bemused by all the posts over the past several months on Chowhound by people who have trouble with Bittman's recipe. I've been using it, as have several friends, regularly, and--it just plain works. But--you gotta follow the instructions--or rather, the crucial parts of the instructions.

              One of which is to use a suitable baking vessel: you must use a heavy, lidded pot that can retain a lot of heat. A loaf pan covered with aluminum foil is never going to achieve that effect. I use a Le Creuset knockoff enamelled cast iron pot.

              I always use 1-5/8 cups of water. But I do depart from the recipe in some minor ways: I use a little more salt than in the original recipe. And I don't use instant yeast; active dry works just fine. Also, I have dispensed with the towels. You can put the dough in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap, for both the initial and the final rises. Flour the bowl before putting in the dough.

              As for the problems with the dough being sticky that so many posters have complained of: well, yes, it is sticky. You want that. I find that a silicone spatula is very helpful for getting the dough out of the bowl and into the hot pot.

              Bottom line, just follow the essence of the recipe--very wet dough, long rise, and baking in a preheated, heavy, lidded pot--and it works wonderfully well.

              5 Replies
              1. re: seefood

                I've done almost exactly what you describe, down to which things you can change and which instructions you must follow.

                I have baked in a ceramic pot with a lid (Copco) and that's worked fine.

                My favorite tool in baking this bread is a plastic dough scraper. It's shaped like a 4x6 notecard with one rounded edge, and it's plastic so I can bend it to conform to the bottom of my bowl. Makes working that impossible dough a little easier. They're about $2 at Sur La Table.

                1. re: Pei

                  Amen to the plastic dough scraper. I also oil it to keep the dough from sticking.

                  I actually have a loaf in the oven as we speak. I was having the flat, gooey problem at first, but then I started using less water (I use about 1.5 cups, or possibly a few drops less), and now it's easier to handle. I think that's important because you really need to have the surface tension and the seam at the bottom for the second rise in order for the bread to spring properly. At least, that was my hunch, and so far, it's been working. If the dough is too squishy to handle, you won't have that.

                2. re: seefood

                  I used a silicone spatula to get the dough out of the bowl after the initial rise. The towel thing is the problem, and I may dispense with that nonsense. The loaf from the 2nd trial was baked using a pizza stone in the oven that was preheated with the oven as was the loaf pan.

                  1. re: seefood

                    YES! All these negative posts made me doubt my sanity. Was I merely imagining that my BittLay Bread was turning out magnificently every time? Using 1 5/8 cups water, and all the other ingredients exactly as set forth in the NYT? NO I WAS NOT!

                    I totally agree about the bread pan and the tinfoil.

                    Long Live BittLay Bread!!!

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      That's a great name for the bread.

                  2. Baking it in a loaf pan is a huge deviation from the recipe. The recipe's foundation is a heavy dutch oven, the kind that can retain heat on all sides including the cover. Without that, you indeed need not bother with the recipe.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Karl S

                      Agreed -- Most definately. The core of this recipe is the dutch oven -- if you are using anything else, you are not following the recipe.

                      With that said, I have had some luck with a Baguette pan and other contraptions -- but those were EXPERIMENTS. To get that perfect loaf, use a dutch oven (and also, try the different flours available at King Arthur; more experimenting, but damn worth it)

                      1. re: Karl S

                        Hi Karl S. I use a stainless steel dutch oven and I get fantastic bread, fantastic rise, crust, crumb, color . But I use 4 oz of water, 6 oz bud light lager, 1 1/8 oz white vinegar for the liquid. Talk about flavor! Beautiful round loaf that doesn't touch the sides of the pan cause I know how to shape a boule.

                      2. Try going to the NY Times website and then find the Dining section videos; you can watch it being made. I believe I read a post somewhere that the printed recipe calls for more water than the video. But the video is still online -- I watched it earlier this week. (You will probably have to register with the Times; but it's free.)

                        1. There was an addendum to the NY Times original article that included specified weights for all the ingredients. It turned out to be my best attempt (I've made it 5 times) and I'll keep to them now. This was less sticky than the original and made the most beautiful loaf in my clay pot.

                          It is:

                          430 grams flour
                          1 gram yeast
                          8 grams salt
                          345 grams water

                          1. I made it once and followed the directions exactly as far as process went but I used dry not instant yeast and 1 cup of whole wheat flour instead of all white, and baked it in a cast iron dutch oven. I did use 1 5/8 cups water but didn't find stickiness to be a major issue since you hardly handle the stuff anyway, which is the point of this recipe. It came out perfectly and was beautiful to look at but the flavor was less than optimal -- it needed more salt. But the real question is, do you really want to take more than 24 hours to bake a loaf of bread? Unless you have multiple dutch ovens and the space to bake multiple loaves in, that's a lot of time. I think I prefer the relatively immediate gratification of traditional knead and rise bread to this process, although my regular bread never came out as pretty as this did.

                            1. Thanks for all the replies. I tried this method of baking bread out of curiosity. I will go back to the way I baked bread in the past. My ciabatta loaves were crusty with fermentation pockets, and good taste. They were formed by hand, kept their form, and the 2nd rise has always been successful.

                              What I have learned from this exercise is that less yeast is more. I usually make a poulish the night before baking and I will continue to do that, but may let the yeast work for a longer period of time.

                              For those of you who had success with this loosey-goosey dough, I wish you continued success with it.

                              1. Thank you, Chili Dude, and all those who sent in replies. These blogs clearly show the strengths and limits of the Lahey recipe that apeared in the NYT. I think the nub of the problem comes down to three factors.

                                1) One must weigh ingredients or at least know how much your typical cup of flour weighs. There has been a lot of discussion in these blogs on how flour is correctly weighed. Several bread books actually base their recipes on the "incorrect" method which is to scrape from the bin and scoop level, which normally weighs about 140 grams or 5 ounces. If you must use volume measures, know how much you get when you measure. If you use the scoop and scrape method and get five ounces to a cup for a total of fifteen ounces, and use 1.5 cups of water, you get 80% as much water by weight as flour, which is still on the high side. Rosy Levy Beranbaum suggested reducing the hydration to 75% which comes to slightly more than 11 ounces. If you weigh your ingredients, round up the flour to 16 ounces and use 12 ounces of water. You can add a bit of olive oil; but, in that case, measure it with the water. Salt will be between 1 1/2 to 2 level teaspoons of fine sea salt or table salt, to taste.

                                2) Container to let the shaped loaf rise in? A bowl works fine. I have used a large plastic Chinese rice bowl. As flour doesn't stick well to it, I sprayed it lightly with Pam instead. But I did find one unexpected advantage to a flour-sack towel and cornmeal: it wicked off some of the excess water when I used 1 5/8 cups of water!

                                3) As for baking containers, any heavy pot or casserole of a suitable size that can be closed relatively tightly (i.e. no big gaps for steam to come out) works well. I've concluded that my favorite container is a 10 1/2 inch unglazed terra cotta bulb pan and saucer, with a piece of foil on the bottom to cover the hole. It's cheap and works wonderfully well. (In this size pot I make a slightly larger loaf: 20 ounces of flour, 2 teaspoons of salt, and 15 ounces of water. Same amount of yeast. For the original recipe, an 8 /12 pot might work better.) I use the saucer as a lid. I preheat these from a cold oven. But you can use a large pyrex bowl instead and set a pizza pan on top of it as a lid.

                                But if you want sandwich bread and don't want to knead it, then you have a lot of other options as well, although I don't think any make really outstanding bread. There is the classic "Grant Loaf." Goggle it for a recipe. Or you can take Lahey recipe and reduce the hydration to between 62 and 67%, which is between 9 1/3 ounces and ten ounces. AP flour will probably work better with the lower figure and bread flour with the higher one. Folding the dough really helps, and you can fold it half way through the fermentation as well as before shaping the loaf. But if that really scares you, just pour the risen dough into an oiled bread pan. (If you like, you can add a tablespoon of olive oil, measured with the water, to it to get an even finer crumb so mustard or PBJ don't leak through holes.) If you use some whole wheat flour in the mix, you add a variable that can skew the numbers. I wouldn't go over 50% whole wheat, maybe less. And pay attention to how much water it takes--slightly more than with white flour. I think a more interesting approach is to use a bit of oats instead. Whirl about three ounces of oatmeal in a food processor, or use the instant stuff. Include its weight in the weight for the total amount of flour, e.g. 3 ounces of oatmeal and 12 ounces of flour.

                                I would not use a slow rise method for dough containing milk or eggs unless you let it rise in the refrigerator. There is too much danger of bacterial spoilage.

                                Good luck.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Father Kitchen

                                  Cooks Illustrated recommends using a colander lined w/ a floured towel for the rising. It said it allows for some air to get to the loaf and is the perfect shape. Rather than covering with a towel, they have you cover loosely with aluminum wrap.

                                2. I've posted some of this before, but I'll go ahead and add some of my data points:

                                  My messing around with water content has proven inconclusive. For some batches I find 1.5 cups of water isn't enough to bring the dough together, and I end up with either unincorporated flour left in the bowl or chunks of flour in the dough. On other batches, 1 5/8 cups of water results in very sticky dough that's very difficult to work with. I'll need to mess around a bit and determine what causes this (I've been using 1/3 whole wheat flour on most batches lately, with the other 2/3 being King Arthur Bread Flour. Based on reading and results, I suspect the WW increases the needed amount of water slightly over using just bread flour.) Based on feedback here, I'll have to try going to 50% whole wheat and see how it turns out (the higher gluten in the bread flour probably helps here.) I've been able to get pretty consistent results on the following:

                                  -2 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour (by volume)
                                  -1 cup King Arthur Whole Wheat Flour
                                  -2 Tbsp kosher salt
                                  -1/4 Tbsp active dry yeast, plus a little bit extra (I put a bit more yeast in the mix to compensate for a relatively cold room temperature)
                                  -1 5/8 cup water (I use the water in my Brita pitcher, warmed in the microwave for about 30 seconds.)

                                  For rising, I've been using sheet parchment (this is mostly because an ill-advised impulse buy at the wholesaler means I've got a ton of the stuff on hand and I'll probably take the better part of a decade to use it up at this rate...) and although it does still need flouring, it works reasonably well, doesn't stick too much, and can be tossed after it's been used. I could probably even use cooking spray here, but I haven't tried doing so.

                                  As I've mentioned elsewhere, I've also reduced the heat on my oven to 425° (using a 6qt enameled dutch oven) and cut the "lid off" baking time to 8-10 minutes (any more than this and I get burning.) I've heard scattered reports of needing to reduce heat and/or lid-off time, but I haven't figured out why my results seem to differ from normal.

                                  I've also tried using Lahey bread for sandwich making and found it a bit too light in crumb (and tough in crust) to work well. I might try one of the less hydrated options and see if works better, but I'll probably have to look elsewhere for sandwich breads (I tried Googling the "Grant Loaf" recipe mentioned above and several results had significantly different recipes.)

                                  I'll probably do a bit more messing around this week, and post my results. I want to mess around some with smaller loaves (I live alone, and find it hard to use up a whole loaf before it goes stale) and some additives.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Vexorg

                                    There's a good no-knead whole-wheat loaf bread recipe in the King Arthur Flour book "Baking with Whole Grains." Whole wheat often needs significantly more water. I baked a couple of kneaded loaves yesterday that were made from slightly coarse freshly milled whole wheat with the addition of some oats and a small amount of rye plus some oil and honey. My final hydration was close to 90% as opposed to about 70% if I had used bread flour. If my notes are accurate, I ended up using 28 ounces of liquid to 31.5 ounces of flour. I keep thinking that can't be true, so I want to try it again. It was a very moist, slightly sticky dough; but it worked up beautifully. The brethren here told me they really liked it.

                                  2. Man, this post is alot more complicated than the original recipe. The damn thing works evertime for me, as advertised. A little more salt, a little less water, and its more than perfect. Simplify, simplify

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: bengoshi

                                      Amen, brother . . . er, I mean Father. It does work, and it's simple--wet dough; long rise; heavy, lidded pot--if you adhere to the essentials it works really well.

                                    2. I want to try this no-knead bread thing but I need a reasonable timeline to follow. How can I pull this off when I have to work and sleep etc...

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: maggiemmw

                                        maggiemmw-- Mix up the bread after dinner Saturday night, say 8 pm.
                                        The next day, Sunday, at 2 pm, take it out of the bowl for its 15 minute rest followed by 2 hour (or more) second rise. It is now about 4:15 pm. Then preheat oven for 1/2 hour, bake covered about 1/2 hour, uncovered about 15 minutes. It will come out of the oven about 5:30.

                                        1. re: blue room

                                          It's easiest to decide when you want the bread to come out of the oven, and work backwards to figure when you need to start it. You will need to mix the ingredients 20 hours before it comes out of the oven. Noon of one day plus 20 hours is 8am the next day, 5pm of one day plus 20 hours is 1pm of the next day, etc.

                                          1. re: BangorDin

                                            Take the proving times with a pinch of salt! My first rise has varied from 16 to 24 hours and second from 1 1/2 to 4. I always leave the dough to prove in the airing cupboard, I've added herbs, olives, yoghurt, raisins, nuts, seeds... I have no idea what a Dutch oven is - assuming two part cast iron pot. I don't have one, I use a pyrex caserole that is (I think) 4 1/2 quarts so, technically too small. I put the dougn on a silpat type mat then raise a cake rack over teh top and put a tea towel over that. I've not yet found something to do wrong with this dough... My only problem is the smell has started to give me a whopping head ache, time to put bread making to the side for a couple of weeks!

                                            1. re: ali patts

                                              This seems obvious after the fact, but my manager heard about this recipe from me and started bringing the flour/yeast/salt mixture to work and then adding the water at whatever time was "right" in the work day. No need to be home for that bit of it (or other bits as far as that goes).

                                          2. re: blue room

                                            Additionally, there is considerable tolerance in the timing. It's not a "Magic Formula". You can vary the first fermentation down to 12 hours and up to—well, I'm not sure. You can vary the second rise to 3 hours or as little as 1 hour.
                                            My kitchen conditions are very cool, and I prefer a long, slow rise, at cool temps, using as little as 1/8th tsp yeast.

                                            Typically, I use 2 cups of "Sello Rojo" brand Mexican flour and 1 cup of not-stone ground whole wheat flour. (Can't get that here.). Cool water. Two teaspoons salt; sea salt when I have it.
                                            I have begun using a cup or so of "old dough" or mild sourdough starter in the first mix, as well as 2 tbsps of flaxseeds and a tbsp or two of wheat bran. It's heavy, moist and tasty.

                                          3. re: maggiemmw

                                            I generally start a batch before going to bed, and let the first rise go until I get home from work the next day, which is good for roughly 16-17 hours on the first rise. It just takes a couple minutes at various times during the evening to fold, shape and bake the loaf.

                                          4. I wonder if the headaches are due to tyramine, a vaso-dilator which is a byproduct of fermentation. It is found in freshly-baked bread, aged cheeses, and wines, especially red wine. (Chianti is the worst.) It is also found in onions, fresh pork, dried beans, and citrus fruit, among other common sources. So if you eat that bread as fast as you bake it, you may be setting yourself up for a tyramine-induced migraine. In Italy, they used to tell us not to eat bread the day it is baked. (Though we had breakfast rolls that you wanted to eat while still warm, because they staled within hours.) I have no idea whether or not tyramine can vaporize. But if it can, it might be a good idea simply to cover the fermenting dough with plastic wrap. Or put the towel-wrapped dough inside a plastic bag.

                                            1. I tried the bread for the first time today. I followed instrux to the letter, but ended up with a loaf that stuck to the bottom of the LeCrueset dutch oven. Took 15 minutes to dig it out, and half the loaf was left behind. Anyone else have this problem? Am I not using enough flour/cornmeal for dusting? Bittman's original NYT article says, "The dough does not stick to the pot any more than it would to a preheated bread stone." What am I doing wrong?

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: traceyd1717

                                                hmm. i've never had that problem. i do use a lot of flour and wheat bran, but think it's the preheated pot more than anything that keeps the bread from sticking.

                                                1. re: rose water

                                                  Interesting. I bake mine in an enameled dutch oven (not Le Creuset though) and I've never had a loaf stick to the pan at all. I'd say the pre-heating probably helps, as I don't use a whole lot of flour for dusting usually.

                                                2. re: traceyd1717

                                                  Was your dutch oven preheated for a while ahead of time? Because I could see sticking if it's to a cold pot, but not a hot one. I never had this issue, and didn't use all that much flour for dusting (and never cornmeal).

                                                3. I've recently discovered this is a very popular new way to bake bread. Imagine my surprise because my grandmother made bread this way and I learned from her. She always poo poohed the idea of spending any time kneading rising and kneading bread, she said no one had that much time to spend on making bread for the family, especially her grandmother and her mother before that. Of course she never measured anything, it was by sight and how it looked. I usually let my loose batter sit overnight but it's just as good four hours old. A tablespoon of yeast is used to make the batter produce lots of gas bubbles and my grandmother always added a smidgen of 'high rising' to the batter. You can find this amazing product in the grocery store sold under the name of Fruit Fresh. I add more flour to the loose batter to make it not so wet and then dump in a covered pot, let rise and then bake. Sometimes I add more flour to shape sandwich rolls and bake them in a big roaster with lid. I've used about very type of bake ware for this bread. Covered casserole dishes, crock from the Crockpot, cast iron dutch oven ( which makes a to die for crust and used when baking outside in a fire pit), but my favorite is the old Visions cookware dutch oven. It's wide and very deep. Also the Corelle deep oval casserole dish makes an excellent shape for sandwiches. I just thought I'd share the old bread making way from the woods of Arkansas!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Sewbug

                                                    Fruit Fresh (TM) is just ascorbic acid, which is known to be good for leavened bread. It's a component of Lora Brody's Bread Dough Enhancer (TM), e.g.

                                                    Jim

                                                  2. I've had success with the revised recipe in its exact proportions, and I've added lots of different things -- raisings, nuts, cheese, olives, herbs -- all for wonderful results. My first try, I floured my hands, but that was a complete failure, so now I keep them wet with water, which works great.

                                                    1. Of course it works in the original version. The first time I baked it was with 13 ounces of water to 15 ounces of AP flour. It was a bit messy, but the loaf was great. But if you want to incorporate whole wheat--and there are lots of reasons why someone might want to do that--than just be aware that you need to adjust some. I have a mill, so I can mill my own flour. And that leaves me with the choice of bolting out the bran or adjusting the water upward to accommodate it. And my community likes the whole wheat version. Simplify? To me simplicity here is working with the ingredients. Let them tell you what to do. It's only complicated when your thinking is riveted to a recipe. (This post was supposed to be attached to Bengoshi's on January 24th. It didn't link up like I expected.)

                                                      1. Ascorbic acid is permitted in French law as an addition to bread. However, bakers should be aware that it promotes gluten bonds by oxidation. So another thing it may do is destroy the beta carotenes that give bread good flavor. I wouldn't use it. And if I had to, I would use it in the least possible amount.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                          My original source on the ascorbic acid thing was an article on the net that said that almost any bread recipe could be converted to a no-knead bread by the addition of ascorbic acid or fava flour. I think that the statement that ascorbic acid promotes gluten formation by oxidization is probably incorrect. I've read someplace else that ascorbic acid is an antioxidant. I apologize for the error.

                                                        2. I've made no knead twice now. I credit the first time, back in January, for getting me into bread baking. Anyway, the second attempt, this past weekend was great. I used a recipe on A Year in Bread. This made for a great, great breakfast bread (or, in homes like mine, a great dessert bread).

                                                          For those of you not interested in reading the whole recipe, I will point out that Kitchen Mage's recipe calls for cooking it in the pot with lid for 30 minutes and then removing the lid, or putting bread directly on baking stone for final 30 to 40 minutes of cooking.

                                                          http://ayearinbread.earthandhearth.co...

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: debbiel

                                                            Dear Debbiel, that's a great link. Thanks. I never thought that the original recipe was flavorless. Maybe the flour we use is better than average. But I definitely think doing it as a sourdough version gives even better flavor, and I usually add a wee bit of rye to it. I was planning to try adding some fresh corn meal and got sidetracked making skillet cornbread. It is so good to know that there is no one right way to do this.

                                                          2. Bumping this post rather than starting a new one, because it was so helpful for me!

                                                            I've been wanting to make this ever since I saw it in the NYT, and I read the discussions eagerly, anticipating making it. But I was still afraid I'd mess it up somehow- I'm a cook, not a baker, and I'm really bad at follwing recipes, and baking is a science. I mena, to quibble about 1/8th of a cup of water? The 1 and 5/8th cup vs. 1.5 cups water arguement was like reading greek... can it really matter that much? (my answer is that, after making the bread, I don't think 1/8 cup of water is a make or break issue. Either way it's a really wet dough.

                                                            But, this was a triumph, and like others have reported- so simple. I spent way more time worrying about it than actually making it.

                                                            I'll try and be brief. I used the NYT recipe, because I copied that into word ages ago, and knew nothing of the revisions. My amounts were close, not super specific. Hey- it looks like 5/8s of a cup of water- that's a little more that half... that kind of thing.

                                                            What I varied....

                                                            First rise- exactly as written, amounts exactly as written, as well as I could. A "shaggy" lump it was. I was nervous. I've developed a touch for pie crust, and this is (as it should be, of course) completely different.

                                                            Second rise- this mess is in no way suited for towels, so I floured parchment paper and used that to turn out the dough. I used a floured chefs knife to "fold". This works really, really well. You can use gravity by pulling on the parchment, and the knife and wide blade to help it release. Yes, it sticks, but it's do-able.

                                                            But I was worried- it didn't "double in volume" as I expected. It just sat there. After a couple of hours, I decided to proceed anyway- I'd been nursing this soggy ball for 18 hours, and then 2 more, it's now or never. It was during this rise that I found this thread, and got more nervous. So many variations, so many distress stories.

                                                            So, I found a old old old deep oval pyrex-ey casserole dish here where I am staying (long story), and it has a lid. You guys were very adamant about the heavy pan, so I dug one up. I sprayed it with PAM, fearing this grease-free blob would adhere to the pan, and I heated it in the oven at 425, because I suspect the oven runs hot from past experience. When it was to temp, I flopped/scraped the mess into the pan, really not expecting much- expecting it to maintain the "ciabatta" shape it had held.

                                                            After 15 minutes, I had to look. It had risen! ALOT! It looked about like a football in shape! And, it never touched the sides of the casserole- There was a one inch gap on each side- I had assumed that it would fill the bottom, but it didn't- and rose! I was so excited, and was so pleased and proud, wanting to share this with my upcoming dinner guests.

                                                            I immediately put it back, let it cook covered for the remaining 15 minutes, uncovered it for 15 minutes, and took it out. I was pacing for the last few minutes, so eager to remove it.

                                                            It was VERY crusty.Good thing and bad thing. I liked it, but it was hard to cut- this wasn't a problem fo rme, but my borther bitched and bitched. I told him if he had a decent bread kinfe.... you get the idea. I thought about adding more salt next time, but I'm afraid I'd kill the yeast. I have some raw milk butter that I combined with some fleur de sel, and that took care of that problem. But in itself, the bread had great holes, great texture (also good for toast in the morning- what was left of it), and I'll do this again and again.

                                                            Thanks to everyone for the advice and handholding, even if you didn't know you were doing it.

                                                            3 Replies
                                                            1. re: cheesemonger

                                                              Congratulations to Cheesemonger and his successful bake. I have a few comments, for whatever they are worth.

                                                              1. Many have suggested that the use of a heavy, lidded pot is the heart of this recipe. In my opinion, it is built around letting the gluten develop over a long period by reducing the amount of yeast at the beginning to about one tenth of the normal amount. The long fermentation also facilitates enzyme activity and the full development of flavor. The second most important factor, it seems to me, is using a slack dough, which favors the development of a chewy crumb with big holes in it.

                                                              2. The use of a heavy, lidded container is not essential. Rosa Levy Beranbaum, on her web site, says that she baked this loaf on an oven tile in a steamed up oven, and got excellent results. A heavy pot, like an oven tile, retains heat, so that it doesn't go out the door when you open the oven. And the lid traps the steam that the baking dough gives off, and that favors expansion in the oven. I usually use a terra cotta flower pot.

                                                              3. You can increase the amount of salt to 2 teaspoons without adversely affecting the yeast, provided the salt is well-mixed with the flour before the yeast is added. I use 1 1/2 teaspoons. [Bakers favor about 1.8% of the weight of the flour but, in some recipes, may push it to 2.5% or a little higher. Not above 3%. I aim at about 2.2%]

                                                              4. In my experience, the amount of water makes a very big difference, but that difference is also a function of the environmental humidity and the protein and bran content of the flour. If it is humid, the flour in the bin will already have absorbed water, and you may want to reduce the amount of water by up to an ounce. On the other hand, high-protein flour and flour with bran in it will absorb more water. My first loaf, which I made with 3 cups (15 ounces) of all-purpose flour and 1 5/8 cups (13 ounces) of water, was difficult to handle. The dough was gloppy--a whopping 87% hydration by baker's percentages. I followed Rosa Levy Beranbaum's suggestion of reducing the hydration to 75%, and I got very good results. That works out to 11 ounces plus one tablespoonful of water to 15 ounces of flour.

                                                              5. For those in a mood to experiment, try using the long fermentation approach with a firm dough, a medium dough, a slack dough, and a very slack dough. You may be pleased with the results. A firm dough (as for a bagel) would use about 9 ounces of water for the 15 ounces of flour. A medium dough (as for French bread) would use anywhere from 9 1/2 to 10 ounces of water. A slack dough (as for Italian breads) would use 11 or 12 ounces of water. And a very slack dough (as in ciabatta) would use 12 1/2 to 13 ounces.

                                                              6. My first loaf also had a very hard crust. I may have left the lid on too long, which I suspect Cheesemonger did. But the biggest factor seems to have been that the very wet dough needed such a long baking time to reach an internal temperature between 200 and 210 that the crust cooked too fast for the crumb. You can control that by reducing the temperature to 425 after ten or fifteen minutes of baking. Also, using slightly less water helps. I normally get a thin, crackly crust. If the bottom tends to be too thick, take it out of the pot when you remove the lid and bake it directly on the oven rack.

                                                              7. I also found that when I used 13 ounces of water, the center of the bread remained very moist--almost gummy--even though it had reached 210. Reducing the amount of water eliminated that problem.

                                                              8. You don't need to spray the pot with oil. The bran or cornmeal used on the towel or parchment plus the heat will prevent it from sticking.

                                                              9. Several people have commented on using parchment instead of a towel. I had no trouble with the towel except the first time. I had used flour to prevent the dough from sticking, but the dough was so wet that it hydrated the flour and some gluten formation took place, making a stick a little. With cornmeal, bran, or oatmeal, I have had no difficulty at all, even when the dough is quite slack. And the towel has the advantage of being reusable.

                                                              1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                                Thanks, FK for the clarifications on my various issues. (oh, and I'm a she, by the way..).

                                                                I do appreciate the addressing of the specifics and the science of baking, which I just haven't experimented with much to date. I too would have preferred a thin, crackly crust, I will remove the lid sooner on the next test this weekend.

                                                                My thoughts about the water content also involove the fact that flour is "added" to the dough because flour is used to coat the items that the dough comes into contact with, and invariably becomes part of the dough. I don't have a scale here, so can't with certainty say how much, but I'd say an additional couple of tablespoons were "added" in the name of workability. I'm definitely sticking with the parchment, however. I won't spray the pan- I could see that the heat of the vessel would have been sufficient. Another post upthread had me worried.

                                                                The oven here is also quite off, I think. It runs hot, so I started with the setting at 425 from the start, not wanting to burn the thing.

                                                                Thanks!

                                                                1. re: cheesemonger

                                                                  Dear Cheesemonger,

                                                                  It wasn't long ago that I would panic at every little thing that went wrong with bread. Now I let it do its thing. It has a funny way of teaching you.

                                                                  About that added flour: I put rather a lot (3 tbs) on the counter when I turn out the dough (and I usually make a larger batch). When I fold the dough, I brush off the excess loose flour. If it is really wet, I lift the edges with a bench knife--your floured knife sound great. And it is precisely because of tendency of flour to absorb water and become dough, that I prefer to use cornmeal in dusting my towel or a bread peel if I were to put the dough on a baking stone. And, truth to tell, when the dough is really gloppy (as when I made it the first time), I don't even bother trying to round it or to make it workable.

                                                                  My first experience with no-knead dough actually took place several years ago. I was giving a retreat in a monastery in Seattle. The guest suite contained a motel-style kitchenette, so I decided to bake sourdough bread for the nuns' feastday. (I had brought along my starter with this in mind.) But there was not enough space in which to knead the dough. Remembering that I had seen Suzanne Dunaway's book, "No Need to Knead," I decided to use her technique and simply pour the risen dough into batard pans. It worked well enough. A couple of years later, friends in Vancouver asked for simple bread-making instructions. They had a crowded apartment with little space for kneading. This time, I experimented with making a yeasted bread that I baked uncovered on a terra cotta garden pot saucer. I got a nice bread, similar to the bread of Morocco. As I was about to perfect that recipe, Bittman published the Lahey recipe. I never went back to it. (I forgot to mention earlier, Lahey's Sullvan Street Bakery has a web site and the recipe is posted there. Also a nice one for biscotti.)

                                                                  The approach is very adaptable. You can add a bit of olive oil (and optional cornmeal) and add a bit less water and use it for pizza dough. Or spread it thin, dimple it, and put olive oil and rosemary (and maybe some salt) on it for focaccia. Mostly I bake sourdough bread with it or whole-wheat-and-oats bread. I like the approach because the hands-on time is so limited and I can make it without competing with our cook for the use of kitchen equipment.

                                                            2. One more revisit-

                                                              I've made this 2 more times. The first was all white AP flour, and I cooked it covered only 15 minutes, uncovered anouther 15. I also only did the first rise- the 2nd rise I did while the vessel and oven heated. Also added a touch more salt. Slightly less crusty, but still great- and a beautiful rise. Nice "boule" shape.

                                                              Next attempt- 2:1, White Lily AP flour: King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat flour. This was the best yet. The WW Flour makes it a little sweeter, the rise was great, and the bread has nice med holes throughout, and the crust is less tough. Also, didn't do a 2nd rise just as before- just folded it out onto floured parchment, folded it a few times with the kinfe, and when the oven/pan was to temp, flopped it in- 15 covered, 20 uncovered. Perfect.

                                                              Depsite all the talk of exact measurements, I really feel that this recipe is very forgiving, and practically foolproof.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: cheesemonger

                                                                Here's another variation. I posted this down aways, but it may interest you.

                                                                http://tinyurl.com/3xfgd7

                                                                It's from King Arthur Flour, and mentions the bread from NYT.

                                                              2. I know, me again.

                                                                I've been making this bread successfully every weekend, and it turns out great every time (2:1 white to wheat KA Flour). I'm ready to branch out, but wanted to run it by you all.

                                                                I want to make a cinnamon-raisin variety. I've found on another site where 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2T cinnamon and 2 handfuls of raisins were added. Not wanting to subscribe to a whole 'nother site, I thought I could get help here.

                                                                When should these additional ingredients be added? The sugar at the beginning, fold the raisins and cinnamon in at 2nd rise maybe? Should I go back to all white flour, or can I stay with the 2:1?

                                                                Any thoughts would be appreciated.

                                                                4 Replies
                                                                1. re: cheesemonger

                                                                  I can't answer your question directly. But I would think you would have to add everything at the beginning, because if you don't, the raisins and cinnamon won't be distributed in the loaf. But I have two thoughts. Sucrose is not readily digested by yeast and most sweet bread recipes contain double the normal amount of yeast, unless one of the new osmotolerant strains of yeast is used. So this should be an interesting "test" of the long rise. Secondly, whether you use your 2 to 1 mix of flour depends on the total strength of the flour. But if it worked before, it should work again. So it seems to me that the best thing to do would be simply to try it. And then please let us know how it turns out. (I made a perfectly awful loaf last week. I milled my flour but the adjustment for the grind was off. I didn't realize that until after adding the water--it was very coarse. I got a dense loaf. It tasted great, but it was more like a dense German rye bread. So that particular dough should have been kneaded.)

                                                                  1. re: Father Kitchen

                                                                    Thanks to both of you. I found this link:

                                                                    http://noteatingoutinny.com/2007/04/2...

                                                                    and am essentially following these instructions. I start the first rise this afternoon, then bake for breakfast tomorrow morning. I may even make french toast with the leftovers, if there are any. I'll post Saturday (tomorrow) and let you know how it goes. I keep feeling that as I tweak this recipe I will evenutally hit i'ts limit... we'll see.

                                                                    1. re: cheesemonger

                                                                      Well, once again, the fool-proof recipe remains virtually fool-proof.

                                                                      Started the dough with the usual stuff, added:
                                                                      1/3 cup turbinado sugar
                                                                      1/2 cup raisins
                                                                      about 1/4 tsp cinnamon

                                                                      At this point the dough felt more like cookie dough, and I was tempted to add more water, but did not.

                                                                      Let rise 12 hours, flopped it onto floured parchment. sprinkled turbinado sugar, cinnamon and some chopped walnuts, folded the dough with my large, knife, repeat once more. Flopped into hot pyrex, sprinkled with a little sugar and cinnamon, put the lid on, and into the oven.

                                                                      Baked exactly as before, but there was one difference- It stuck! It was tough to get it to release, and I burned my finger when it slipped away from the potholder. It must have been the sugar that made it stick. With some careful spatula and knife wedging, it came loose, leaving none adhered to the pan, but it was worrysome for a bit.

                                                                      But it tastes great- not too sweet, great rise, and tomorrow I'll use it for french toast.

                                                                  2. re: cheesemonger

                                                                    I've made the recipe at http://ayearinbread.earthandhearth.co...

                                                                    It doesn't have raisins, but it is a cinnamon nut variety so the directions might work for you. It was quite good. And come to think of it, maybe I'll try making it with raisins too.