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Nov 18, 2008 09:43 AM

No Knead Bread Fell Flat (Literally)

I made my first attempt at no-knead bread last night. I had made the dough on Sunday and I let it rise for 24 hours (I had to go to work). It was rather.....runny. I asked my boyfriend to convert the 5/8 cup of water for me and he said it should be 1/2 cup and 3 Tablespoons. If he was incorrect that would be the first clue. I used highly active yeast - same amount as called for instant in the recipe. I tried to work with a sloppy, runny ball of dough and the bread DID come out (and it tasted good) but it was very flat. Like a ciabatta.

Any ideas what went wrong?

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  1. There are 16 tablespoons in 1 cup, so 1/8 cup would be 2 tablespoons, not 3

    1 Reply
    1. re: janetms383

      Okay, I was arguing with him that I thought there were 4 Tbsp to a 1/4 cup. Oh well, I will remedy this next time...

    2. the extra 1/8 of a cup of water (4/8 + 1/8 = 5/8) is 1 oz, or two tablespoons. That's not enough off to really be an issue. The dough *is* runny; I usually end up adding quite a bit more flour when I do the final "shaping". Did you bake it in a closed pot? that really tends to allow it to "puff up". And the pot should be well preheated first.

      2 Replies
      1. re: DGresh

        I thought maybe the conversion was the problem. I was in a rush and didn't want to think or look it up.

        I did cook it a closed Le Cruset dutch oven that had been preheated.

        1. re: chowkari

          Maybe your dutch oven was too big. I bake mine in a 4.5 quart LC. I remember, when the recipe first came out, people who used the recommended size (7-8 quarts?) had flatter breads.

          At least the bread tasted good. To me, that's the most important thing.

      2. I usually try to keep the water to a minimum at around 1.5 cups and maybe JUST over that line in the measuring cup. I do find that sometimes a tablespoon can make a rather large difference in this bread. I find 1 5/8 to be too much.

        I would also try baking your bread sooner than your 24 hour limit. The recipe says bake within 12 to 18 hours right? Obviously you added another 6 hours to that.

        It is also quite possible that the yeast at that point had significantly slowed its carbon dioxide production (ate up much of the available food (sugar) available to them).

        What size was your LC pot? Try baking it in a smaller dutch oven if you have one. Obviously a smaller pan will keep the dough from flattening out on the bottom and if it can't rise outward, it can only rise upward!

        1. Extra water will make a gloppy dough. The first time I made it, I had an extremely wet dough, but the loaf was not very flat, although the texture was like ciabatta dough.
          Rosa Levy Beranbaum has tinkered with the recipe and she finds using 75% hydration by baker's percentages (3 parts of water to 4 parts of flour by weight) works very well. I often weigh 16 ounces of flour and 12 ounces of water, which is a lot more water than you used. I get great bread that way.
          I wonder if the problem might be the way you measured the flour. By scoop and scrape, 3 cups should weigh 15 ounces or a tiny bit more. By the original recipe, you need about 11 1/2 ounces of water.
          Letting the fermentation go for 24 hours certainly caused problems, because by then you have exhausted the nutrients in the dough, and perhaps also overloaded it with CO2 waste. If you must let it rise 24 hours, start with only a pinch of yeast. Or let it rise overnight and then put it in the fridge, take it out when you come home from work and shape it, and bake it when the internal temperature reaches 62 degrees--about two hours later.
          It might also help to fold the dough before refrigerating it. (I fold my no knead sourdough an extra time or two.)
          Also, if you are going to let it rise as long as 24 hours, you can probably make it with a firmer dough. (I did a few times before the Lahey-Bittman recipe was published, but the crumb didn't have the big holes of the wetter version.) 67% or 2 parts water to 3 parts flour by weight, should do it. You may want to score the loaf.
          As for the pot being too large, I doubt it, though if it is too large the atmosphere may not get humid fast enough for the oven spring.
          Alternatively, you could increase the size of the loaf for the larger pot. I often bake it with 20 ounces of flour by weight, 15 ounces of water, and 2 level teaspoons of fine sea salt. And the same amount of yeast. I preheat it to 475, plop in the dough, cover it, and turn the oven down to 425 and uncover it after 20 minutes. Another 20 to 25 minutes of baking finishes it off

          7 Replies
          1. re: Father Kitchen

            Thank you for this input. I figured it could rise for a long time as I read Bittman let's it rise for longer than the called for 18 hours. I will not do this next time.

            I do have a kitchen scale and will use this (and double the recipe - I have a large pot) next time.

            1. re: chowkari

              I don't think a large pot makes much of a difference, but doubling the recipe can. I've baked the original Bittman loaf in an 8 quart oval pot and had good results. But if you double the recipe, you can affect the outcome because the outside crust will bake faster than the inside of the loaf. If you do double it, I would suggest you turn the temperature down after the first ten minutes. For a loaf made with four cups of flour, I lower the temp to 425. For one made with six cups of flour you may find you need to lower it further, perhaps as far as 375 depending on your oven. Alternatively, if you are baking in a large oval pot, you can make an oval loaf.
              Six cups of flour will give you a loaf weighing about three pounds when it is baked. Loaves that size are not unknown, but ...
              Baking in an enclosed container is not essential, although it does make a favorable difference. You can bake the loaf on a baking stone or pizza stone in a well-steamed oven and still get good results. So if you are not having good luck with the pot you are using, consider baking without it. You can also put this dough in bread pans and bake it in a steamed oven.

              1. re: Father Kitchen

                Ah, it's so much fun to keep reading about all of the bread experiments here on Chowhound! I thank my lucky stars for discovering it when I did.

                I've been fiddling with the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes or whatever it's called. After the initial prep and rising, you lop off what you need and put the rest in the fridge. Take it out when you need rolls or whatever.

                I'm right now working on the Silverton Grape Starter which I'd made and used many times about 5 years ago. Revisiting and can't wait to find out how it works this time.

                1. re: oakjoan

                  I've been experimenting with the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes also. They do mention on their website that the amount of water depends on the brand of flour, some have more protein

                  Also, I don't have a stone but find a pre heated cast iron skillet works just fine in its place

                2. re: Father Kitchen

                  I make a large loaf with the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes master recipe but with the Bitmann technique. I bake at 450 for 15 minutes with the lid on, 15 minutes with the lid off until I get the crust to the color I want, then I turn the heat down to 425 until internal temp is 190. It's about 10-15 mins. Worth turning down because the crust gets too dark at 450 the whole time. The enclosed container is so much easier to me than pouring water/ice into a hot oven.

                  1. re: chowser

                    Chowser, I agree that the enclosed container is both easier than trying to steam up an oven not built for steam and that it also produces a superior loaf of bread. The only thing better would be a proper bread oven. Yet it is good to know that we have a lot of options. By the way, was it you that wrote some time back that you bake baguettes in terra cotta window box pots?

                    1. re: Father Kitchen

                      That wasn't me but it sounds like a great idea. I finally bought a lodge dutch oven to make the bread. I had been using pyrex but was warned against it. And, if I do want to use steam, I have a pizza stone and stone loaf pan which work great. But, they're not that different from terra cotta which would be far less expensive.