Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
May 8, 2009 04:07 PM

Mark Bittman's no knead bread

Has anybody had success with Bittman's bread recipe. The one that uses 1/4 t yeast and is left to rise for hours? The first time I made it, great success. But for 3 times I have tried and thrown away a big "blob" of dough that is so soft, it is impossible to handle. I watched Alton Brown make a similar recipe on food network and his dough was easy to handle. Any suggestions for what I am doing wrong?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I've made it, perhaps half a dozen times. Always turns out great. His technique is a simply a basic hydrolyzation process - hence "no knead"
    The ingredients are so terribly simple, your problem has to be the ratio of water to flour (or the type of flour relative to the liquid or hydrolyzation time span) because there's nothing in it but salt, yeast, water and flour and a very long waiting time.
    Depending on humidity and how careully I measure, I sometimes find it's a bit sticky but that's easy enough to fix with a little more flour.

    1. From what I understand, Bittman's recipe/technique is nearly identical to the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day approach, which is what I've been using for about a year. I follow their advice to handle the dough with wet hands; sprinkle flour over the surface of the dough before beginning to work with it; and just keep doing it. Oh, the dough is also much easier to handle if it is temperature can be really sticky. Keep trying!

      2 Replies
      1. re: powella

        OK. I bought 5 Minutes and I wound up with a blob (almost a puddle). The problem with the book is that they don't give weights with theiir measurements. Please, please. please, if you have had success with this book, please give me the weight of one cup of flour.

        1. re: junescook

          1 cup of flour is 5 ounces. Check this website:
          Great video and he uses the cook's illustrated recipe which I have had great results. Add a little bit more water if you want it real crispy.
          Lahey's recipe uses less ingredients but is wetter and crustier.

      2. I make this occasionally and it always works fine. I tried the Cooks Illustrated version which is easier to handle but don't get anywhere near the best results with a drier dough.

        I learned from somewhere (maybe here) to use a silpat in a bowl for the 2nd rise then use a greased spatula to scrape the dough off the silpat. Wet or floured hands don't work, I just don't touch the dough.

        There is a really, really long thread on here that covers all the things people have tried to make it work. I think my ratio is pretty much straight Bittman. 3 cups of flour to 1/4 tsp of yeast and 1 1/4 tsp of salt with 1 5/8 c water.

        1. for the record, it's not Mark Bittman's recipe. it's from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Bakery,...Bittman just published it in his column.

          5 Replies
          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

            Thanks for that! When the NYT article came out it made me certifiably *nutz* that it suddenly became "Bittman Bread" because of the alliteration. Bittman adds a great deal to the dissemination of America's culinary advances but that's NO reason to rob Jim Lahey of *his* discovery.

            Meanwhile to OP, try using weights and percentages instead of volume measurements. And never be afraid to make adjustments to make it "right" to your personal perception. Especially if you did it once and understand that this is a much wetter and slacker dough than conventional bread doughs.

            For my money, Lahey's great contribution is knowing that kneading is not essential NOT that kneading and having your hands more involved is s mistake AND the business of baking the dough in the hot enclosed pot to produce that glorious crust. As with everything, it's a matter of learning from one another's experiences and bringing it all and modifying it all to a method that's right for each of us.

            1. re: rainey

              yeah, it stresses me out when people don't get due credit for their creations/discoveries.

              1. re: rainey

                I certainly don't blame Bittman for the non-famousness of Lahey. In fact, hardly anybody would have known about this bread without Bittman and his column in the Times. Didn't Bittman make some adjustment to the bread-making process when they put out the "No Knead Bread"article? Somebody more knowledgeable should post about this.

                In fact, I've seen Lahey on Martha Stewart and she mentioned that he was "our old friend" which sounded to me as if he'd been on regularly.

                His books have also done well. We drove all the way into Manhattan from Brooklyn to get some of his bread to take to relatives in Massachusetts and we're probably not alone in searching out the bakery.

                1. re: oakjoan

                  Have you seen the new video with Bittman costarring Jim Lahey showing Lahey's faster method for the no-knead?

                  1. re: oakjoan

                    Yes. He and his Sullivan Street Bakery had a well-established reputation before Bittman's article. I knew of him as a baker prior to the NYT article on no knead and I'm a West Coaster. His bakery was the standard in NYC and often written about in food blogs. He had also appeared on MS many times. The one episode that I well remember (and I'm NOT a MS watcher) was his pizza bianca.

                    I'm not saying Bittman didn't write a most interesting article. But he doesn't deserve the credit for someone else's work and discovery. That's just flat out WRONG. I suspect Bittman would say the same thing!

              2. i have the same problem of the sticky blob -- certainly not able to be kneaded like in bittman's video. but it works anyways. i literally stir it, flop it over with wet hands, and then let it rise, etc, all in the same bowl. no towel, countertop, or whatever it calls for. has been perfect every time, crispy outside, great crumb. (i take off the top knob of my le creuset dutch oven just in case, though i have heard from others it doesn't melt as the le creuset site advises against such high temps)

                14 Replies
                1. re: meganmarie

                  I loved the letter that I read on the net after the early reports of folks taking knobs from the Le Creuset pots at bed Bath and Sur Le Table to replace their crumpled knobs. "That is exactly the sort of behavior one would expect from people who do not knead their bread."

                  1. re: wolfe

                    I bought a stainless steel Le Creuset replacement knob, but then I got worried about the enamel, as well...for a lot less money than replacing my Le Creuset french oven, I got an old Wagner #8 cast iron dutch oven on Ebay, and use that for this bread.

                    1. re: Beckyleach

                      The all time best thing for Lahey's method is using a tagine. I use the Emile Henry Flame ceramic tagine.

                      What the tagine does is provide a wide shallow bottom which is easy to load wet, slack dough onto. You can even load the dough in upside right and slash easily. And then it has a high top that has ample room for the oven spring.

                      Here's a set of photos I did for the person who gave me my tagine:

                      1. re: rainey

                        I priced the Emile Henry tagine and have to say it is out of my price range. The one I saw for about sixty dollars at Ikea tempted me. But I still bake this bread quite nicely in a 10 1/2" Italian terra cotta bulb pan plus its saucer. Unglazed. In DC they are hard to find except around the end of February. I usually get two each year and inevitably pass them on to someone learning to make the Lahey bread. But I also bake other kinds of boules in them. I am going to try a terra cotta window box this year for long loafs. One of the other chowhounds mentioned he uses them.

                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                          Brilliant! It sounds like the same concept with much more affordable components.

                          Truth is, I doubt I'd buy a tagine to make bread either. Mine was a gift. But now that I have it I *love* the wide shallow basin. Last night I made meatloaf in the bottom and used the top to keep it warm while it rested. And then there are braises and actual tagines (the Middle Eastern braises)! Yum!

                          But kudos for your inventive spirit!

                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            This Sur la Table one is $25, safe to 400 degrees which might be enough.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              Nah! It has to be safe to at least 475. Ikea also has a clay baker, like the Romertopf for about twenty bucks. That is another good option.

                              1. re: Father Kitchen

                                Yeah, I have a Romertopf that's been sitting on a shelf for about 15 years. I keep meaning to try it out but have been afraid that it wouldn't withstand the high heat. . . and I lost the directions....of course I could look them up on the internet, but nooooooooooooo, I'd rather worry and complain.

                                1. re: oakjoan

                                  Be careful with a Romertopf. It's probably NOT up to those temps. I have had a couple split on me at high temps. It's a coarse and irregular clay and the walls are not as thick as common gardening pots.

                                  But do take it off it's shelf to roast some meat!

                                  1. re: rainey

                                    Ha! I haven't used it in a verrrrrry long time and I think I've only used it 3 or 4 times ever.

                                    Shame on me!

                            2. re: Father Kitchen

                              Is all unglazed terra cotta by definition safe to 475-500 degrees? When you use the bulb pan and saucer for bread, do you wet either piece? (I'm thinking not but just to be clear...) There's a huge nursery not far away so I was thinking of looking at their terra cotta display. Do pieces intended for gardening need pre-washing or other preparation before you utilize them in baking?

                              1. re: greygarious

                                Sorry, I missed keeping up with this. Unglazed terra cotta is safe--provided it is pure clay without additives. The common red pots from Italy that nurseries sell are the kind to get. Or English ones if they have them Be wary of Mexican and Chinese pots.
                                Wash the pots with plain water. They are porous and absorb soap. Many authors suggest pre-treating the business surfaces with shortening, much as you would treat an iron pot. I usually smear it with Crisco and put it into a cold oven. I turn it on to 250 and then at 20 minute intervals raise it by a hundred degrees. After it has baked at 450, I turn the oven off and let it cool in the oven. But some chowhound said that pretreatment was not necessary and I did get good results without doing it. I also treated a pot once by putting the Criscoed pot into the cold oven and turning it up full blast with no adverse affects. I suppose in theory a pot could thermal stress (which is the problem with glazed pots). But I have one I've used for five years.

                            3. re: rainey

                              rainey -- how did you come up with the tagine idea? Did someone write about that? Or did you just try it? Ingenious.

                              1. re: karykat

                                I got the lovely tagine in that photo essay as a gift. As soon as I saw it I knew it was exactly what I'd been looking for! Previously, I was cooking my bread -- no knead and conventional -- according to Jim Lahey's enclosed hot pot method. But I was loading my dough onto a hot oven stone and putting the casserole upside down on top of it so that I didn't have to reach down into anything hot and I had time for properly slashing the skin. It was a method that found me. ;>