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Mark Bittman's no knead bread

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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?

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  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 cold...room 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: http://www.breadtopia.com/basic-no-kn...
          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: http://www.flickr.com/photos/75667634...

                      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. ;>

                      2. I have skipped the second rise and scrape right from the bowl into a hot 4 qt dutch oven trying to steer the dough into just one 1/2 the pot. The low oval loaf comes out fine. I use white or whole wheat, slight increase in yeast, water and and 1 1/2 Tbs vital wheat gluten for 100% whole wheat. Additions rosemary and kalamatas or walnuts. So far no complaints when I bring in the warm loaf to work. Early to bed and early to rise lets Jack bake first thing in the morning.

                        1. As I was writing that I wondered what would happen if I just skipped the second rise. Thanks, meganmarie and wolfe.

                          1. I just watched the video on youtube and that is so much more solid that my dough. I am going to change flour. Mine is so sticky and so "runny" and I followed the 3 cups of flour and 12 ounces of water. It was a warm day but not too humid today and I just dumped the runny mess in the trash because last time I had tried to cook it and it was like a pancake-crispy brown but so thin there was no "inside"

                            6 Replies
                            1. re: LGD

                              Description of a large cracker ;-}
                              I wonder if you proofed your yeast. Not that it's necessary for this recipe but it'd be a good idea to determine if it's still alive.

                              1. re: LGD

                                LGD, atmospheric humidity makes a huge difference, as your words indicate. (The same flour may work out quite well when the air is dry and turn into a runny mess when the humidity is up.) But I think part of the problem here is that the original Lahey formula is already on the very soft side for high protein bread flour. And if you used AP flour (which gives better flavor), you may need to change the hydration ratio.
                                I normally make this with Gold Medal unbleached AP flour, and I always weigh it. But I use less water. Let me explain.
                                Your 3 cups of flour should weigh 15 ounces or a smidgen more. If the flour is dry, that gives you a hydration rate of 80% by baker's percentages, which is a very wet dough already. If the flour has absorbed much humidity, you could get something more like a batter. Rosa Levy Beranbaum found the recipe works better with 75% hydration--16 ounces of flour to those 12 ounces of water or 11 1/4 ounces of water to 15 ounces of flour. But even that figure can be generous if the flour has absorbed moisture.
                                I've made this bread with 10 ounces of water to 15 ounces of flour. So I would suggest you either start out with less water or, if it turns into a runny glop, just add a couple of ounces of flour fairly early in the rise to firm it up a bit.
                                The first time I made this bread by following the NY Times recipe, my dough was almost a batter. It was a gloppy mess to handle, but the bread tasted fine. Since then, I always adjust the formulation.
                                And, by the way, you can fold the dough several times if you like. So if you are not sure how it is shaping up, try folding the dough about two hours after mixing. If it is an ooze then, just sprinkle on some flour and fold it a few times. If you wait until late in the rise, the results may not be as good since the enzymes will not have had enough time to work the new flour over.

                                1. re: Father Kitchen

                                  In Lahey's new My Bread, he reduces the water to 1 1/3 c. I haven't tried it yet but will with my next loaf. The only other change is an increase in salt which I'd been doing anyway.

                                  1. re: chowser

                                    That really is a better measure for AP flour. But if you use whole wheat, you can go much higher. So people shouldn't be afraid to experiment. So much depends on the flour.

                                    1. re: Father Kitchen

                                      Since you're a flour expert, perhaps you can explain something that has been puzzling me. Whole wheat flour can absorb more water than AP. Yet when I make pate brisee in my Cuisinart, I need only about half the water than if I were using AP flour. It's been a couple of years so I can't tell you the exact amount. I discovered this the hard way - the first time I subbed whole wheat for white (this was over a decade ago so I can't say if it was a 1:1 ratio or a 100% swap) I put the full water amount in the dribbler tube and wound up with a pasty mess into which I had to add copious additional spoons of flour. This makes no sense.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        I'm no flour expert. I've simply asked lots of questions along the way. I have no idea how the pate brisee behaves. But if you are using a whole soft wheat, you won't need as much water. But that it should make so great a difference puzzles me. That might be a question for Rosa Levy Beranbaum's blog.

                              2. Have you tried Jacques Pepin's dead-simple version?
                                If you have a 2-3 qt nonstick pot that can take a 425-450 oven, this is a breeze. You want a diameter not larger than 8". My pot is old so I spray with Pam first. You stir flour, tepid water, yeast, and salt right in the pot, let rise, stir, then rise again overnight in the refrigerator. It is then baked uncovered and dumped out of the pot. Your hands never touch dough. It is crusty, but the crumb is not as open as the Cooks Illustrated version of Bittman/Lahey. I use King Arthur's White Whole Wheat, or in combination with oatmeal or rye. I have always made it all in one day, leaving it at room temp for the second rise. The recipe is quite forgiving; I use from 1-1-1/2 tsp yeast; it doesn't seem to matter except in the time the rise takes.

                                1. I've had no problems. I never really handle the dough, just use a scraper to get it out of the raising container, onto floured wax paper and into the towel-lined basket, then holding 3 ends of the towel, heaving it into the hot pot. In fact, I use 14 oz of water to 3 cups flour and the bread has wonderful crust and crumb. Keep your flour shaker nearby.

                                  1. First time I made it, it also came out great, though could have had a little more flavor. next times, not so good. I think it makes a difference if you use organic wheat and at room temp. Also, water that has been allowed to dechlorinate (allow it to sit out, open, overnight or boil and then cool before using). also, water to flour and salt rations really matter, at least in my experience.

                                    1. There are at least two or three voluminous threads about this already. Do a quick search and you'll be reading for days.

                                      1. The first time I baked this bread, straight from the NY Times article and video clip, I got a dough that was almost a batter. Much depends on how you measure the flour and the humidity of the flour. I used plenty of flour on the counter surface when I folded it and still had to use a bench knive to handle the gloppy mess. Had this been my first loaf of bread, I would have called it impossible to handle. But having baked superhydrated Italian breads, I just went (literally) with the flow. And the bread was quite good.
                                        The next time I baked it, I decreased the water. Then I read Rosa Levy Beranbaums take on it. She tried it and she concluded that you get better results with less water. She uses 75% hydration or three parts of water by weight to four parts of flour by weight (e.g. 12 ounces of water and 16 of flour). That is my normal proportion (though I usually bake it as a sourdough bread). And I upped the salt to 1 1/2 teaspoons to suit my taste.
                                        Often, I bake this as a slightly larger loaf with 20 ounces of flour and 15 ounces of water and 2 teaspoons of salt. BUT, when the weather is humid, as ours was on Friday, I hold back a full two ounces of water for the large loaf. So it was 20 ounces of flour and 13 ounces of water. I got good results.
                                        I do have a problem in baking in an enamelled covered casserole. If the dough is too wet or the loaf too large, the bottom crust burns before the center is done--even if I turn the temperature down to 425 ten minutes into the bake. One corrective is to turn the loaf out of the pot about ten minutes before it is done and finish it directly on the oven rack. (I don't have that problem in a bread cloche or a flower pot baker as they don't retain so much heat.)

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Father Kitchen

                                          Have had the same burning problem on the bottom--solved it using convection for the baking with the lid on, then turning the convection off when I take the lid off (or the top scorches...to quote Rosanne Rosanadana, "If it's not one thing, it's another.")

                                        2. I do a fast no knead, try for flat bread (sandwiches and toast MAXIMUM crust), 1 tsp instant yeast and 1 tsp red wine vinegar, bread flour, all else same. 3 rise with paddle knead on first two rise cycles, pour 3rd rise into preheated pan direct from rise container, 450 deg, 30 covered plus whatever to make top brown; the difference is more tart yeast effect and all else very similar. 5 hr. total, approx...
                                          watch video, dough ready if it is wet and falls in strands when poured.

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: sfkling

                                            This sounds good. Do you still use a dutch oven?

                                            1. re: sharonanne

                                              I have an old stainless Faberware dutchoven, 12 in and top with a lodge cast iron lid.
                                              again, I just pour the last rise into the pan, nothing extra, monitor rise in a covered plastic container, when doubled on last rise it is ready

                                          2. You can do the second rise on a sheet of parchment paper, cut to size w/ a little extra on one side as a "handle." When you're ready to bake, just pull the whole thing into the dutch oven, or whatever pot you're using to bake. Before the second rising, make sure your hands are wet before you fold it.

                                            5 Replies
                                            1. re: chowser

                                              I've taken to doing it on a *big* piece of parchment that I pick up by the four corners and plop into the pot. Put the lid on and let it go. No sticking, and I can also score the top before putting it into the oven which makes for a pretty top. This really works well. Sometimes mine is pretty wet, sometimes not, but it all turns out well.

                                              1. re: chowser

                                                "You can do the second rise on a sheet of parchment paper, cut to size w/ a little extra on one side as a handle"

                                                That's nothing short of a brilliant idea!

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  I think Cook's Illustrated made some such modification in their version of the recipe.

                                                  I second chowser's recommendation, as after our first batch of NKB I spent a fair bit of time removing sticky glue-like dough adhesions from the tea towel after the washing machine failed to clean it.

                                                  1. re: Full tummy

                                                    Yes, they did, going on 3 years ago. That version has also been made on ATK. They say to line a skillet with a big sheet of parchment, which leaves a lot of it hanging over. Doing the final rise therein maintains the boule shape. I use two sheets because after the pot comes out of the oven, the paper is brown and brittle. Sometimes a single sheet doesn't hold together enough to help you get the bread out of the Dutch oven, but two sheets provide enough support.

                                                    1. re: Full tummy

                                                      I still use the towel, but I don't dust it with wheat flour, because if that gets wet more gluten forms. My usual dusting is cornmeal, but I have used oat meal and oat flour to get effect. Some use wheat germ. And oat or wheat bran are other possibilites.

                                                  2. The recipe was found to be kinda fussy to make for us reg ppl,bread is funny like that,I watched Americas Test Kitchen re-Make this recipe & they say it works much better,I haven't made it yet seeing I had to get a Dutch Oven,kit..scale for flour & now I need to P.U a High temp knob for my pan & then I can see how it works,I think the name of the recipe is called Almost No knead bread & I think it can be found on there web site....

                                                    1. Did you throw away the dough before baking? The wet dough is indeed hard to handle. Luckily, you can slop it into the pot into just about any ugly pile imaginable, and it still comes out looking and tasting great.

                                                      Consistency with weights is key (which also means you need a halfway decent scale). Here are my formulations for three sizes, based on Lahey/Bittman:

                                                      Single Recipe
                                                      16 oz flour
                                                      1 tablespoon kosher salt (Morton)
                                                      1 big pinch yeast
                                                      12 oz water

                                                      1.5 Recipe:
                                                      24 oz flour
                                                      4-5 tsp. salt
                                                      2 pinches yeast
                                                      19 oz water

                                                      32 oz flour
                                                      2 tablespoons salt
                                                      3 pinches yeast
                                                      28 oz. water