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Aug 4, 2010 10:02 PM

No-Knead Bread Help: Water, Towel, Pancake

While I've read through all of the no-knead threads I thought were relevant, I didn't see answers to the following questions; maybe I missed them. In any case, if you can help, I'd be really grateful. I made no-knead bread for the first time last night/tonight, and:

--when scraping the dough out of the bowl after the first rise (I did 18 hours), there was water at the bottom of the bowl.
--the dough hardly rose during the second rise (I let it go for 2 hours).
--the bread, after baking, was about 3/4" tall.

Why did these things happen, and what can I do to correct them?

Also, is it absolutely necessary to let the second rise happen in the dishtowel? I let it rise in a warm (room temperature) enameled dutch oven with a cotton dishtowel loosely covering the top of it, then put it (still in the dutch oven which was still at room temperature) in the oven, which the King Arthur Web site said was fine to do. Is this what caused the pancake?

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  1. It sounds like the yeast overproofed and died. Preheating the D.O. is an essential step. Use the Cook's Illustrated Almost No-Knead Bread recipe, in which the second rise is done in a parchment-lined skillet, then deposited, parchment and all, into the hot D.O.

    1 Reply
    1. re: greygarious

      Ditto on the overproof. Was the first rise hopefully in the frig? How did the dough smell after the first rise?

      That liquid in the bottom of the bowl is problematic as well, and may mean an incorrect liquid:flour ratio. Talk about hydration!

    2. How old is your yeast?

      1. dough was too wet. next time, use less liquid. what you should have done was add more flour after the first rise.

        was it bubbly after the first rise?

        if it doesn't rise enough during the first rise, let it go some more. even 4 hours. it has to double in size.

        5 Replies
        1. re: jaykayen

          Thank you all so much for your help! The dough was indeed bubbly after the first rise; it smelled like it was fermenting. Is that how it's supposed to smell? As for the yeast's age, I'm not sure. The owner of a local bread bakery gave it to me, and I've been storing it in the fridge. Maybe I should get a new package of yeast? I'll definitely try the Cook's Illustrated version, as well as all of your other suggestions. Thanks again!

          1. re: wellthen

            CI's version is excellent. I was shocked and so very pleased with myself when my very first attempt yielded a loaf worthy of a bakery shelf!
            Ditch you yeast and get a new bag. It's cheap. Keep it refrigerated or in the freezer.

            1. re: wellthen

              I'd test the yeast first, before throwing it out. If the dough was bubbly that would mean it's still viable.


              1. re: chowser

                And there's this handy guide from baking911, which may or may not be applicable for no-kneads, but a good general reference nevertheless:


              2. re: wellthen

                Yes, that is how it is supposed to smell!

                If you are getting bubbles, your yeast is still alive, and that is good, you don't need to buy more.

            2. p.s. How do I solve the overproofing issue?

              3 Replies
              1. re: wellthen

                Just follow the times in the CI recipe. In a really hot kitchen, it won't be 18 hrs. Go by size.

                Since you are new to yeast breads, I'd suggest first trying Jacques Pepin's even simpler method. The bread isn't as great as the CI, but you'll learn what it should look and smell like.

                1. re: wellthen

                  Agree. Go with sight when you proof. When it's doubled (or whatever the recipe calls for) it's done.

                2. Good replies all. The No-Knead recipe presumes that you are letting the dough rise at a room temperature in the lower seventies. If your kitchen is in the eighties, it will fully double the speed of rising. So too warm an environment may lead to over proofing. A 12 hour initial rise may have been all you needed. But the fact that you had water in the bottom of the bowl suggests that the dough may have been too wet. Hydration is figured by comparing the weight of flour to the weight of the water. Rosa Levy Bernbaum got better results by using slightly less water than the original recipe called for--75% of the weight of the flour. If you weigh everything, that would work out to 12 ounces (or a cup and a half by volume) of water to 16 ounces of flour by weight. However, when the weather is humid, flour can absorb a lot of water from the air. So in summer I hold back an ounce or two of water, depending on the humidity. Also, make sure that you have mixed the dough enough with your hands that you wet out the flour. You don't want big lumps of unincorporated flour in the dough. Finally, do preheat your baking container. It makes all the difference in the world.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: Father Kitchen

                    Thank you all for the additional guidance! I tried it again, this time much more success. I used the same amount of water (300 grams), though for some reason, the dough looked completely different after mixing: shaggy and not as much like batter. Maybe the room was a different temperature or the flour, when dry, had absorbed less water than on my first try? I'll remember to adjust the amount of water according to the temp/humidity in the room, as some of you have suggested.

                    After the first rise (18 hours), the dough had more than doubled, but it looked a bit like it was struggling to get to the top of the bowl -- there was less dough and more bubbles toward the top of the bowl. What does this thinning out of dough toward the top mean? Is this normal?

                    After two hours for the second rise, the dough hadn't risen much. I think I'll try for the 12 hour rise next time, as Father Kitchen suggested. I let it go for two additional hours, for a four-hour second rise, and it rose more.

                    The parchment paper addition was such a relief. Thank you! I took the bread out of the Dutch oven after 30 minutes and put the bread back into the oven without the DO for 12 minutes. The bottom crust was thicker than the top crust, burnt, and stuck to the parchment paper. I tried using a higher rack in the oven, and the bottom crust wasn't as burnt as on my first try; also, as mentioned above, I baked the bread for less time on this attempt. How else can I help this burning issue? Would oiling the parchment paper help the sticking issue, or would doing this help burn the bottom crust? Also, how can I make the bottom crust thinner?

                    I preheated the Dutch oven. You all were right -- huge difference. I've heard that it can do harm to a baking container if it's heated when it's empty, though. Is there any truth to this?

                    And the resulting bread was wonderful -- it actually looked like bread! Yet the crumb was more moist than the crumb of any bread I've ever eaten before, as if the bread hadn't been baked for long enough. I've also read on Chowhound that that's one of the characteristics of Lahey's version of No-Knead Bread, though. Is this true, or should I have baked the bread for longer?

                    I'll definitely take a look at baking911 and the Pepin and Cook's Illustrated versions, as well as remember your advice on taking into account the temperature and humidity of the room, not to mention the season of the year. I'm learning so much here. Thank you all again for all your help!!!

                    1. re: wellthen

                      What led you to bake the loaf outside of the DO for the last 12 minutes? That alone could ruin the bottom crust. I have had the bottom get too dark and too thick, but solved that by moving the rack one level higher (CI calls for bottom-most position). Even when too dark it never stuck to the parchment and I would think oiling might promote burning. BTW, I use a double layer of parchment since the paper is crumbly by the time the bread is done. Sounds like your bread was a little underbaked, unless you didn't let it cool well enough before slicing. It's hard to wait, but do. For one thing, if you cut it when too hot, the steam contained by the crust will escape and any bread not consumed that day will be drier than you want. The moisture in the Lahey recipe that the posts you referenced were talking about is the hydration of the raw dough, not the baked bread.

                      Other threads on this topic have recommended baking the bread in a tagine, which can be a pricey item. I think it was Father Kitchen who suggests a terra cotta bulb pan, inverted over its saucer. I keep forgetting to look for one of those. The knob of a DO may be damaged by repeated use in that hot an oven. You can replace it with a metal one from LeCreuset, or a cabinet knob from a home supply store. Or, you can unscrew the knob and plug the hole with foil, or leave it on and cover the knob with foil.

                      1. re: wellthen

                        I turn the oven down by 25 degrees after half an hour when I take the lid off. I found it was getting too dark. Why did you remove it from the DO after half an hour? I don't have problems w/ the dough sticking but the bread is cooked and I've never oiled.

                        It's possible the heat and adding room temp dough, over time, will wear down a DO which is why I use a fairly inexpensive one. I used to use Pyrex, which the original recipe also recommended but when I wrote to the company, they warned against it. That said, I haven't had problems w/ the Pyrex or with the dutch oven.

                        1. re: wellthen

                          I find a Dutch oven tends to burn the lower crust in our oven. A cloche large terra cotta bulb-pan pot or azalea pot work better for me. They have a bit less thermal mass. If the crumb was cooked but still excessively moist, try cutting back slightly on water next time. Sometimes even a tablespoon or two can make a difference.

                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            Thank you again, all. The reason I took the bread out of the DO was because I read in another thread that it worked for someone else when he/she had a burnt bottom crust; the poster thought the DO was too hot. Maybe it just doesn't work in my oven. I did use a double layer of parchment (I saw someone else post that suggestion on another thread; perhaps it was you, greygarious.) As for the moistness of the crumb, I waited about an hour and a half till I cut into the bread, so I think I'll try cutting back on more water next time.

                            Father Kitchen, when you use a terra cotta bulb-pan pot, what do you use for a cover?

                            Thank you all again!

                            1. re: wellthen

                              As I already posted above, you place the dough on the bulb pan's drainage saucer, then invert the bulb pan and cover the saucer like a dome. You need to plug the hole, as you would also do with a tagine.

                              1. re: greygarious

                                Or you can do it the other way around and put foil on the bottom of the pot and use the drainage saucer as a lid. I usually do it that way for no knead and the other way for a firmer dough that I want to score before baking.