Sunday, June 30, 2013

Daily Bread II: No-knead Semi-Sourdough Bread

For many years my parents made their own bread, stopping only when Mennonites started selling excellent home-made bread at the local farmer's market. Nowadays, my mother lives alone and doesn't drive, so it's not as easy to get to the market, so she really enjoyed my homemade bread when she was here for a visit.

She started musing about making bread herself again, but this is a challenge because she doesn't have a mixer with a dough hook and arthritis makes kneading bread by hand painful. I suggested a no-knead bread recipe I had come across on the Internet. However, I hadn't made it myself so I couldn't give advice on how well it worked. So this one's for you, Mom!

I followed the instructions in the Essential New York Times Cookbook, by Amanda Hessler (although I did substitute whole wheat flour for one cup of white flour).  The result was a crusty, sourdough-style bread with a coarse spongy structure and excellent flavour.

It uses very little yeast and relies on a long rising time to replace the kneading, which puts it half way to a sourdough bread. Like sourdough, the dough is very soft. In fact, using the proportions given in the recipe, I think the dough was too soft, almost a batter.

It does not contain oil or milk, so it's keeping qualities are not that great, but it's great as an accompaniment to soup, or made into croutons.

You don't have to knead the dough, but you do need to handle it. Because my dough was half way to a batter, I found a dough scraper very useful. The instructions call for using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, but the only way to do that is to flour the work surface, your hands, and the dough scraper very generously.

The recipe calls for you shape the dough into a ball with a seam for the second rise. This was not possible with my dough, so more flour or less liquid may be required. I should have looked at the  video  first, which  shows the consistency you really want.

For the second rise, the dough is placed on a floured tea towel. With such a soft dough, I decided to  put the dough in the tea towel into a bowl to prevent it from spreading sideways instead of upwards. This also made it easier to tip into the preheated pot for baking.

No-Knead Semi-Sourdough Bread

Adapted from the recipe created by Jim Lahey and made famous by Mark Bittman.

2 cups white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (300 ml) water

  1. After rising 16 hours.The day before you want to bake the bread, mix the dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the water. Mix together until it forms a clump, then cover with a plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12-18 hours. The dough will form bubbles as the flour, encouraged by the yeast, ferments.
  2. My dough was too soft, so I used a dough scraper to turn it over. Flour a working surface and tip the dough onto it. It will be soft, tacky, and shaggy. Sprinkle more flour over the dough and fold it over itself a few times. If the dough is very soft, use a dough scraper. Let it rest for 15 minutes.
  3. I found it useful to put the dough into a bowel for its second rise.Meanwhile, cover a tea towel with flour, bran, or cornmeal. After the dough has rested, gently shape it into a ball (if you can), then transfer it to the tea towel, seam side up. Let it rise for 2 to 2.5 hours.
  4. The dough has a top-knot because I scraped dough still clinging to the tea towel.A half hour before the second rise completes, pre-heat the oven to 475, with a heavy covered pot or Pyrex casserole. (The preheating and cover of the pot are important! They will essentially form a mini-oven in which steam is released to form the crust.)
    Note: I used my cast iron cocotte, but it was a bit too big. Next time I'll try a smaller pot or a Corningware casserole dish so that loaf doesn't end up so flat.

  5. Take the preheated pot out of the oven and uncover the dough. Gently tip the dough into the pot, cover it, and put it into the oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake uncovered for 15-30 minutes more until the top is a deep brown. (I think I could have left my bread in a bit longer; it was golden brown on top, but a bit underdone.)
  6. Let the bread cool before slicing.


  1. I call this Puddle Bread, because the dough is so soft that it won't hold a shape. One of the comments on a review at Cookbooker suggests forming the bread on parchment paper set in a 9" frying pan. Think I'll try this next. The bread is DEElicious, though; it's just a pain to deal with.

    1. Yes, puddle is a good word for it. Still, if you look at the Mark Bittman video, it really just looks like, in practice, less water is used. That makes a dough that can be folded and shaped into a ball. And we shouldn't discount differences in flours either. What would it be like with true bread flour, or a cup of coarse whole wheat instead of the fine whole wheat flour I used?

    2. I've got a batch of this (the full recipe) going with only 1-1/4 cups water. We'll see how it goes tomorrow.