Sourdough Starter-Risen No-Knead Bread

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Jan 30 2011

I can never decide which look I like better... Pizza stone version on the left, Covered pot version on the right

Bread That Takes Time, but Not Your Time

A recent e-mail reminded me that I promised ages ago to share my sourdough version of the Sullivan St. “no knead” bread popularized by Mark Bittman in the NYTimes. Part of the reason I didn’t get around to it sooner is because it’s basically the same as the recipe I posted for crusty, shaped loaves—although that one uses just enough flour to make the dough kneadable. But the no-knead method probably deserves its own post.

Over time, I’ve developed three basic formulas to work with my sourdough starter: slow, medium, and fast. All three, even the “fast” version, work by letting time do the work that kneading normally does. A longer-than-normal rise enables long chains of gluten to form, and gluten is what forms stretchy membranes that trap the gas produced by the yeast, which is what causes bread to rise. The lack of kneading also means the dough can be wetter, because you don’t have to worry about it sticking to you. When that wet dough is baked it in a covered pot, it creates a steamy environment not unlike a professional steam-blasting oven, and that’s what produces the thick, crispy crust people associate with European-style or artisanal bakery bread. However, I’ve also had pretty good success with a baking stone and a splash of water thrown in a preheated dish on the oven floor (which often gets on the oven floor too, but that’s fine—more water in contact with more hot surface at one time = more steam).

The loaves above show the differences between the two methods—the covered pot method rises a little more and has a slightly nicer crust. Using a pizza stone enables you to make different shapes and slash the top in decorative ways. They were baked at the same time like so:

I put a loaf in the pot first, and then slid the rack back into the oven and just slid the second loaf onto the stone on a sheet of parchmentI removed the lid 25 minutes into the baking time, and the internal temp of the pizza stone was 195 F and the dutch oven loaf was 185F. I left the pizza stone loaf in for another 5 minutes, and the dutch oven loaf in for 10, after which they were both around 197-199F.    I couldn’t fit the pizza stone & pot side by side on the rack,
so I used the lid of the small dish to level the pot

The “fast” version takes a minimum of 6 hrs for the first rise. The “slow” version, which is the most similar to the original “no knead” recipe, takes at least 18 hrs for the first rise. However, those are 6-18 (or more) hours during which you don’t have to do a thing. Much like the no-knead pizza dough, this recipe virtually effortless. Five minutes to measure out the ingredients and stir them together, another minute or so to shape it, 30 seconds to throw it in the oven and another 30 seconds to add a splash of water at the beginning or remove the lid of the pot mid-way through baking. Even if it takes another few minutes to refresh the starter, the whole process probably takes less active time than making a trip to a bakery where you could buy something comparable.

And, of course, as with anything you make yourself, you can customize it however you want. Here are a few versions:

This probably had about 1/4 cup whole wheat flour, but no other additions. As you can see, that produces a much taller loaf. The Classic

About 1/4 cup each dried cranberries, dried apricots, and walnut pieces + 4 T. honey. Really nice with sweetened cream cheese. Cranberry, Apricot & Walnut

2 T. tomato paste, 2 t. garlic powder, 2 t. each dried oregano and parsley, and 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese. I didn't use the stone or water with these because I didn't want them to be so crustyGarlic, Tomato, & Herb Knots

I go through phases with slashing patterns--I've been on a seashell kick, but a simple X in the middle or # pattern works too. Multigrain, Flax, & Honey

Choosing Slow, Medium, or Fast

The long rise means it takes a little advance planning—if your starter takes at least 8 hrs to “refresh” (which most do) that means you have to start the process at least 16 hours in advance. So, for example, if you want fresh bread for dinner, you’ll probably want to refresh the starter before going to bed the previous night and make the “fast” version sometime before noon the next day. It’ll be ready to shape and bake that evening. If you want the bread to be done by 7, the dough should be made by 9am. If you want the bread to be fresh and warm for breakfast or a weekend brunch, just shift that all back a little: refresh the starter anytime in the morning or afternoon of the previous day, make the dough in the evening, and it will be ready to shape & bake when you wake up.

You can always let it rise longer than the “minimum”—in fact, the longer you let it rise, the better. So if you have to be out the door by 8am and don’t get home until after 6, you can bake it anytime that night or even the next morning, and it’ll still be great. If I don’t manage to bake it within 24 hours, I usually refrigerate it in a zip-top bag and then let it come to room temperature for 1-2 hrs before shaping and baking it.

Aside from time considerations, which version I use also depends on how much bread I want to make and how much starter I want to use. I usually try to use 2 cups of starter per week—that’s just what works with my starter feeding routine—so if I want one loaf, I make the “fast” version. If I want two loaves, I use the “medium” recipe and double it. If I want a lot of bread or only want to use a little bit of starter (say, if I’m making something else at the same time that already uses a cup or more of starter), then I make the “slow” version.

You can also use cornmeal, wheat bran, or oats to prevent the dough from sticking to the towelThe cracks form because the bread continues rising after the crust begins to harden

Can It Be Moar Sour?

Yes.

The “slow” version produces the most sourdough flavor, despite starting with the least sourdough starter. I assume that’s mostly because the yeast have more time to do their thing, but I’ve never done a “slow” and “medium” loaf side by side to see if they’d be different even if they were allowed to rise for the same amount of time. In general, I get a lot of tang if I let any of the versions rise for 18-24 hours. In warmer weather, as little as 12 hours can be enough to produce a pretty sour loaf.

Probably the best way to maximize the sourness is to let the dough rise for 18-24 hrs and then refrigerate it for 3-4 days. The yeast will keep doing their thing—digesting the starches in the flour and producing acid and alcohol, and the bread will get more and more sour. Eventually, they’ll either run out of food or produce an environment too acidic for them to live in. However, I haven’t run into any problems as long as I bake the dough within a week of making it.

Can It Be More Whatever?

Yes. Just add whatever. Prefer whole wheat? Fine. To make it 100% whole wheat, you’ll need a starter made with whole wheat flour. If you don’t care about the percentage, you can use whole wheat flour with a starter made with white flour. It will be denser than the white wheat version, but will still rise and be tasty. Prefer not to use sugar? Fine. The original doesn’t, but I find that a little sugar improves the oven spring a lot, probably by speeding up yeast activity. Two teaspoons isn’t enough to make it taste sweet—most of it probably gets eaten by the yeast and transformed into gas, acid, & alcohol—so if you want a sweet-tasting bread, add more sugar (or maple syrup or honey or malt syrup or brown rice syrup, you get the idea).

interior shot of the fruit & nut bread, which also had a high proportion of whole wheat, thus the denser crumbI almost never make the “basic” recipe. I usually use at least 1/4-1/2 cup whole wheat flour and add some oats and sunflower seeds. Other possible additions include olive oil or melted butter, honey, grated hard cheeses, diced cooked or cured meats, herbs, tomato paste, chopped sundried tomatoes, dried fruits, nuts, flax meal, fried shallots, garlic powder or paste, wheat germ, and oat bran. Probably not all at once. Diced pepperoni, olive oil, tomato paste, shredded sharp cheddar or aged gouda, fried shallots, and oregano is a killer combination—like pizza in bread form. Fresh rosemary, swiss cheese and pine nuts are pretty great together, too. It works best if you whisk semi-liquid ingredients like honey, olive oil, or tomato paste into the starter (and water, if using) before adding the dry ingredients so they get evenly distributed.

See the recipe below for suggested amounts of additions, or just improvise. I also included the recipe below for the version pictured at the top, which I made this week. Instead of white bread flour, I used a multigrain flour made by Westwind Milling Co. that contains hard winter wheat, oats, rye, spelt, and corn (available at By the Pound if you’re in the Ann Arbor area). I whisked some gluten into the flour before adding it to the starter because many of those grains have a lower gluten content than wheat. I also threw in some whole rolled oats, flax meal, sunflower seeds, and honey. I used the “medium” version of the recipe, doubled for two loaves, and let it rise for 24 hrs. The result was sour and nutty and chewy and complex and just slightly sweet. It’s denser than the classic white flour loaf, but something about cold weather makes me crave that kind of heartiness. I’ve been loving it slathered with butter and topped with sprinkle of coarse salt or dipped in runny egg yolks.

Recipe: Sourdough-risen No Knead Bread
see this post for advice about making a sourdough starter

FAST (min. rise 6 hrs)

  • after risen, the dough will be airy and have a vast network of bubbles2 c. refreshed starter (1:1 flour:water)
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 2 1/4 c. bread flour
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. sugar (optional—improves oven spring)

MEDIUM (min. rise 12 hrs)

  • 1 c. refreshed starter
  • 1 c. water
  • 3 c. bread flour
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. sugar 

SLOW (min. rise 18 hrs)

  • 1/3 c. refreshed starter
  • 1 1/2 c. water
  • 3 1/2 c. bread flour
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. sugar

for lack of a towel, I've used old pillowcases before. not recommended if you have any doubts about the colorfastness of the fabric dyeequipment: a kitchen towel (not terrycloth) and baking stone or covered pot
extras: more flour, cornmeal, wheat bran, or oats for dusting the flour
substitutions: any flour can be used in place of the bread flour—add 2 T. vital wheat gluten per cup of lower-gluten flour; you can use whey or water used to soak dried tomatoes or fruit in place of the water; you can use any kind of sweetener in place of the sugar or leave it out
additions (per loaf): 1/2 cup rolled oats, grated cheese, or dried fruit; 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, nuts, diced cured meat like pepperoni, sundried tomatoes; 2 T. olive oil or any other oil or melted solid fat, tomato paste, honey or maple syrup, fried shallots or garlic, flax seeds or flax meal, wheat germ, oat bran, or fresh herbs; 2 t. dried herbs, garlic powder, or other spices.

1. Whisk liquids & semi-liquids together (starter, water, honey or tomato paste, etc.). If adding gluten, whisk that into the dry ingredients in a separate bowl.

2. Combine all the ingredients and stir just until the flour is moistened—usually about a minute. The dough should be sticky and shaggy. If you can knead it without it sticking to you, add more water 2 T. at a time until it’s too sticky to knead. If it’s so wet it’s more like batter than dough, add flour until it can be shaped into a ball that won’t immediately flatten into a pancake. Getting the consistency right may involve some trial & error, but even too-dry or too-wet doughs will probably produce tasty bread.

it's hard to communicate texture in visual form--you can see how it sticks to the spatula. And yet it's stiff enough to pull away from the bowl a little.

3. Cover and let rise for 6-24 hrs. The dough is ready when it has more than doubled. There may be fat bubbles on top, and the dough should be full of air—see the honeycomb texture in the picture next to the ingredient list. The less fiber in the flour and the more sugar in the dough, the more it will rise.

4. Optional step I usually skip: Flour a work surface and scrape the dough out onto it. Fold it over itself once or twice. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest 15 min. I assume that’s meant to make it easier to shape. I usually just shape it in the bowl:

5. Flour your hands enough to keep the dough from sticking to you, scrape the dough out of the bowl and form it into a ball. Dust a cotton towel with flour (or cornmeal or wheat bran or rolled oats) and put the ball seam-side up in the towel. Dust with more flour, gather the ends of the towel, twist and pile on top of the loaf. Let rise for 1-2 hrs—longer is better, but 1 hr is sufficient. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look like it has risen much, it will rise more in the oven.

it's so wet there's not really a "seam," but there will probably be one side that's not as smooth; that side goes up in the towel becasue it will be inverted into the pot or onto the baking tile.

twisted up and ready for the second rise 6. 30 min before baking, preheat the oven at 450F with a covered oven-safe pot inside (like a Dutch oven or Le Creuset) including the lid OR a baking stone and a baking dish on the oven floor. I think this makes it look kind of like a sand-dollar; Brian thinks it looks kind of like a marijuana leaf. Kind of like a Rorschach test.When ready to bake, carefully turn the dough into the pot and cover OR turn onto a piece of parchment paper, slash with a sharp knife if desired, and slide onto the stone. If using the baking stone, pour 1/2 cup water ino the preheated dish on the oven floor. 

7. Bake 25-30 minutes, and then remove the lid or turn the loaf for even browning. Bake another 5-25 minutes until the crust is browned on top and the internal temperature of the loaf is between 190-200F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can check for doneness by tapping the bottom of the loaf. When it’s done, it will sound hollow.

Recipe: Multigrain Bread with Sunflower Seeds, Flax Meal, and Honey
(2 loaves)

  • 2 cups refreshed starter (1:1 flour:water)
  • 2 cups water
  • 5 3/4 cups multigrain flour (like the Westwind Milling Multigrain Bread Flour, which contains hard winter wheat, oats, rye, spelt, and corn)
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 1/4 c. flax meal
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 T. kosher salt

Follow the same method outlined above. Divide in half and rise in two separate bowls if your mixing bowl isn’t large enough to hold the dough once it’s more than doubled.

Before rising8 hrs probably would have been enough; I let it go 24.

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That pizza bread does, indeed, sound killer

Have you ever run into problems with the consistency of the final product being adversely affected by the ingredients that go into it? I can't bake worth a damn, but I know from making lasagna and omelets that you have to make allowances for water and fat content of certain things when you're taking into account cooking time and temperature.

no real problems, adjusting by feel takes care of it

It depends a little on what you want from it. For the most airy, open crumb and big ciabatta-style bubbles, you have to use all or almost all white bread flour. Most variations will be denser, and whole grain versions may be significantly denser--like the multigrain loaves above. But I think they're still tasty.

I guess moisture is probably the main reason I don't recommend using fresh fruits or vegetables. I also tend to use harder/drier cheeses rather than soft, milky ones. But all of the additions listed above should work without any problem.

As with most baking, I advocate going by feel rather than precise measurements & timing, because even if you're not deviating from the recipe, differences in altitude, ovens, flours, individual starters, etc. can change the outcome. With this recipe the major things to look for are:
1) the dough should be sticky, but not so wet it won't hold a shape; if it's not, for whatever reason, you should add more flour or water as necessary to make the dough stiffer or wetter (aside: dirty!)
2) it should always at least double in size by the end of the first rise--if that hasn't happened after 6 hours, you should let it rise longer
3) it should be baked until it's brown on the outside and 190-200F inside, or if you don't have a thermometer, until it sounds hollow when you knock on the bottom.

Those pretty much take care of any adjustments you'd have to make for additions, too.

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. If I don’t manage to bake

. If I don’t manage to bake it within 24 hours, I usually refrigerate it in a zip-top bag and then let it come to room temperature for 1-2 hrs before shaping and baking it.
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The loaves above show the

The loaves above show the differences between the two methods—the covered pot method rises a little more and has a slightly nicer crust.
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The lack of kneading also

The lack of kneading also means the dough can be wetter, because you don’t have to worry about it sticking to you.
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Over time, I’ve developed

Over time, I’ve developed three basic formulas to work with my sourdough starter: slow, medium, and fast. All three, even the “fast” version, work by letting time do the work that kneading normally does.
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Aside from time

Aside from time considerations, which version I use also depends on how much bread I want to make and how much starter I want to use.
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A longer-than-normal rise

A longer-than-normal rise enables long chains of gluten to form, and gluten is what forms stretchy membranes that trap the gas produced by the yeast, which is what causes bread to rise.
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sour dough no-knead

Hi,
Love your blog, very informative and entertaining. I've been trying to make sour dough bread from a starter I started and using the no-knead method.
The starter's bubbling. The dough doubles during the 12 to 18 hour first rise. It doubles again during proofing ... and then in the oven, it just sits there.
It comes out dense and undercooked. Tastes good, but not quite right.
I have yet to try using the 2t sugar you suggest for oven spring.
Also, my starter is not liquid, it's a 2:1, with twice as much flour as water. When I first made it using your slow recipe, it came out like batter after the first rise. I added more flour and kept going.
So far two dense sours.
I appreciate any time and wisdom you have to offer with my problem.
Thanks!

hm

That's really mysterious. It's hard to say what might be going on without seeing the process--too much moisture in the dough or too little? Oven/pot too hot or not hot enough? If it doubles during the rise, the yeast is definitely active.

My no-knead loaves actually don't tend to rise a whole lot after I shape them; most of the second rise happens in the oven for me. Sometimes when the dough is too wet, my loaves kind of spread out flat instead of rising up. And if the dough is too stiff, it also doesn't rise as much. Takes a little trial and error to figure out the right consistency--for me, what works best is if the dough is just too sticky to knead so I have to use a lot of flour when I'm shaping it to prevent it from sticking to me, but not so wet that it won't hold its shape when I roll it into a ball.

Sorry I can't be more helpful. Have you tried any other recipes, like a standard sandwich loaf?

Higher Rise

Hi Margot,

Thanks for a wonderful no-knead recipe. I've made the dutch oven method a few times now, and it's always amazing. I've been wondering, though, how I can get a thicker loaf. I'd like to use it for sandwiches and things, but it seems like my loafs max out at 2 or 2 1/2" high. Do you think I should proof it in the towel in a bowl or something? Would that help? Right now I'm letting it rise at least 18 hours (half at room temp, half in the fridge--we're in a hot climate), taking the chill off for an hour, then proofing in the towel for 2 hours. I use a combo of bread, whole wheat, and rye flour.

Thanks for your suggestions!

Lindsey

this seems to be a recurring problem

I wish I had a better answer at the ready, but in my experience the rise is so variable and depends on so many factors it's kind of hard to say.

One thing that makes a huge difference is flour. Just last week, I made 2 loaves, one with all white flour, one with the same proportions but with some oats and flax meal thrown in. The white flour loaf rose a good 25% more and had big ciabatta-style pockets. The oats & flax loaf was really dense in comparison. I'm not 100% sure that was all the fault of the extra fiber--the oat dough was also stiffer, probably because the oats and flax absorbed some of the moisture. But it was a striking difference for 1/2 cup rolled oats and 1/4 cup flax meal. I always get the best rise out of 100% white flour, no additions, and a dough that's so sticky you can't really knead it and need a lot of flour to shape it.

Proofing in a bowl hasn't helped me, largely because the dough is so wet and deflates so much when you dump it into the pot no matter what the shape is after the second rise. I sometimes end up scraping it off the towel, even with all the flour, but it still rises a lot and the uneven parts from the scraping just become part of a rustic-looking crust.

If you're committed to using whole grain flour, I'd try making the dough wetter--you really want it to be sticky--and maybe adding some vital wheat gluten, 1 Tablespoon or so per cup of flour, whisked into the flour before adding any liquid. Especially if you're using a lot of rye flour, part of the problem may be the lack of strong gluten networks to trap the gas from the yeast.

Good luck! Let me know if you find something that works well.

Thanks so much for your help.

Thanks so much for your help. I ended up just putting the dough in a loaf pan (still cooked it in a dutch oven) to make sandwich-worthy bread. It turned out great!

So now I'm addicted to no-knead bread. Do you know how to make other bread recipes into no-knead? Specifically a loaf that calls for instant yeast. I wonder if I could just use a tiny bit of yeast (like 1/4 t) and make a wetter dough with a super-long rise...

Thanks again!

I've posted a recipe for

I've posted a recipe for no-knead pizza dough with a link to an instant yeast version): http://soursaltybittersweet.com/content/sourdough-risen-no-knead-pizza-d...

The technique is really adaptable. Just play around. Reduce the yeast in the recipe to 1/4-1/2 t., add enough water (or other liquid) to make the dough just too wet to knead, and let it rise 18 hrs+. Use lots of flour as you're shaping to prevent it from sticking to you...and just see what happens.

You'll still need a steamy oven if you want a crusty outside--either using a Dutch Oven or a baking stone and water or ice cubes thrown in a pre-heated pot. For a different kind of crust, skip the steam part. For a more golden crust, brush the outside with egg. For a softer crust, brush the outside with olive oil or melted butter. Etc.

I'd probably use a thermometer when baking as the extra moisture may change the baking time. Most bread is done when the inside is 190-200F. Also, the themometer probe will come out clean.

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Hi! I'm going to try

Hi!

I'm going to try something similar to your garlic tomato & herb knots...could you post recommendations for bake temp and time? Also, do I follow the same prep/rise cycle as I do for the loaf on this page? My loaf turned out delicious...thanks for the recipe!

knots

yep, the prep/rise cycle is usually the same (but shaping the dough into knots instead of loaves before the final rise). I probably added more flour to make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.

I probably baked the knots at 350F and started checking them after about 15 minutes. baking time will depend on the size of the rolls. if you have a thermometer, an internal temp of 190 is done for most breads. if not, just cook until brown on the outside and it sounds hollow when you tap the bottom.

Taste not what I'd hoped

First let me say this is the perfect post. I just got back into bread baking after a few years off (not by choice) but previous to my hiatus I had been working on a no-knead sourdough recipe myself. You did the heavy lifting for me. So thank you, I'm so appreciative you shared.

Here's my question. The starter I'm working with is 50/50 rye flour and all purpose with equal parts water. I didn't use any yeast or other kit type starters to kick start my starter, the ambient yeasts in my neighborhood did the trick. And I have to say the starter was super active and the oven spring was amazing and Ive never had a sourdough crumb so spongy before (so cool) But the taste was soooo bland. Can you give me some ideas to help perk up my sourdoughs flavor?

I thought about maybe using a Boudin loaf to make a new starter? What do you think?

Thanks

let it rise longer

It sounds like you want a more sour sourdough? If so, try letting it rise (& thus ferment) longer. For super sour flavor, I refrigerate the dough for 2-3 days before baking.

great idea

I read that a lot of bakers dont consider their starter "ripe" until its at least 60-90 days old, and I can see the flavors developing the longer I keep refreshing my starter. So maybe I was expecting too much too soon. That said your idea to refrigerated the dough for a few days sounds great, and I will definitely try that. I love super sour bread.

Thanks :)

question about the dutch oven

i have a metal dutch oven-is that okay to use when making the sourdough bread? i don't have a pizza stone or any other dutch oven-so i have used just a regular cookie sheet before-but wondered if i should try the metal dutch oven-what are your thought?

I use a cast iron dutch oven

I use a cast iron dutch oven all the time and it works just fine.

This is such a great blog!!!

This is such a great blog!!! Really makes me hungry just reading and looking at the pictures : ) I recently baked my first loaf of bread and it was incredible!!! I used a starter my friend told me about. It's from Sourdough's International and now I have to spread the word! I loved it. Definitely going to order more when it comes the time.

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Your content is very useful.

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Nice Post!

Yeah! The no-knead method does requires its own post. Thank you so much for sharing the method. I have already bookmarked the site and will try out the recipe for sure. Keep updating further with more such cooking methods further. Windows tech support and help number live chat

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