This is an update to a 2016 post.
These are my variations and details on the (Almost) no Knead Bread recipe from Cook’s illustrated based on the NY Times article preceding that. The goal is a loaf that is predictably tasty, tastes like sourdough to some extent, and doesn’t require (much) kneading.
For two medium sized loaves
If you want to double the recipe, you will need 2 pots, and you will make 2 separate batches, in 2 separate bowls, but preheat the 2 cast iron pots and bake at the same time, next to each other on the next-to-lowest rack). It makes sense to me to make 2 at once; just let the finished products cool for 4 hours + and cut them in halves, freezing what you won’t use in the next 2 days in plastic bags.
The loaf will be taller/wider depending on the size and shape of your pot.
DO NOT refrigerate (baked) bread. Keep your daily bread out on the counter wrapped in a cloth or paper bag kept inside a loosely wrapped plastic bag, and it will be ok for 2 days at least. I pre-cut my loaves into quarters and freeze the quarters on a big ziplock bag. So when I’m almost out of one thawed quarter, out comes the next. You also use up less bread this way.
- Water as free from contaminants as possible
- A warm temperature, 70°-85°F
- A non-reactive vessel in which you make and store the starter (glass or plastic)
- A non-reactive stirring device
- A breathable lid such as a clean towel or coffee filter
- A space to ferment with no other cultured foods nearby
SOURDOUGH STARTER RECIPE
- Combine ¾ cup flour and ½ cup warm water in a glass or plastic container. Make sure the container can hold about 2 quarts, to avoid overflow.
- Stir vigorously to incorporate air; cover with a breathable lid.
- Leave in a warm place, 70-85°F, for 12-24 hours. Feeding every 12 hours will increase the rate at which your sourdough starter is multiplying its organisms; feeding every 24 hours will take a bit longer, but may be more sustainable depending on your time commitment.
- At the 12 or 24 hour mark you may begin to see some bubbles, indicating that organisms are present. Repeat the feeding with ½ cup warm water and ¾ cup flour.
Stir vigorously, cover, and wait another 12-24 hours.
- Repeat feedings every 12-24 hours by removing half of the starter before every feeding and discarding it. Feed with ½ cup warm water and ¾ cup flour.
After about 5-7 days the sourdough starter should have enough yeasts and bacteria to be used for baking.
- Keep it refrigerated and feed it once per week (throwing away half of it unless you’re ready to make a ‘sponge’ -see below); when you have reinvigorated the starter, pop it back into the fridge.
- Use a wooden spoon
- Use de-chlorinated water (even leaving an uncapped bottle of tap water out for 24+ hours will do it.
- Help the process out with 1/8 tsp honey if no action within 2 days
- Do you grow soaked grains for spouts (like in a jar) use the soaking water as your starter water (it works really well) OR get some organic grapes or plums with a bloom on them (whitish yeast on the skin), soak these in de-cholorinated water and use that as your starter water.
- A tiny tiny pinch of dry yeast can also be beneficial (yes, this is “cheating” but who will know?)
- Avoid temperature fluctuations
The SPONGE method
- This works much better than just sourdough starter alone. You’re basically taking the half of the sourdough starter you’d normally throw out, but adding water and flour to this (like 1/2 cup flower plus water and the ‘throw-away- part of the fridge starter and mixing it up as if you’re making a very large sourdough starter. This will begin to bubble and the next day add another half cup of flour and more water; you will end up with something like 2 cups of bubbly ‘sponge’ that you will use for the bake below. Note that due to the moisture in the sponge, you’ll be reducing the amount of liquid from the recipe below… or make bigger loaves and just keep adding flour until you get that ‘shaggy’ consistency you want.
Once you have an active sourdough starter in the fridge, take it out before a ‘feeding’ like 2 days before you plan to start a new batch of bread,
You will need:
- 1 or 2 (if you’re doubling the recipe) 4.5 – 6 quart enamelled cast iron circular pot with a lid, and handles that will withstand 500 degree pre-heating for 45 mins.
- I got one for $30 once that had a lid handle that didn’t do so well, so I unscrewed it and am using it without that. Otherwise, when you preheat you can reverse the lid so its handle is on the inside, which is what I do with my KitchenAid one) No need to pay the extra money for le Creuset for this… get them on sale. The pot my have indications for how hot the handles my get, so look before you buy. Get a used one, as scratches, etc, make no difference as the dough will not directly touch the pot.
- 3 cups unbleached white flour plus 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or the same white flour) for adding in and dusting, etc.
- When you measure the flour, take a measure and scoop in your LOOSE flour dropping it into your measure using a spoon, nice and fluffy-like, then using the back of a knife to run even it out (no tamping down)
- 1/4 teaspoon dry yeast (this is a very small amount; I keep my yeast in the freezer to make it last longer; no proofing required for this, but every month or so, I check a bit to make sure it proofs ok)
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons room temperature water (de-chlorinated tap water is ok, especially if you leave it out overnight to air it out or use bottled water.
- 1/4 + 2 tablespoons beer (flat is ok, but fresh my do better– dark or light)
- 1 Tablespoon vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar)
- Parchment paper
- A serrated knife
- Large cutting board
The day before you want to eat the bread (if you start it in the morning, it will be ready to eat by the late afternoon the next day)… so if you start it at 9am on a Friday, you’ll be baking it at say 11am the next day, letting it bake 1 hour, cool 3 hours and eat it at 3pm.
I have tried to incorporate more whole wheat flour but it just turns out less than stellar; that said, other liquids such as kefir, and 8 grain cereal (cooked or raw added in the earlier stages) may be used, but in small amounts (like 3 tablespoons, maximum). Adding wet ingredients means you will reduce the water used in the first mix; adding dry ones (like dried peppers or tomatoes chopped up) will mean you increase the water by a bit to compensate and rehydrate the dried stuff,
1- In a large bowl about the size of your iron pot, add the flour and on separate ends of the bowl, your yeast and the salt.
2- Mix all your liquids together
(I start by adding the 3/4 cup water to my 2 cup measuring cup, then add the other 2 tablespoons water, then the 1/4 beer that I measured in another measuring cup, plus the 2 Tablespoons more beer, plus the 1 tablespoon vinegar)
3 – With your hand (the other hand holding the bowl — put a wet dishcloth under the bowl so it stays in place), start adding the water in the middle as a stream, and swirl around until the flour is mixed up and the liquids are incorporated, no more (you do NOT knead at all). IF you want to, this is when you’d add seeds and herbs if they are dry (if using dried rosemary, chop it up and don’t put in more than a teaspoon or so of the resulting mash). You may also wait and more oily seeds later during the second rise (like sesame seeds or flax).
4 – Make sure the shaggy ball resulting is not touching the sides of the bowl, if you want to, pour some olive oil on the back of your hand and run it across the top of the dough just slightly so it doesn’t form a crust. Put a plate the size of the bowl on top of the bowl, and put the whole thing in a large plastic bag with twist tie and place in a warmish place. A cooler (20 degree-22 degree C) Room temp is ok) for at least 8 hours but better for 12-20 hours. The cooler the place, the longer you can keep it (even the fridge for 2 days is ok; the longer it is allowed to rise at a cooler temp, the better, within reason– eventually the yeast will give up if not fed, so if you do plan to refrigerate I suggest adding a quarter teaspoon sugar).
5 – After the chosen rising period, spread some of the reserved flour on a large smooth cutting board, and dump the dough onto it (just flip the bowl onto the floured surface and wait until it flops down– it should look like a melting sponge (yum!). Flour your hands and get every bit out of the bowl that didn’t fall onto the board.
6- Knead the mix for 15 seconds (or about 15 strokes) with your hands, folding it over itself and rotating/repeating. This is the “almost” kneading part of the recipe. You can add seeds, etc. at this point as well. DO NOT over-knead. You can get pretty rough with it, but don’t keep at it for more than 15 strokes/fold-overs. The texture will be like your earlobe by the end of this.
7 – Place parchment paper sheet into the bowl you were using (drying it out first) and form a ‘bowl’ out of it, creasing it to produce a large ‘cup’ shape.
8- Form the dough into a nice ball and plop it in there, cover it as you did before, put the same plate on top and back into the plastic bag with twist tie for 2 hours OR you can just oil the top a bit and leave it with just a tight fitting plate on top. This is the famous “Second rising” that yeasted breads need.
9- Place the bowl in a warm place (warmer than the place where it rose for 12 hours; I like to place it near the stove — but NOT ON IT as it could dry out/partially bake it or kill the yeast)
10 – After one hour of the 2 hours, get your cast iron pot ready and put it (including lid ) into the over to preheat. The pot/s need to heat at 500 degrees for about 45 mins not less, more is ok. If you have a pot with a questionable lid handle in terms of melting or burning in 500 degree heat, see opening remarks…
11- Once the 2 hours of the second rising (step 8 above) is over, open up the bowl, generously dust the top of the risen loaf GENTLY with flour (from a hight of at least 1 foot) and give it 3 fast but deep cuts along the top with a floured lame or (clean) straight razor or (clean) razor blade. Careful with this step as you don’t want to mangle the loaf, you want to touch it as little as possible.
12- CAREFULLY (it’s so HOT) take the very hot pot out of the oven and place on a heat-proof surface (like the stove top), take the lid off, and set aside
13- Lower the oven heat to 425 degrees; Gently lift the parchment paper in the bowl holding the dough, and place them both (paper + dough) into the hot pot, VERY GENTLY. you may hear a sizzle.
14- Put the pot lid on top, lower the heat to 425 degree oven, second rack from the bottom, in the centre.
15- set a timer for 30 mins; after 30 mins, carefully remove the lid (careful because steam will rise! use silicon oven mitts), and let bake for 35 more minutes.
16 – Once the bread is baked, remove from oven, carry the bread out using the parchment paper again and separate the bread from the parchment paper (you may be able to reuse the paper if it hasn’t ripped)
17- Place bread on a wire rack (no paper) and let cool for 3-4 + hours.
18. Depending on how much bread you consume in 2-3 days, I usually cut it in half after the cooling, and place half in a cloth and then loose plastic bag for eating everyday and the other half of the cooled loaf in a plastic bag and in the freezer– take 3 hours or so to fully defrost. NEVER keep bread in the refrigerator.