Monday, October 20, 2008

Easy No Knead Sourdough Bread

I've alluded to this technique in the past, but now with the weather cooling down I thought a full post was in order. This method was adapted from the New York Times, but they use regular packaged yeast, and I find their dough a bit too wet to work with easily. Dan, my bread nerd friend, told me that their ratio of water to flour (the weight of the water is 85% of the weight of the flour) in the original recipe is far too wet, so I scaled back to a more manageable 73%. I also upped the salt by 1/4 tsp as sourdough needs a bit more salt than a standard bread.

Sourdough starter care.
My original homemade starter always had good flavor, but it had problems rising the dough, so I decided to start over with a commercial starter. I got a San Fransisco sourdough starter from Fermented Treasures 6 months ago, and it is still going strong. That said it has changed (more sourness), and at this point probably has a good deal of microbes from my kitchen, flour, and water.

I keep my starter in the fridge at all times. When I use the starter I simply replace the volume with equal parts (by weight) flour and filtered water (chlorine is bad for microbes). If I haven't used my starter in a week or so, I'll just discard half of it and add flour and water. Changing the ratio of water to flour in a starter will favor different microbes.

The starter can occasionally survive a few weeks of neglect, but I wouldn't make a habit of it. If your starter seems to be faltering take it out of the refrigerator and feed it every 12 hours for a few days and it should perk up.

15 oz bread flour (about 3 cups measured with the scoop and sweep method)
1.5 tsp salt
11 oz warm filtered/bottled water (1.25 cups, plus a tablespoon)
1/2 cup sourdough starter

Mix the salt with the flour, and the sourdough with the warm water. Then combine all the ingredients and mix for 20 seconds or just until all of the flour is wet. The more you work the dough the more even the crumb structure of the finished loaf will be. If you want a rustic loaf with some air pockets (like I do) work it as little as possible.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a tea towel, and leave it to rise at room temperature overnight (about 18 hours). The expanding bubbles of CO2, which the yeast produce, will do the work of kneading for you. The long rise also gives the acid producing bacteria from the starter time to produce the acids that define sourdough.

The next day dust the dough with a bit more flour and fold the sides into the middle to form a round loaf, dust a towel with stone ground cornmeal (other options include wheat bran, seeds, or coarse salt) and place the loaf onto it seam side down, putting more cornmeal on top then fold the towel over. The cornmeal prevents the loaf from sticking to the towel, and helps to enhance the flavor and appearance of the crust.

Let the loaf rise until it has doubled in size again (about 3 hours for my culture). After 2 and a half hours put a cast iron dutch oven with a lid into your oven and set it for 425 degrees (it is important to put the dutch oven into a cold oven so it doesn't experience thermal shock). If you have an enamel coated dutch oven you might try setting the oven to 450-500. If the bottom crust is getting too dark try lowering the temp and visa versa if it is not getting enough color.

When the dutch oven is rocket hot, place (toss) the dough, seam side up, into the dutch oven, and put the lid back on. Bake for 25 minutes, during this time the lid will trap moisture from the dough which will allow the crust to stay stretchy as the bread continues to rise. Then take the lid off and turn the oven up to 475. Take the loaf out of the oven once it is brown and crusty, 15-20 more minutes.

Put the loaf on a cooling rack for at least 30 minutes before cutting into it. The crust on this bread is better than on any other bread I have baked, crunchy and flavorful. The acid in the dough also helps it to stay relatively soft for 48+ hours if wrapped tightly, although the crust tends to lose its crunch after just 12.

Sometimes I sub in 50% whole wheat flour if I want something with a bit more soul, and I also do a rye variation that turns out pretty well.


Seawolf said...

I love your food posts. Here's Caitlin blog:

She does "Food Porn Friday's every week.

That bread looks freakin' awesome! Bummer 'bout the Sox, huh?

Unknown said...

Great looking bread. I also make no-kneed sour-dough bread every week or so. I don't have my recipe to hand, but I do use more like 80% hydration, which I agree makes the dough a nightmare to work with. But it results in a lighter crumb like a Ciabatta. Also it's worth swapping a small proportion (50g) of the flour with wholemeal rye, or standard wholemeal. This seems to add a bit more depth of flavour. (See Hamelman's book.) Also I only use a teaspoon of sourdough starter and a 48 hour ferment at ~17C - this gives the microbes more time to develop the sourness of the loaf.

PS. You might want to use a glass bowl rather than a metallic one due to the acidity of the dough. But I suppose stainless should cope fine.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Thanks for the tips, I'll try adding a bit of whole wheat flour into the next batch I make. I may also try the two day rise, my bread certainly could use a bit more sourness.

Jeff said...

Can you give me a good recipe for a sourdough starter. My grandfather gave me a recipe this summer, but it didn't take. He passed away last month, so I would like to make one in his memory. He used to make pancakes with his sourdough starter and man they were the best thing I have ever eaten. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I have successfully made starters quite a few times and kept them alive for more than 5 years . Here is my recipe:

1 cup granary flour
1 cup water

rye flour for feeding

Mix well granary flour and water and cover with a damp cloth .Keep at room temperature . Remove and re-dampen the cloth every morning for 3 to 4 days . You should begin to see tiny bubbles and there might be a whiff of fermentation .

Harvest all of the culture and combine with equal amounts of water and rye flour. Mix well . Leave at room temperature till frothing and bubbling occur , usually 3 to 4 days . Mix it up, use 1/2 quantity with same amounts of water and feed with rye flour . Keep at room temperature and use when frothing is maxumal or keep in the fridge and refresh in the same way every week . It will survive for up to 3 weeks in the fridge without refreshing , careful the bottle might explode if it is airtight . I use a picking jar without the rubber bung.

hope that helps.

Unknown said...

Thanks for posting your method Robert, I've never attempted a spontaneous one of my own.

Anonymous said...

just made a fantastic loaf using this method . i leave the starter to ferment for 5 days before i harvest it, put some away in the fridge and use the rest .

Anonymous said...

It's nice to discover your blog, via The Fresh Loaf.
A few thousand kms away, in France, I've also been baking that kind of bread for a long time and recently posted about it, once again, on my blog
But I would'nt put that much salt in my bread, 1.5 tsp seems a lot to me, no?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I added about 9 g of salt for 425 g of flour (2.1% by weight). That might be a hair high (I see 1.8-2% on your blog), but I like sourdough with a bit more salt than a regular yeast loaf.

Maybe you were thinking tablespoons (tbls) not teaspoons (tsp)? Sorry for the wacky measurements.

Jason Konopinski said...

Wonderful flavor from this recipe, but I always seem to have difficulty with getting my starter to sufficiently raise the dough.

Perhaps it's time to purchase a proven starter!

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

That is exactly the problem I had with my homemade starter, and the reason I bought one. Maybe you could try mixing in a small amount of commercial bread yeast to your starter, that should help to give you some extra lift while keeping the flavor the same.

Jason Konopinski said...

I've done just that- adding in a little commercial yeast to help raise the dough; still working on fine tuning during this time of year when my kitchen is a bit cooler.

wdc said...

I am making my second batch of this bread. It turned out awesome the first time. I actually cheated on the "sourdough starter" part - I used commercial yeast to get the starter going. I have left it out in the kitchen to possibly pick up some local nuances but it rose just fine. I think I might try for a longer initial rise time as well.

Thanks for the tips everyone!

kmudrick said...

Love this recipe - I've made it 3 times in the last month.

Have you ever thought about, well, "cheating" in the same way that some do with berliner weisse - i.e. using regular bread yeast and a little bit of lactic acid?

I have a bottle that I bought over the summer - I was thinking of trying that method and seeing how good or bad it ends up :)

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

I actually cheated recently my making a bread using my Berliner Weisse instead of water along with regular bread yeast. Sadly it wasn't enough lactic acid (despite being a sour beer) to give more than a faint acidity.

I've considered the lactic acid route, but haven't given it a try. If you do let me know how it turns out.

Lou said...

Great post Michael. I've come back to read this several times since I heard you on an episode of Basic Brewing Radio. I'll probably come back to read it a lot more in the future ...

Getting a starter to near explosive proportions was easy for me - I've done one just from rye and wheat flour, which was pretty good, and one with the conditioning from a bottle of DuPont Foret, which smelled very good and rose really well until it went toxic, and finally I settled on the conditioning from a bottle of Jolly Pumpkin's Bam Biere. This one smells wonderful, and it's so active I don't worry about rising. Just getting the dough worked up and baked properly. Today I find out if I've finally gotten a decent sourdough ...

rbenash said...

1Old thread revival, so apologies in advance. Nice to see if anyone is still around :-)

I've done the no knead thing and it's integrated. Was looking for a good SD version so tried this.

Understand the hydration difference. Thing is following to the weights in the recipe the first ferment was really loose. To the point that there's no way I would have considered taking direct from the 18 hour plus and dump it on a towel.

In this first attempt I added flour until it became stickier/shaggier to where I thought I would feel "comfortable" dumping it on a towel for the next rise based on experience with the classic no knead recipe (you know, from the Times)

Noticed that in the comments there was not mentioned of this issue by others. Wondering if my starter was more wet and added just enough liquid to change things.

Anyway - comments welcome as I'm really trying to find a great version of no knead for sour dough.

I would say I needed to add a cup or more to get the dough after the ferment to pull together enough so that I will feel comfortable dumping it on a towel. Definitely wasn't going to be able to "fold over" as the instructions this morning. And I'm used to the wet dough per se.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Sorry to hear your first batch ran into some issues. My recipe has a higher ratio of flour to water than the Times, so I’m surprised it was wetter for you. My best guesses on things to investigate/consider:

If you are using a wetter starter, say equal parts by volume water/flour, that could certainly be part of the problem. I doubt a wetter starter would necessitate that much more flour though, unless you added more than was called for. Ambient humidity differences could play a role too, but not to that extent on their own.

Another factor could be the protein content of your flour, less protein means that the flour will hold less water, did you use bread flour or all-purpose? Although even among flours labeled with the same name, there can be significant composition differences. Flours from northern mills tend to be harder than soft southern flours. I’m a King Arthur guy.

Did you measure the flour by weight or volume? Measuring a compactable substance by volume is really tricky, and depending on how you did it could have put you pretty far off the actual amount of flour I used. For example if you spoon flour into the measuring cup you’ll get less flour than scooping the flour directly with the measuring cup (as I suggested).

In the end, bread making is about the look and feel of the dough. Next time you make the recipe you could keep your process the same and up the flour to include the amount you added this time.

Hope that helps, best of luck!

rbenash said...

Hi Mike - yes I'm convinced it something specific to what I'm doing. Trying again. I had revived my starter and it was quite active. It is a 100% so I've taken some and will convert to 166% for the next effort.

I used KA bread flour.

We'll see what happens this round. Really want to try this.

rbenash said...

Mike - me again.

So after messing a bit with starters I need to re-state.

I started with your recipe with a 166% starter. Which is what I typically maintain and had revived before my first attempt.

That's the batch of dough that came out ultimately over hydrated on my first attempt.

rbenash said...

And - after mixing up the next batch to you original recipe I believe I see my problem. Probably started to late (early in the morning) without any sleep. Pretty sure I used a cup instead of a half cup of 166% starter the first round. Can tell right away.

On another note I will want to try the same recipe with a 100% starter just to see if there's any distinguishable difference in flavor between the two loaves.

Need to figure out how to convert the recipe. I.E. - 1/2 C of 166 vs. ? of 100% starter.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Do you have a scale to measure your ingredients? If you add 4 oz of your starter by weight, you’d be adding 2.5 oz of water and 1.5 oz of flour. So you’d have to knock-off .5 oz of water from the recipe and add .5 oz of flour to the amounts listed. I’m not sure exactly how much half a cup of starter weighs, but that should get you close.

I didn’t take into account the slightly wetter starter’s impact when stating the 73% hydration (shame on me). It is probably closer to 76% with the moisture from the starter included. If you used a full cup of 166% starter you would have been up around 89% hydration, no wonder it was so wet!

Hope that helps, let me know how it goes.

Betsy Chadd said...

All was well here until my second rise-no rise at all. Trying again today, setting my 1st rise bowl on a heating pad now covered as directed.
Any idea why my 2nd rise didn't happen (3hours as directed)?
Betsy from Ohio

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Certainly could have been a temperature issue, did it drop for the second rise? Sourdough cultures can vary, yours might just be a bit slower than mine was. You may need to wait longer to reach your intended volume increase. Bread making is more about results than schedule.

Abe said...

Total flop.

To be honest it didn't look right on paper. At those proportions it turned the dough into starter at just 11 hours. The starter is 30% of the flour. How do you do 18 hours!? Unless your starter is really slow. I used starter that was refreshed a week earlier, kept in the fridge and it still worked many times faster than yours. I've never heard of such a long bulk fermentation with those ratios. Well I've just wasted an awful lot of ingredients.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Sorry to hear! Could you be more specific on what the issue was? Are you saying the dough was too thin? My starter was pretty slow, and I was doing this in the fall, so likely a lower "room temperature" than you have this time of the year. I'm also a bit unclear on your math, it's 1/2 cup starter with 3 cups of flour (which would be 14% by volume). Did you measure the 15 oz of flour by weight or volume?

Abe said...


Thank you so much for your quick reply and sorry for my exasperated sounding comment. Your bread looks wonderful and I'm determined to try it again. Ok so here is what I did... I don't work in cups or volume and only work in grams. So first I converted everything and here is what I got.

425g bread flour
8.5g salt
311g water
130g starter

By weight this is around 30% starter. Bakers percentages always go by weight (grams to be precise).

I finished the dough at 9.30pm and when I checked at 10.30am the following morning it had risen and started to collapse. I felt the dough to find no structure. All signs of over fermenting gluten breakdown. I then tried to save it by adding 100g extra flour and made some sort of dough out of it. The original recipe is somewhere around 75% hydration but now mine was 60% hydration and still looked far less formed than in your tutorial. This is because of gluten breakdown. Still I proceeded. I final proofed in my banneton and baked on the oven tray. It didn't work.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Maybe I'm not following your math, but 50% of the weight of the starter is water, the totals should be 690 g flour and 376 g water. So 376/690 means 54% hydration, right?

Math clearly doesn't fix the issue though. Certainly try lowering the amount of starter (to slow the fermentation) and upping the flour to get the amounts that work for your flour and starter! Best of luck!

Abe said...

15oz bread flour = 425g
8.5g salt
11oz water = 311g
1/2 cup starter = 130g (I looked this up and it varies but that's the average)

425g flour + 65g of flour within the starter = 490g flour in total
311g water + 65g of water within the starter = 376g water in total

311/425 = 0.76 x 100 = 76% hydration

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Sorry, correct you are. That's what I get for trying to do math on a brew day!

Amy Kuhlmann said...

So all the math has me confused. My starter is 50/50 water and flour. What adjustment should I make to this recipe?

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

You shouldn't need to make any adjustments. However, like all bread recipes there is some room for adjustments if the dough seems too wet. It could be that the room is more humid or your flour is lower protein.

andyo said...

I'd been struggling with culturing a good sourdough starter with enough strength and just gave up a couple years ago. Decided to give it a go again and found your recipe here (love all the shared brewing knowledge, by the way!). Followed your recipe to the T, though myself took issue initially with measuring the 1/2 cup starter vs. going by weight. But holy cow, this came out perfect. THANK YOU for posting this recipe. The loaf is gorgeous and came out pretty damn tasty, too. (in retrospect I only did a 2 hour proofing so as to get going on my brew day today, but can imagine I'd have bigger air holes had I done that. The crumb is great regardless)

Abe said...


New brew?

Brian K said...

I just made this, exactly as described, and it came out perfect...making it again with half whole wheat...less starter and a longer ferment to see if I can make it even better. I was given my starter from a local bakery.

Abe said...

How did you bulk ferment for so long with high percentage of starter without gluten breakdown. Our starters must be very different.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

Must be. You could borrow a trick from the brewing world and adjust your pH down to 4.5 with acid pre-fermentation. That reduces the propensity of Lactobacillus to destroy proteins.

Abe said...

I thought Lactobacillus in a starter is what makes it acidic.

The Mad Fermentationist (Mike) said...

It does, but you could add a small amount of acid to change the enzymatic activity. Not sure what final pH a sourdough ends up at, but in brewing a sour beer you can get ~10% of your acidity from food grade acid and get the positive effect on body and head.