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TIPS FOR NO-KNEAD BREAD BAKED IN A POT


The really big story for home bread-bakers on November 8, 2006, was not the astonishing election results but rather a bread story in the New York Times: "The Secret of Great Bread: Let Time Do the Work" It was by Mark Bittman, Times food editor. Bittman reported on the no-knead bread baked in a pot method perfected by Jim Lahey, owner of Sullivan Street Bakery (now Grand Daisy Bakery) in New York City. Lahey says that a four-year-old can bake a fantastic crusty, tasty loaf of bread. Well, let's make that a deft eight-year-old.

Here is my description and comments on Lahey's method in making a 1-1/2 lb loaf:

  1. He mixes 3 cups of all purpose flour, 1/4 tsp of instant yeast, and 1-1/4 tsp of salt. He adds 1-1/2 cups of water and mixes with one bare hand for less than 10 seconds. The dough is shaggy looking but sticky and dry enough that it can be pulled together in a dough. He covers the bowl with plastic wrap and lets it ferment for about 19 hours at room temperature.

    Lahey measures the flour with the "scoop and shake" (shake off excess) method. When I did this with AP flour, the weight per cup varied from 150 grams to 159. When I used the "scoop and scrape" (scrape off excess) method, the weight varied from 148 to 152 grams. With the most consistent method, the "spoon and scrape" method, the weight varied from 134 to 135 grams. Bittman's version of the recipe calls for 1-5/8 cups of water. If you use the "spoon and scrape" measure and the 1-5/8 cups of water, you will get a much wetter and unmanageable runny dough than Lahey got.

  2. When the dough surface is dotted with bubbles, it is ripe. Lahey "pours and pushes" the dough on to a lightly floured surface, sprinkles a little more flour on top, pats the dough with floured hands, and folds it over on itself from two sides, making a ball. He coats a smooth cotton tea towel with wheat bran and places the dough "seam" side down on the towel, and sprinkles bran on top. His dough is dry enough so that he can move the dough to the towel with his hands. He folds the towel over the dough, and lets it rise for about 2 hours when it was about doubled.

    Shaping the dough for the second rise has been the source of trouble for many newbies usually because their dough was too wet. They often end up with a very messy towel.

  3. Lahey heats his oven, with a "Dutch oven" in it, to 500F for a half-hour. Then he pulls out the pot, slides one hand under the towel and turns the dough over into his other hand and dumps the dough into the pot. Don't try this at home! Getting the dough off of a towel and into a blistering hot pot is hazardous to your hands and your composure. I have tried two safer alternatives, a parchment sling and a foil liner described below.

    He puts the lid on and bakes 30 minutes, removes the lid, and bakes another 15 minutes or until the loaf was adequately browned.

For a very good video from Breadtopia showing a slight variation of the Lahey method go to No-Knead Bread Baking Method. The recipe used is as follows:

Breadtopia Version of Lahey Recipe
3 cups bread flour (or 1 cup (5 oz.) whole wheat flour and 2 cups (10 1/2 oz.) white bread flour
1/4 tsp. instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups purified or spring water
  1. Mix together the dry ingredients.
  2. Mix in water until the water is incorporated.
  3. Cover with plastic and let sit 18 hours.
  4. Follow video instruction for folding.
  5. Cover loosely with plastic and rest for 15 minutes.
  6. Transfer to well floured towel or proofing basket. Cover with towel and let rise about 1 1/2 hours.
  7. Bake in covered La Cloche or Dutch oven preheated to 500 degrees for 30 minutes.
  8. Remove cover; reduce heat to 450 degrees and bake an additional 15 minutes.
  9. Let cool completely on rack.


Here are my changes in the above no-knead method:

  1. I pre-boil my tap water to eliminate any free chlorine and bad bugs that could reproduce in the long fermentation.
  2. I cut a 12-inch square of heavy-duty aluminum foil and roughly shape it on the outside of the cold Dutch oven. Then I put it on the inside and press and smooth it snugly against the sides of the pot. Then I lightly grease or spray with oil the sides of the foil liner.
  3. I remove the foil liner and sprinkle its bottom with bran. Then I put in the dough for its second rise for up to a couple of hours.
  4. During the last 30 minutes of the rise I heat the oven to 500F with the empty Dutch oven in it.
  5. Using oven mittens, I take the hot pot out, remove the lid, and set it aside on something heat proof. I grasp the two opposite corners of the foil liner, lift and lower it into the pot, and replace the lid.
  6. After returning the pot to the oven I leave the temperature set at 500F and bake the bread for 25 minutes, remove the lid, set the oven for 450F, and bake for 20 minutes. (These times may need to be adjusted depending upon the oven and pot used.
  7. Remove the pot from the oven with mittened hands and close the oven. Remove the bread and liner from the pot.
  8. When the temperature permits, remove the bread from the liner and put it back in the hot oven without the liner or pot for about 5 minutes to make it crustier. Then remove the bread and let it cool for at least 30 minutes before eating. I know; it's hard to restrain oneself from attacking that fresh, warm bread.

I have read a couple hundred posts on bread blogs about Lahey's method, and very few people had a failure. Many do mention that their bread didn't have much taste. Some added more salt, but a healthier way is to use at least part whole grain flour. You might start by substituting a cup of rye flour for a cup of white flour.

Another frequent complaint is that their bread was gummy. I have had that problem, and I think it was caused by the dough being too wet to be shaped into a ball and by an inadequate rise. Cutting the bread before it has cooled may also cause the crumb to be a little gummy.

For Mark Bittman's further no-knead bread developments (October 3, 2008) go to No-Knead Bread: Not Making Itself Yet, but a Lot Quicker. Click on the recipes for white and whole wheat bread. Bittman's recipe for whole wheat bread uses a bread pan instead of a Dutch oven. Here is Jim Lahey's critique of Bittman's bread and, and he gives a revised recipe with a 3 to 4- hour rise instead of 18 hours.

If you are a sourdough fan, check this out: No-knead Sourdough.

People have successfully tried all kinds of pots ranging from ceramic crock pot inserts to Pyrex vessels. I have a Farberware Cast-Iron 5-Quart Covered Dutch Oven that has the size and depth that I like best. I also have also used the Lodge Logic Pre-Seasoned 5-Quart Dutch Oven with Loop Handles from amazon.com. These "Dutch ovens" are simply cast-iron stew pots. ("Camp Dutch ovens" have a bale, three small feet, and a flat lid that one can pile hot coals on for baking over a camp fire.)

If you want to risk a porcelain-enameled cast-iron pot, check out the oven safe temperature. If it has a plastic knob, replace it with a steel knob. The Lodge Color 6-Quart Dutch Oven is a fantastic value, but it's not a Le Creuset.

Many new "bake in a pot" experimenters have tried a Romertopf Clay Baker. Read the instructions carefully before using a clay pot because they crack easily. Place the pot in a cold oven before heating.

A 4 to 6-quart pot is OK. With larger pots the bread may spread out more than you would like.

For a good site on Dutch ovens go to The Dutch Oven: A Brief History and Introduction.

For information about different types of flour and yeast or information on making the dough in an ABM and baking it in a hot pot to get a good crust go to my Bread Machine Baking page.

Your feedback will be welcome. Please send an e-mail message to me, Bob Parvin: bandcparvinXhotmail.com (Substitute @ for X. I'm trying to hide my address from spammers.)

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