Almost No-Knead Sourdough, a Kitchen Conclusion

I haven’t done a “Kitchen Conclusion” post in a long time (oops) but I have a lot of thoughts right now, so I figured I’d share publicly so that others can feel better informed before attempting this recipe from a very well know food publication.

First of all, I don’t consider myself an expert bread baker.  Or an advanced bread baker.  Or an intermediate bread baker but I think everyone I know in real life would argue against that, so I’ll compromise and say that I’m a “beginner to intermediate” bread baker.  (Interginner?  Beginmediate?)

Simply put, I know just enough about bread baking to recognize when I’m doing something wrong or when there’s something wrong with the recipe I am using.

I have a sourdough recipe that I’ve made a couple of times and liked.  I still need to work on my shaping technique but that’s a user issue.  And even though I have a recipe I like, I still like to explore other recipes.  It’s how I learn.  So when I wanted to make sourdough bread this weekend, but realized that the timeline of my tried-and-true recipe wasn’t going to work with my schedule, I took that as an opportunity to experiment with a different recipe.

That was when I remembered that America’s Test Kitchen recently posted on Instagram their Almost No-Knead Sourdough.

I copied the recipe before it went behind a paywall.  I used the weighed measurements which are a little weird but anyone who bakes bread regularly should be using weighted measurements.  Honestly I don’t mind that the recipe is in ounces as opposed to grams since my kitchen scale can do both but WHO ON EARTH DEVELOPS A RECIPE WITH A THIRD OF AN OUNCE?!

Anyway, I’m reposting it for you even though I don’t like to repost things out of copyright respect.  But if I’m going to talk about this recipe in depth, then you need all the details.

18 1/3 ounces King Arthur all-purpose flour
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
12 2/3 ounces water, room temperature
3 ounces mature Sourdough Starter

Whisk flour and salt together in medium bowl. Whisk room-temperature water and starter in large bowl until smooth. Add flour mixture to water mixture and stir using wooden spoon, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until dough comes together, then knead by hand in bowl until shaggy ball forms and no dry flour remains. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 12 hours or up to 18 hours.

Lay 12 by 12-inch sheet of parchment paper on counter and spray generously with vegetable oil spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam side down, to center of parchment. Pick up dough by lifting parchment edges and lower into heavy-bottomed Dutch oven. Cover with plastic wrap.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and place loaf or cake pan in bottom of oven. Place pot on middle rack and pour 3 cups of boiling water into pan below. Close oven door and let dough rise until doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with your floured finger, 2 to 3 hours.

Remove pot and water pan from oven; discard plastic from pot. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 7-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Cover pot and place on middle rack in oven. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Bake bread for 30 minutes (starting timing as soon as you turn on oven).

Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and let cool completely before serving.

And here’s the clip of the recipe they shared on Youtube.  Skip to 4:15 to go to the recipe.  The first four minutes are about making your own starter, which I did not need to do since I was using my existing starter.

 

So…

No offense to ATK or to Dan Souza, but I have no idea which bread recipe they were using on the show because it DEFINITELY IS NOT the published version.  I wish I had photos or videos of my experience to show as proof but I had no idea I was going to have very strong opinions about this recipe.

To be transparent, there were two things that I did differently that would not have changed the experience for the worse.  I mixed my dough for 5 minutes with a dough hook in my KitchenAid at the start instead of mixing until shabby ball formed.   All this should have meant was that my dough would be ready in 12 hours, not more, and even possibly a little less time.  I swapped about 2 to 3 ounces of King Arthur all purpose flour with a whole grain flour from a local source.  Theoretically, it would make my dough drier than what the recipe intended because the germ and bran that are present in whole wheat flour can absorb more liquid.  For the record, I did not add any extra water.

After 12 hours, my dough had risen beautifully and was double in sized.  So far, so good.  Or so I thought.  When I turned the dough out to knead 10-15 times, I couldn’t!  The dough that came out of the bowl was nothing like what is shown on the show.  It was quite wet and stuck like crazy.  The only way I could knead it was to use the slap and fold technique.  It was my salvation.  It didn’t take long to shape a ball with this technique, but it’s outside the scope of the recipe.

If you need it, here is an example of the slap and fold technique, which I think was made famous by Richard Bertinet.  (At least, that was who I learned it from back in the days when his first book “Dough” was published.)  You can skip to 1:40 to see it in action.  You can see how sticky a Bertinet dough is.  It is nothing like the ATK video.  This is basically what I had.

 

By this time I was done with kneading, it was almost 9pm.  Rather than shape it, move it to a parchment sheet, and then letting it rise for the final time in the dutch oven, I chose to do my final shaping in a banneton and let it sit in the fridge overnight.  Because this was a very wet dough, I knew it was going to need the physical support of a banneton for any success. Also?  I wanted to go to bed at a reasonable hour.

On the plus side, it meant I got to work with my banneton.  The last time I used it, I screwed up my shaping which meant my dough stuck to the banneton like crazy.  I have since watched many videos from “Bake with Jack” and learned what I did wrong.

In the morning (aka “This Morning”), I took my banneton out of the fridge.  My dough hadn’t risen as much as I thought it would.  At this point, I let this sit in a “cold” oven for an hour with a pan of just boiled hot water next to it, much like the original ATK instructions.  When the hour was up, everything looked good to go.  I carefully turned the dough out onto a parchment sheet, and it looked lovely.  (THANKS JACK FOR THE SHAPING TUTORIALS!)  I scored it with the sharpest knife I had and proceeded with the rest of the recipe.

The thing I learned next?  Do not use a cold start oven method when using a wet dough.  That lovely looking dough I had?  Gone.  I wish I took a photo of it before it went into the oven.  It grew out instead of growing up, spreading out mostly where I had scored the dough.

Now, I know some modern ovens don’t lend to cold start oven method very well, but that is not my oven.  I have done cold start oven bread recipes before with standard instant yeasted doughs without issue.  I’m 100% positive it was the hydration level of the ATK recipe that caused my bread to not look like Dan’s loaf.

I also think that the cold start oven method with a wetter dough caused my crust to be softer and chewier than expected.  If you don’t like a crunchy crust, then this might be the preferred method for you.  But if you want the classic crust usually associated with a sourdough, this is NOT it.  You will be disappointed.

While my bread does look much like the one in the official Instagram post, it looks nothing like the bread in the video.  FYI, I baked for the full amount of time per the recipe instruction.

Last observation, when it comes to sourdough, people like their open, irregular crumb.  This is still not that recipe.  My crumb, while not dense like a standard yeasted dough, was not as open as I would have liked.

When all is said and done, the bread tastes fine.  But I’m still going to officially declare this as a recipe fail.  It did not work as expected.  It looked nothing like what was on the show.  Anyone with less bread baking experience is going to freak out trying to make this, and think they did something wrong.

Even though I know ATK will never notice my little blog, if they ever should:

Dear ATK, 

Please re-develop this recipe!  

 

Reference Links:

https://medium.com/@mattsamberg/and-now-for-something-completely-different-15edf4740de2

https://www.abreaducation.com/content/baking-bread-with-whole-wheat-flour

https://www.bakewithjack.co.uk/

View at Medium.com

7 thoughts on “Almost No-Knead Sourdough, a Kitchen Conclusion

  1. Wow. I have long been intimidated by bread recipes, but this makes me want to try again! Thank you for breaking this down to a specific, but easy to understand, level. Since you’ve been on a bread-bender, is there a specific loaf you would suggest for starting with?

    • This was the very first bread recipe I made successfully when I started. Easy because it doesn’t take a lot of time, and it’s a batter bread so it doesn’t need any crazy kneading time. My overall recommendation is to keep in mind that yeast like the same temperature that humans do. Don’t let the dough rise at a temp higher than 100F or you risk killing it. You can work around colder temps – the yeast just gets slow and sleepy, and therefore you need more time.
      https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/white-velvet-batter-bread-103217

      And because you’re a dear friend, you can always call me if more help is needed. 🙂

  2. Total fail for me. I used KAF all-purpose flour, used a scale to weight everything. At 14 hours, the dough more than doubled. When I transferred it to my counter and tried to knead it, it was a sticky glob….no way to form it into a ball. I went ahead and put it in my Dutch oven, on parchment paper, and tried letting it raise in the cold oven, with the pan of boiling water, for 2 1/2 hours. When I looked at it, it was a misshapen blog. At this point, it went into the garbage. The only other ATK recipe that I’ve had such a huge failure was their macaron recipe. Anyway….I’ll stick with King Arthur Flour’s no-knead sourdough bread recipe. I made that one last week, it baked up beautifully, but the crust was a bit too thick. At their suggestion, I’m going to take the cover off (at the end) for less time.

    • Totally agree that this recipe isn’t worth the effort. I’m glad that it wasn’t just me. I haven’t tried the KAF recipe yet but it’s on the to-do list. 🙂

  3. Yep I had the _exact_ same problem with the video – so frustrating to an early baker to feel like they did something wrong that I couldn’t knead it like she could. Basically I’ve given up on the late knead because I want to preserve a more open crumb, and my loaves come out looking like a lentil like yours. When I came back to this recipe with more experience and had the same experience, I found your blog after a web search. Thanks for posting on this. 🙂

    • This is definitely not a recipe for a beginner baker… or any level of baker. lol! It wasn’t worth the effort.

  4. Sorry I’m late to the party here — this article just showed up in my feed, two months late. In any case, I’m guessing most people know the backstory on the original Jim Lahey / Mark Bittman / NYT “No Knead” bread recipe. That one had an 85 percent hydration, which is what enabled zero kneading — but also made the dough almost impossibly hard to handle.

    J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Food Lab fame created two improvements over the next couple of years. The first reduced the hydration to 70 percent and added a 15-second knead to compensate for the lower hydration, creating a loaf much easier to move to the Dutch oven. The second variant (for Cook’s Illustrated) then added a small amount of vinegar and lager beer to add tang and yeasty goodness, reducing the water slightly to maintain the magic 70 percent hydration.

    Of course the ATK variant is a sourdough-based recipe, so you can get the same tang and flavor without needing the lager and vinegar. And the hydration of most starters is around 80 percent, so that small amount of higher hydration shouldn’t throw the ratios off too much.

    Where I’m going with all this is that *never* were any of these recipes designed for a cold-start oven. The whole no-knead method is predicated on a Dutch oven preheated to 500F, for both oven spring and a blast of initial steam.

    How ATK managed to get this to work at all as a cold-start bake is completely a mystery. I cannot see this working at all, full stop.

    However, I’d wager if you’d do your final rise in a parchment-lined 10-inch skillet, and then pick up the parchment and drop into your 500F Dutch oven (preheat the Dutch oven at 500 for a full hour!) then reduce the oven temp to 425F when you close the door, you’ll get an amazing loaf. Bake 30 mins with the cover on, then about 25 more uncovered or until beautifully browned.

    Good luck!

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