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.



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:

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flourless peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips

This post is dedicated to Martyna of The pictures in this post were not taken with my really clunky and heavy digital camera. I recently acquired a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX9 as a result of some confusion and lots of generosity. From here on out, I have no good excuses for leaving my camera at home when I go to food events like the Harvard SEAS lectures.  My WX9 is a travel-friendly small size.

Next time David Chang is in town, I’ll get you a picture of David Chang. (^_^)b


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One of my favorite things to make is applesauce. I can’t stand the stuff from the store. I think it’s tasteless and icky. Homemade applesauce, though, is addictive and easy to make. Recently though, I was given some pears and I thought that I’d try pearsauce. (Quick comment – I’m mildly allergic to uncooked apples and pears.   I cook a lot of my fruit instead of eating them raw.)

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orange cardamom cookies

Honestly, I didn’t eat fabulous things while in Antwerp and in France.  The fanciest meal I had was on my last night there.  I had duck confit, which is one of those dishes that I usually think about ordering but then go order something else.  A couple of the people I was traveling with convinced me to order it (the other choices were salmon and cod).  It was good, and needed the accompanying sauerkraut to help cut the fattiness… but honestly?  Chinese roasted duck, the duck that I grew up with, is much tastier.  The flavor is bolder.  However, the duck confit was wonderfully tender which is something you won’t get with roasted duck.

So, here are my pictures:

Breakfast at Hotel Banks, Antwerp:

(cookie recipe inside this entry)

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nutmeg cake with orange blossom syrup

I baked this weekend! Exciting, isn’t it? I even took pictures and edited said pictures.


nutmeg cake with orange blossom syrup

Anyway, my friend Tammy (whose lovely photos of some of my foods grace my food entries) was having her annual lamb dinner (with non-lamb options for people like me). Nearly all of her guests brought something to nibble on, including myself.

The newest cookbook that sits on my bookshelf is Warm Bread and Honey Cake by Gaitri Pagrach-Chandra. When I saw this recipe, I knew I had to make it!

Pros: It came together pretty easily.

Cons: My cake was half the height of the cake in the book photo! I was pretty sure that I had my eggs and butter at room temperature, and I tried really hard not to over-mix. On top of that, my syrup could have been bolder.

I think I might try cake flour next time and see if it gives a better result. However, please don’t think this means that this was a bad cake! For a total experiment, it still yielded pretty tasty results (and it was not too sweet, thankfully).

adapted from Warm Bread and Honey Cake

6 oz all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1 loose tsp nutmeg (I used freshly grated)
1 stick of butter, softened
4 1/2 oz brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 Tbsp milk
6 Tbsp orange blossom syrup

Preheat oven to 325F. Grease a 1-lb loaf pan.

Mix flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg. Sift this.

In a separate bowl, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar, and beat until creamed and fluffy.

Whisk the eggs loosely in a small bowl with the vanilla. Add the egg to the butter mixture bowl in two batches, beating well and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Then use a whisk to fold in the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with milk.
(So, you’re adding 1/3 flour mixture, 2 Tbsp milk, 1/3 flour mixture, 2 Tbsp milk, and the final 1/3 flour mixture.)

Pour into the loaf pan, and bake for 40-45 minutes (or until a tester is inserted and comes out clean).

Remove the pan from the oven, and poke several small holes into the cake (making sure to poke all the way through to the bottom). Slowly pour the syrup over the cake. Let it cool about 5 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan. Let the cake cool completely on a wire rack. After that, wrap the cake well in plastic wrap and let the flavors meld for a day before serving.

Orange Blossom Water Syrup
make about 1 1/2 cup

Put 1 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup water, and 1 tsp lemon juice into a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 5 minutes.  Take the pan off the  heat and let it cool about 5 minutes.

Add orange blossom water to your liking (I ended up using 1 1/2 Tbsp for the cake… but I now think that it should be 2-3 Tbsp).

Use the syrup on cake, in tea, and anything else that suits your fancy!


fig pizza

It’s probably a good thing for this blog that I’m friends with Tammy. Since the original co-conspirators of this blog have moved onto different places and hobbies, I think it got a bit lonely around here without people to talk to about cooking. Plus, she takes lovely food photos.

Anyway, I was at Tammy’s house on Friday and I made three pizzas from scratch for us and some friends. They were roasted garlic pizza with garlic sauce, bell pepper/monterey jack cheese pizza with red sauce, and fig pizza with garlic sauce.

Tammy took a lovely photo of the fig pizza, so that’s the recipe that you’ll get today.

I always make my own pizza dough now. So far, my favorite pizza dough recipe comes from Sarah Moulton. For Friday, I had modified it to suit my mood, but it’s a pretty solid recipe regardless.

Quick Pizza Dough
-Sara Moulton (via FoodNetwork)

* 2 to 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (this time around I had used a quarter bread flour, a quarter white whole wheat, and half AP flour)
* 2 to 2 1/4 tsp of SAF instant yeast
* 1/2 teaspoon sugar
* 2 tablespoons olive oil
* 1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl whisk together 3/4 cup of flour, yeast, sugar, and 2/3 cup hot water (this is about 130 degrees F according to Sarah – I just used hot water from the tap but I recommend taking the temperature of your hot water from the tap so that you can file it for future reference – you can go below 130F without any harm but don’t go over 130F or you risk killing your yeast). Stir in the oil, 1 1/4 cups of the remaining flour, and the salt and blend the mixture until it forms a dough. Knead the dough on a floured surface, incorporating as much of the remaining 1/4 cup flour as necessary to prevent the dough from sticking, for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it is smooth and elastic.

The dough may be used immediately, but for better flavor it is best to let it rise once. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and turn it to coat it with the oil. Let the dough rise, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until it is double in bulk, and punch it down. (I was letting my dough rise over night, so I cut down my yeast by half.)

For the white garlic sauce, I tried my hand at an Emeril Lagasse recipe.

  • 1 cup whole milk (I used 2% milk with no problems)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 to 2 heads of roasted garlic

Pre-heat your oven to 350F.  Chop off the top of the garlic head to expose the top of the garlic cloves.  Rub with cut side with some oil, and put the garlic head on a pan with the cut side down.  Bake it in the oven for about an hour.  Then, take it out and let it cool enough for you to handle.  Remove the garlic cloves, and set aside.

Gently heat your milk until barely simmering, and set aside.  (Or if you’re me, stick a small sauce pan of milk in the oven after the garlic is done and let the remaining heat warm up the milk while you go about your business.)

In a separate saucepan, melt the butter. When foam subsides, add flour and stir until smooth. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring. Do not allow flour to color. Gradually add the warm milk, whisking to combine. Add the salt and cayenne and increase the heat to medium. Cook the mixture, whisking continuously, until the sauce comes to a boil and is thickened. Remove from heat and add your roasted garlic cloves.  Whip out your favorite immersion blender and go to town.  (For a garlic sauce, one head of roast garlic is enough.  But for this pizza, I kind of wish I had used two heads of garlic.)

Transfer to a small bowl and cool slightly, placing a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.

Now, onto the pizza!  You will need slice figs (green or black), some gorgonzola cheese, some mozzarella cheese, and some white truffle oil (if you have it).  Heat your oven to 425F, or use 450F if you can.

Roll/stretch out you pizza dough, and over with a layer of garlic sauce.  Layer some gorgonzola down, as much or as little as you like (I am not a gorgonzola fan so I used as little as possible), put some mozzarella down, top with figs, and drizzle with a little bit of the truffle oil.

I don’t have a pizza stone.  I don’t think it’s necessary.  I like to either put down parchment paper on a cookie sheet, or use a well-oiled cookie sheet.  Feel free to put some cornmeal on the pan if you have it, to keep the dough from sticking.

Put the pan with the pizza on the bottom of your oven for 5 minutes to get a nice toasted bottom, and then move it to the middle of the oven to finish cooking.  If at 450F, it’ll probably only take another 5 minutes to cook.  If at 425F, I think it’s about an additional 10 minutes?  I don’t know.  Tammy and I just kept checking the pizza after what felt like an appropriate amount of time, instead of actually timing anything.  At home by myself, I’m better about putting a timer on but that’s because I usually wander off to check my email.

Overall result?  Quite yummy.  Having said that, I was a little disappointed.  I’m sure if Tammy hears me say that, she’ll think I’ve gone crazy.  To be honest, I was trying to re-create a pizza I had a couple of months ago at Za, a gourmet pizza and salad restaurant in East Arlington, MA.  I forgot to add caramelized onions and fresh parsley to my pizza on Friday; I accidentally mixed up the jack cheese with the mozzarella; and I think I could have gotten away with a second garlic head in the sauce.  But that’s just me nitpicking.  Everyone was quite happy with their pizza dinner.  ^_^

~ Mikan

Photo below from Tammy Raabe Rao.

Earl Grey Cookies

What is this? An update? Really?!

Yes, really. 🙂

I will admit though that I’m posting at the request of a friend. haha, I’m so lazy otherwise or something like that.

I’ve been experimenting with earl grey butter cookies. They aren’t perfect. The flavor is very subtle. I haven’t been able to keep these in my house long enough, but it’s been reported to me that the flavor improves after a couple of days. I’m still going to experiment – need to see if I can bump up the earl grey flavor a notch, but dang! they smell amazing when they are baking in the oven.

Makes about 5 dozen? I don’t know. Uh… I must admit that I lost some of the dough to the floor.

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, beaten lightly
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
4-5 bags of early grey tea leaves (open up the bags and crush with mortar/pestle)
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Cream the butter and sugar first. Then add the eggs and vanilla, and mix. Finally add the flour, tea leaves, and salt. Mix until well combined.

Now, you can roll these into two logs and freeze them for at least an hour, or you can fill plastic bags and roll out flat before putting into the freezer. The first method gives you traditionally round butter cookies. The second gives you the chance to make very neat squares. I’ve done it both ways.

After freezing, slice up your logs into about 1/4″ rounds. If you used the plastic bags, cut the bags open flat and cut your cookies into neat squares. Either way, your cookies should probably be about 1 1/2″ in size.

Preheat oven to 375. Space cookies 1 inch apart on baking sheets lined with parchment. Bake until edges are golden, 18 to 20 minutes.

(My oven runs hot. I baked at 360 for 16-17 minutes.)

Cookies made for Tammy Raabe Rao; photo taken by Tammy Raabe Rao. ♥


a “duh” moment

I realized last night, that amid all of my experiments with bread, I completely forgot about the autolyse technique, which I learned about several years ago.

I’d like to try it with spelt (I’ve been working on spelt bread recently) but I’ve run out of spelt flour.  Regardless, this is something I must work with. 

You might be asking yourself what I am talking about  right now.

Autolyse is when you mix flour and water first, and allow that to rest 20-30 minutes.  This affects the gluten strands.  The reported result is a dough that mixes in less time and is stronger.  It’s supposedly also more flavorful and less acidic.  Autolyse is not considered a sponge or a pre-ferment because the yeast has not been included yet.  Also, do not add salt during autolyse because it’ll affect moisture and gluten formation.

If nothing else this holiday weekend, I’m making a loaf of bread.

(ok, ok, I’m probably making cookies this weekend too but that’s totally unrelated.)

I haven’t forgotten this blog… so here’s a bread post

I have things I want to try… a restaurant review that I should be posting for Addis Red Sea… and I just haven’t had time lately for everything.  Or least it feels that way.  Maybe I’m just being lazy?

So, in the meantime, here’s the bread recipe post that I’ve been promising since the winter.  *eep!*

I haven’t completely given up on preferments just yet, but I’m beginning to think that I’m not that impressed (Asano-mama got the CookWise book recently, so I’d like to try a Shirley O’Corriher recipe before giving up on preferments completely).  I apologize in advance if some of the measurements seem weird.  I was converting them from an existing recipe from the UK.

I did try the recipe below a second time without the barley flour.  I still wasn’t wowed as I had hoped I’d be, but your mileage may vary.

Slow fermentation, adapted from Andrew Whitley

I came across an interesting radio piece after some googling – it was about slow fermentation and bread as presented by the BBC.  It was kind of fascinating.  Half of the show was talking to a die-hard-slow-fermentation-all-natural-all-local bread maker and the other half was talking to we-are-the-bread-federation-of-Britain man.   Ok, they aren’t called the “bread federation of Britain”, but they were definitely the federation of something.  (haha!)

Basically, the whole radio show can be summed up as thus: “no one can prove that slow fermentation is healthier, but it probably does taste better although less squishy.”

Some searching gave me an Andrew Whitley recipe for a basic bread.  Since I live in good ol’ New England, I had to revamp the recipe for use with my measuring cups and such.

First, here’s the Andrew Whitley version (cut and paste):
source –
This is the way most bread was made until the dawn of the era of high-speed mixing and “no time” dough. Although it involves a long rise, it doesn’t take any more of the baker’s time than fast-made bread. It uses less yeast, too, and the long fermentation gives great flavour and additive-free keeping quality. This makes a dozen rolls or two small loaves.

1. Overnight sponge
5g fresh yeast (or 3g dried yeast)
130g water (at about 20°C)
150g stoneground wholemeal flour
[285g total]

Dissolve the yeast in some of the water and add it to the flour with the rest of the water. Mix until the dough has “cleared”, that is, all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. There is no need to knead the sponge, since time will develop the gluten sufficiently. Put the sponge in a bowl large enough to allow it to expand to at least three times its original size. Cover with a lid or polythene bag and leave it at room temperature for 12-18 hours.

2. The final dough
285g overnight sponge (from above)
450g flour (wholemeal or a mix of white and wholemeal)
5g salt
270g water (warm to the hand, i.e. 30-35°C)
15g butter or olive oil (optional, but makes rolls a bit softer)
[1,025g total]

Mix all the ingredients into a soft dough. Knead without adding extra flour until it is silky and slightly stretchy. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour. Divide into 12 pieces (or two for small loaves), shape into rolls, dip into wholemeal flour to get a good covering, and place on a baking tray with about 2cm separating them. Cover with a large polythene bag but don’t let it touch the rolls. Let them rise until they are just touching each other, then bake in a hot oven (220°C) for 10-15 minutes. They should have a thin floury crust and feel soft after they have cooled.
© Andrew Whitley 2008.

Now, the US friendly version as adapted by me:

1. Overnight sponge
1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/2 cups plus 1 Tbsp water
1 cup plus 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour

Mix until well combined.  Cover with a lid or plastic wrap (but not too tightly).  Let this fart around overnight.

2. The final dough
all of the overnight sponge from above
3 1/2 cups of flour (all-purpose, bread flour, whole wheat or any mixture of the three… I used all-purpose with one cup of barley flour out of curiosity)
3/4 tsp salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp water
1 Tbsp mild olive oil

Mix all together.  Try not to add extra flour, but I found that I had to.  I added only a tablespoon at a time.  The dough should be “silky and slightly stretchy.”  Cover and let this rise for an hour.  Divide in in half, and shape into a ball.  I didn’t bother covering this with flour.  I put both dough halves on either side of my biggest sheet pan.  I loosely covered with plastic wrap that had been sprayed with oil (oil side touching the dough, duh), and let the doughs rise until about double in bulk and almost touching each other.  Cut a slash on top.

Bake in the oven at 425F for 20-25 minutes.

Let cool on a wire rack.

Overall, I liked the results.  They were like giant dinner rolls, reminiscent of bread rolls from Bertucci’s.  *grin*  I have mixed feelings about the barley flour I used.  Over time, the barley flour just make the bread taste “healthy” (less noticeable when still warm from baking).  Not necessarily in a bad way, mind you, but I’ve never used barley flour before I’ve seen it described as a mild, sweet flour.  So, I guess I was a little let down.  I wouldn’t mind using the barley flour again, but I’ll have to use less than a cup.

As for the overall method, I thought the sponge (aka preferment/biga/poolish) was kind of fun.  It’s kind of cool to see the sponge be all bubbly.  It worked fine, and I’ll probably work with more preferments in the future.