Seems like making sourdough bread is a thing now that everyone is on Stay at Home rules. That’s a good thing. I have been making sourdough bread for years and have experimented with many recipes and techniques. Recently I have been using a no-knead technique that I am quite happy about and I thought the time might be perfect to share with Y’all.
I am basically lazy. I don’t like to knead bread dough (although I have done quite a bit of it). I am not very good at kneading bread dough (I tend to use a slack dough so it is very sticky and hard to handle). So I have always been intrigued with the no-knead technique, which I have experimented with over the years.
A little background on kneading. The purpose of kneading bread dough is to develop the gluten strands in the dough. Gluten is what gives the dough the strength to trap the fermented gases and allow it to rise into loaves that we know and love. Well, it turns out that if you give your dough enough time during the bulk fermentation phase the gluten will develop naturally. In other words, if you do nothing for long enough the dough will do what it’s supposed to do all on it’s own. No that is my kind of baking.
So I am going to share with you the no-knead process I have been using with good success lately. It only requires time and a small amount of attention. The total time is approximately 36 hours from start to coming out of the oven but the amount of time you actually work is about 15 minutes (spread over 2 1/2 days).
A couple of notes before we start:
I am assuming that you have made bread before and are used to working with dough.
I am going to assume that you already have a sourdough starter, or know how to get one going.
The first step is in the evening, before you go to bed. I start here so that my bread is baking in the afternoon 2 days later. But you can move the timing of these steps to fit your own schedule.
The recipe I am using is modified from Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. Chad has been called The Bread Whisperer and my bread baking has improved since I got this book.
As with most bread recipes that I have used, the Chad’s recipe calls for enough dough to make 2 loaves. I have modified this recipe to make a single loaf. That works best for me.
OK. Let’s do this thing.
Big Mike’s No-Knead Sourdough Bread Recipe
100 grams of sourdough levain
500 grams of bread flour
350 grams of water
10 grams of salt
25 grams of water (to add with the salt)
We begin with making the levain. A levain is basically a young, recently fed starter. I start this in the evening, before I go to bed, so the levain is ready to go in the morning when I awake. To make the levain you discard most of your starter, leaving a few tablespoons (ok…a quarter cup is fine too. this is not surgery). To that starter you add 100 grams of bread flour and 100 grams of water (lately I have been using whole wheat flour in my starter, but you can use any bread flour you want). Mix this all up in a container with a lid, scrape down the sides of the container, put the lid on, and go to bed. Total work time: 3-5 minutes.
When you get up in the morning your levain should look like the photo below. You can see plenty of bubbles, so you know it is really alive.
Now that it is morning it is time to make the dough. There is no rush. I will have a cup of coffee (or two) before I begin.
First, put 350 grams of water in mixing bowl. Chad Robertson recommends 80 degree water, but I am not sure if it matters since the dough is going into the fridge. But I follow the recommendation anyway.
Add 100 grams of the levain to the water and stir it to break it up. Whatever levain is left over is now the base for your keeping your starter going (rinse and repeat).
Add 500 grams of bread flour. I have been mixing 450 grams of white bread flour with 50 grams of whole wheat bread flour, but any good bread flour will do. Mix this (with your hands, or a dough whisk) until all of the flour is incorporated and there is no dry flour left. Total working time 3-5 minutes.
This dough mixture will look quite shaggy, as in the photo below.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let it sit for 30-40 minutes. This step is called autolyse. This allows the flour and water to mix together in a natural way. Chad Robertson is adamant that this is an important step:
Do not skip the resting period. Working with the nature of the dough, the resting period allows the protein and starch in the flour to absorb the water, swell, and then relax into a cohesive mass.
Total working time 0 minutes.
After the resting period it is time to add the salt and form the final dough. Add the 10 grams of salt and the 25 grams of water. Mix this with your hands to distribute the salt and absorb all the water. When you are done you will have something that starts to look like a bread dough (as in the photo below). Total working time 3-5 minutes.
Put the finished dough into a container with a lid, and put the dough into the fridge for 24 hours.
This is called the bulk fermentation and this is where the magic happens. In a normal bread recipe you would be kneading the dough now. But in my lazy man’s approach we just pop it into the fridge and come back tomorrow morning.
The morning of day #2 you take the dough out of the fridge. Again, no rush. Have a cup of coffee and get to it when you are fully awake. It is time to form your loaf.
This next phase is a 3 step process: form the dough into a ball, give it a 30 minute bench rest, and then form the final loaf shape for proofing.
To make the dough into a ball I pull the dough out of the container and put it on a smooth surface (I use my counter top). Sprinkle the top of the dough with a little flour and use a bench blade to turn it over so the floured side is now on the counter. Next you gather up the un-floured side a piece at a time and pinch it together. Then, using the bench blade flip the dough over so the floured side is on the top again. Using the blade and your free hand move the dough in a circular motion until a tight ball forms, as in the photo below. Total working time 5-7 minutes.
Cover the ball with a kitchen towel and wait 30-40 minutes. This is called the bench rest. Do not skip this step.
After the bench rest it is time to form the final loaf shape. The ball you made will have flattened out a bit - more circular than ball-like.
I have been making round boules lately but you could also make a long betard, or even put it in a loaf pan (which I have been known to do). You can shape your loaf any way that you are used to doing.
The way I shape the final round is the way Chad Robertson laid out in his book. It is kind of unique, and took some getting used to, but now I like it:
Lightly flour the top of the dough and flip it over using the bench blade.
Grab the end furthest from you and pull it out and bring it up and over 2/3 of the dough ball.
Now grab the left side and pull it out and bring over toward the right and cover 2/3 of the dough ball.
Now do the same with the right side.
Finally, pull the front edge out and cover the previous folds you just made.
Roll this tight little package forward away from you until the floured side is back on top.
Use the bench blade and your free hand to form a tight ball.
Put the final dough into a proofing basket (or whatever you are using). Remember to put the seam side up in the proofing basket so when you put the dough in the pan the smooth round side will be on top (as shown in the photo below). Total working time 7-10 minutes.
Proofing time will vary, mostly due to ambient temperature. You will probably need a minimum of 2-3 hours. But since this dough just came out of the fridge I have been giving it a bit more time in the proofing stage. In my house, which is normally around 70 degrees, I have been proofing for 5-6 hours. Sometimes longer.
Time to bake the bread. I bake my bread in a cast iron dutch oven (see photo below). Using a pot with a lid traps the steam from the dough and gives you a bakery-style crisp crust.
About 30 minutes before you are ready to bake, put the pot in the oven and preheat it to 500 degrees.
After the oven reaches temperature it is time to put the dough in the pot and bake. (Be very careful - this pot is really hot.) Carefully put the dough in the pot, seam side down (smooth side up), and slash a few lines in the top of the dough with a sharp knife or a razor blade. Put the cover on the pot and put it back in the oven. Immediately set the thermostat down to 450 degrees and set a timer for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes take the cover off and finish baking for another 20 minutes.
Take the pot out of the oven and put the bread on a cooling rack to cool.
So, there you have it. As I read back over this it sounds very involved, but it’s not. A total of 15-20 minutes of work time spread out over a couple days. Not much to ask for a fresh sourdough loaf.
I hope you get a chance to try it. Let me know how you do.