Sourdough No Knead Method

The process of making a sourdough leavened no-knead loaf (at least the way I do it) is almost identical to the instant yeast variety. I just substitute 1/4 cup of sourdough starter for the 1/4 tsp. instant yeast.

Of course, working with sourdough can alter things quite a bit depending on how wet you keep your starter and how healthy it is. Some starters are very liquidy and can be poured out of their containers. I keep mine pretty thick. It has to be spooned out of the jar. I go into quite a bit of detail on how I manage my starter in the various related videos.

That said, here’s the most basic recipe that I use quite frequently.

  • 1 cup (5 oz.) whole wheat flour
  • 2 1/2 cups (11 oz.) white bread flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups purified water
  • 1/4 cup starter

The baking times and all that are the same as the basic no-knead method. So you can easily just watch that video but follow this recipe. I usually bake the bread at 500° for 30 minutes with the lid on and then remove the lid and continue baking for 15 more minutes at 450°.

You might have noticed that there’s a bit of difference between what I say in the video regarding recipe quantities and what’s written. The weights shown are probably more precise, but you should be fine either way as there is a fair amount of leeway in this recipe.

Generally speaking, the wetter your dough the bigger the holes will be, which many people really like. However, a drier dough will make it easier to get the bread to rise while baking, giving you greater “oven spring” and a more spherical loaf versus a pancake. With practice, you’ll get so you can come closer to predicting how your bread will turn out just based on the consistency of the dough when you’re mixing all the ingredients together. You can adjust the amount of water and flour to get the consistency that suits you best.

Many people want to know how to make their bread more sour. Breadtopia reader, Rhine Meyering, enjoys success with this by using just 1/8 cup of sourdough starter and extending the fermentation time by refrigerating the dough. Click this link to his October 7, 2007 post to read what he says. It makes a lot of sense based on my understanding of sourdough baking too.

Also, click the following link to Ariela’s post of November 25th, 2007 where she describes her success with the sourdough no knead method using spelt flour. She includes the actual recipe she uses too – very nice.

No Knead Revisited – A Three Year Check UpIt’s been over 3 years since the original New York Times no knead bread recipe was published. That’s also about the same time Breadtopia was born. By far the most common difficulty people write or call in about is with the dough being too wet to handle at the end of the long first proofing period and also when it’s time to place the dough into a covered vessel to bake at the end of the second rise.

When you run into this, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it other than attempt to follow through on the instructions and ultimately wrest the dough into your heated baker and into the oven. Your “mistake” may turn out better than you expected and if nothing else, you’ll learn from it. The next time around you can do one or a combination of a couple things differently.

  1. Add more flour and or use less water than you did the first time. Dough has a way of getting more slack as it sits for many hours so if you start off with the dough being a little stiffer than you think it should be, that’s fine and maybe it’ll be easier to handle later.
  2. Consider reducing the long proofing time by several hours. Don’t get stuck on the idea of 18 hours. Depending on your room temperature and humidity, 18 hours may result in over proofing. When dough proofs too long, the gluten breaks down, the yeast looses some oomph and it can just get downright soupy. Most of the time, I find 12-14 hours to be about right. If you want or need to prolong the proofing time, but don’t want to risk over proofing, stick the dough in the fridge for several hours or overnight. That will slow things down a lot. Then resume proofing at room temp until it’s ready to bake.

The same principle holds true on the second rise. While 1-2 hours is the suggested range, I’m almost always at about 60 to 75 minutes.

Another concern we hear a lot is about the dough not rising much during that second short proofing period. I don’t see mine rise much then either and it doesn’t matter so long as you see a good rise during the first several minutes that the dough is in the oven. That’s called oven spring and it’s a very good thing. By keeping your proofing periods on the shorter side, you’re more likely to get good oven spring from the still vigorous yeast or sourdough starter.

Of course all of the above is assuming your yeast or sourdough starter is fresh and viable to start with.

In summary, most problems can be helped or solved by stiffening the dough a little and/or shortening the rising times.

If you’re new to bread baking, don’t think from reading this that it’s difficult or tricky to get great results. Most people find it a breeze and enjoy success right out of the blocks. Others may find it takes a few tries. It’s important to have fun with it and don’t worry about bombing. There’s no significant downside to bread baking but the upside can be fabulous. Enjoy!

March 20th, 2010 update: Beadtopia reader, Beth Adams, emailed this:

I have been a follower and contributer (through the comments sections) to the site for a few years. I just tried something that I wanted to share. I added a tsp. of lavender to the regular sourdough recipe and had great results when using it for sandwiches. Hope you are able to enjoy it!

For more no-knead recipes using sourdough, check out No-Knead Recipe Variations.

{ 1359 comments… read them below or add one }

Devon April 20, 2014 at 7:49 am

Dear Niki,
I decided I wanted to learn how to make bread. It has been a journey. I bought a 6 quart Lodge Dutch Oven from Walmart because I did not want to spend a lot of money until I learned how to make good bread. I also burned the bottoms of my bread at a 500 degree oven. I live in Long Beach, CA. I think location changes up the game. Here is what I learned.
Take a non-stick cake pan. Sprinkle half a handful of corn meal in it. The pan seems to help the dough keep its shape. I form the boule from the sour dough that has risen at least 12 hours. I scrape the dough on to a floured counter top. Form a boule by folding the dough from the left over 2/3s and then to the right over 2/3s and finally folding it in half from top to bottom as described on this marvelous website. I let it rest on the counter for ten minutes. Next I lift the boule with my hands and set it in the cake pan with corn meal sprinkled on the bottom. I cover it with a towel and let it rise for a second time for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile I heat the Dutch oven to 450 degrees for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, I score the dough and then brush it with an egg wash. I put on my long oven mitts, take the Dutch oven out and carefully set the dough in the cake pan inside the Dutch oven. I let it cook 30 minutes. I remove the lid and let it cook 7 or 8 minutes more. See the results. It comes out like this pretty consistently. Get long oven mitts. I burned my arms a bunch of times getting this move down. Wear a jacket if you only have short mitts. Hope this helps. Don’t give up!

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Devon April 20, 2014 at 7:53 am

Niki, I wanted you to see a picture of my Dutch Oven. After a year and a half it looks like a war horse. I also put in a cake pan and about how much corn meal I use to give you an idea. A picture is worth a thousand words. Good luck!

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Niki April 19, 2014 at 9:51 pm

I have made this loaf about 10 times using a cast iron dutch oven and also using a crock pot- pot with a glass lid. No matter the vessel, it has come out of the oven scortched black on the bottom, every time (it was actually less scortched with the crockpot- pot). Tonight I used the cast iron vessel, baked it for 13 minutes at 500 with the lid on, 5 minutes at 445 with the lid still on, and then at 430 with the lid off for about 3 or 4 minutes. The bottom is STILL burned!
I know it seems silly to keep trying this recipe, but the flavor is soooooo good – once I cut off the bottom crust. Do you have any suggestions?

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pio April 20, 2014 at 6:12 am

use parchment paper

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Niki April 20, 2014 at 6:30 am

Surely not while it is preheating at 500? So would I just lay the parchment in the pot, then flip the dough into it?

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Sherry April 20, 2014 at 12:22 pm

I have a loaf pan and several other baking containers that can fit inside my large clay baker. Often I do the final proof in one of those, ALWAYS lined with parchment. I pre-heat the clay pot (with lid), then when the dough is ready, place the entire loaf pan inside the clay pot. 400 or 450 works better in my oven. And sometimes I don’t even use the clay pot, I just put a pan of hot water in the bottom of the oven, the dough in its parchment-lined pan into the oven, & am still happy with the results. It’s just a little less artisan-y but still delicious and sliceable for sandwiches.

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Regina April 20, 2014 at 7:16 am

Use the La Cloche

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Anita April 20, 2014 at 11:02 am

When my bottom crust burned, I tried lowering the heat by 25 degrees, moving up to the second rack from the bottom, and using parchment paper. I let my boule rise on a large piece of parchment in a basket, then I lift it up by the corners and place the whole thing into the pot. Another tip that has worked well is to crumple some aluminum foil to make a slightly raised base or platform in your pot, and then bake the bread on top of that. All of these helped, it just took some experimenting.

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Tracey-ann April 7, 2014 at 2:14 am

Thanks Beryl for your thoughts. With the adding the flour, are you referring to just before the first, or the second proof? Its good to know that a longer bake time can work out well, I will see how I go with that.

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Beryl April 7, 2014 at 9:47 am

Hi Tracey-ann,
I was referring to the time after the 18-24 hour rise, when you turn the dough out onto a floured board, fold it and briefly form into a ball and then place it in a proofing basket. When the dough goes through its long rise (initially) it seems to get much “wetter: so sometimes I add a bit of flour to my hands and the surface of the sponge so that it doesn’t stick too much!
Beryl

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Beryl April 6, 2014 at 8:30 am

Hi Tracey -Ann
I find that adding just enough flour so as to have the dough not stick too much to my hands when folding it and putting it in the proofing basket (I just use the same bowl with a spritz of olive oil in it) does the trick. If anything when the weather is cooler I let the initial period go as long as 24 hours–until the dough really doubles in size but does not collapse. I always bake the dough in a 500 degree oven (preheated for 30 minutes!) for 1 full hour and then 15 minutes uncovered at 450! Give it a try ! Best of luck!

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Tracey-ann April 6, 2014 at 12:24 am

Thanks for the recipe and video, I have been experimenting for a couple of months now and my loaf is sticky when cooked, and too dense. The taste is great though which is a plus. I have tried less water and different resting times now it is getting cooler here (Aus) but it is still too sticky. I have also tried a longer cooking time (45 and 15min). Any ideas? Thanks! My oven spring is lovely though :-)

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