The Fresh Loaf

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Scorching problems with Jim Lahey no-knead bread recipes

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Victoria CHA.'s picture
Victoria CHA.

Scorching problems with Jim Lahey no-knead bread recipes

I have been using the Jim Lahey no-knead bread method for several months, and with great success. The flour I use is organic, from Natural Way Mills of Middle River, Minnesota: Gold N White unbleached, containing the germ, as well as their whole wheat flour. I get a beautiful, chewy interior and a crisp crust, and magnificent flavor.  However Lahey is a fan of scorched crusts, and I am not. The problem is with the bottom crust, on which, whether I use all unbleached white flour or a mixture of UB white and whole wheat, or rye, or semolina (2:1), there is always a circle of scorching about one inch within the bottom perimeter of the loaf. I use a Lodge cast iron Dutch oven, 5 1/2 quart size. This occurs using his temperature, 475 F, baking dough covered for 30 minutes, then uncovered for 6 - 10 minutes, until interior temperature is 195 - 200 degrees F.  The last few minutes of covered baking I can smell the scorching begin. I've tried lowering the baking temperature to 450, and while the circle of scorching was very, very light, I did not get as good a spring or as wonderful an interior texture or flavor. Can anyone help with this problem?

Martyn's picture
Martyn

Have you tried taking the loaf out of the pan and placing it directly onto the oven rack to finish baking rather than just taking the lid off. I find this gives me a better crust.

caseymcm's picture
caseymcm

I started out doing a lot of no-knead in the pot bread, when we moved to a new place, the oven must have been hotter because it was always scorching on the bottom, as you describe.


What fixed it for me was placing a double-layered air-bake type of cookie sheet directly under the dutch oven.  Problem solved.

mrfrost's picture
mrfrost

If you don't have the airbake, any type of pan will offer a extra layer of insulation.


Aluminum foil? Extra pan plus foil...

margieluvschaz's picture
margieluvschaz

I moved my rack up a notch & cut an oven liner in half that goes up to 550 - some silpat liner go up to 500 degrees too -  put I like the oven liner ( the kind you put on the bottom of oven to catch drips/ food etc)  best because it is a different material  ( not silicon plastic)- & doesn't crack-  I put this in the bottom of the baker & put my loaf in a parchment sling right on top- if it is still burnt I would  deflect with a cookie tray under rack & or lower oven temp as a last resort.-but haven't had to try the other things since I found the liner. Good Luck!


Margie

Broc's picture
Broc

Everyone's oven is different -- And every pan/DO is different.


I preheat the ovan and "pan" to 475F from cold.


Plop in the dough, score, cover -- and immediately drop the temp to 420F


Fourteen minutes later, remove the lid, and drop the temp to 390F


Finish baking to 195F - 205F interior.


 


Notice, my baking temps are significantly lower than yours.  I tried this procedure in an unfamiliar oven -- and it worked...


 


Also, as was suggested above -- placing a heat shield under your "pan" can do wonders if your primary heat is coming from the bottom of the oven... especially if you have gas.


 


Good luck!


 


~ Broc


 


 

paulwendy's picture
paulwendy

I've had the same results. Now I only pre-heat to 450 and bake at 450 with much better results. It must be the pizza maker in me that keeps telling me to cranlk it up.


Paul

TopBun's picture
TopBun

I had the exact same problem, and much to my surprise it was solved completely by putting an old cookie sheet wrapped in foil on the rack immediately under the rack holding the dutch oven. It probably doesn't matter, but I put the shiny side of the foil facing downward for maximum heat deflection.

BerniePiel's picture
BerniePiel

I, too, use the Lahey method and had exactly the same problem you mentioned.  The sole exception for me is that I use sourdough starter whereas Lahey uses commercial yeast.  At the onset, let me just say that I added two oven stones that left a one-inch perimeter around the stone on the lowest rack in the oven.   Here's what I did:


1.  Checked my oven by buying two oven thermometers;  (My oven was running 15 degrees hotter than the digital readout.).  So for certain you should check the exact amt of heat coming off your oven stone, or oven rack where you are placing the oven cast iron/clay/ceramic pot.


2.  Check to determine whether your heat has uniform heating w/ out hot spots, or alternatively, at least find out where they are;


3.  Just before you add your dough to your pot, sprinkle at least a 1/8 thick layer of cornmeal.  Most say to use less than that because the meal acts as a heat barrier.  I disagree.  In truth, my scorching didn't stop until I started using thicker layers of cornmeal which usually burned during the cooking process, but it fell away from the loaf.


4.  For Lahey's method he usually recommends between 475 to 500 for a preheat.  If your oven temp is off, that would be a huge mistake.  Even so, I find his 475 is way to high.  I'm not a fan of the burn or scorched crust that he has in his photos.  So I have my preheat at 450 and I have learned to check the dough/bread after 15 minutes on the stone.  If it is too hot or browning to fast, I put folds of aluminum foil to cover the ends.  Also, I have pulled breads when the carmelization looked perfect and found the interior was still wet.  There's not much you can do with that except feed it to the birds.  But I think turn down the temp after 25 minutes cooking also helps with his dough mix.  He also suggests taking the lid off his cast iron pots after 30 minutes, I do this and sometimes this is when I will turn the temp down to between 350 and 400 depending on how large the loaf is and how brown it is when I remove the lid.  I just think it is very important to check the loaves in those last 15 or 20 minutes and not let them cook to the point of scorching.  Using a thermometer is a big help in determining whether the bread is done, as well.  Also, I will let the bread sit in the oven, turned off,  or in the pot I cooked it in on the top of the stove if I think it's too wet.  


But, all of this said, I think the best for me was adding the cornmeal which seems to absorb the high intense heat from the stone or the pot and allows the heat to radiate up more evenly.  Since using the larger amount of meal, my bottom crusts have been right where they should be--at least for me.


Good Luck.


Bernie Piel

caseymcm's picture
caseymcm

Also, have pulled breads when the carmelization looked perfect and found the interior was still wet

 


If this is happening, you can promote drying by:


1) crack the oven door with a spoon for the last portion of the bake


or


2) after the perscribed bake; turn the oven off, crack the door, leave the loaf in for another 10-20 minutes

BerniePiel's picture
BerniePiel

Thanks, Casey.  But, how will you know it's too wet when the exterior looks wonderful?  I don't discover it's too wet until after I've sliced the loaf and even then the wetness doesn't reveal itself until I'm into the loaf after several inches, sometimes less.  But, the point is how can you tell this will happen, i.e., that the loaf will be too wet?  Is it simply more baking experience and knowing that this or that dough will most likely need to remain in the oven or even just in it's clay or cast iron cooker?  I think I'm slowly gaining some of that experience because my last two bakes turned out quite well.


But, while on the subjects of lessons:  I did have a problem with Lahey's Stirata, specifically the addition of garlic and sundried tomatoes.  In his text he talks about depressing the dough and putting in things like olives, garlic cloves, half cherry tomatoes, etc., then drizziling oil and lightly sprinkling coarse salt over the dough as prepared.  After the second rise, I took to the loaves and added garlic and sun dried tomatoes by depress the dough with my index finger till I felt the board then placed either a garlic clove or a sundried tomatoe in the depression.  After about three minutes, maybe five, I looked in the oven door and was surprised to see almost all of the garlic cloves had risen out of the dough and were on the side of the baguette pan that I was using for these two loaves.  The same had happened to the tomatoes which I did not depress very deeply, but I did with the garlic.  Then even more strange things happend as the bread baked.  Where I made my depressions with the garlic, the dough actually raised up in a little mound  about 1" to 1 1/2" high where I had made the depression.  It looked a bit bizzaar to say the least.  So what's the trick to making these kind of additons and having the dough enevlope around the garlic, olive, tomato, whatever....?   Thanks for your responses.


Bernie Piel

caseymcm's picture
caseymcm

Bernie, my suggestions assume that the wetness is a pedictable repeatable problem.  I had thought it was happening all the time, but if it depends on the dough, there must still be a pattern to it, likely wetter doughs, right?


Also, you are letting it fully cool (usually 2 hr) before cutting right?  If you cut into a right-out-of-the-oven loaf it's going to be gooey and sticky.  As it cools it's venting moisture and the crumb is firming up.


I don't know how long you have been baking, or how much of it you do, so forgive me if I'm presumptuous, but one of the keys to improvement that people here talk about is to do the same bread over and over to really learn how to do it well.  We all get excited about trying new things but you have to be careful not to flit around between different recipes too much or you might be disappointed with the outcomes.  As you do the same bread, you make little tweaks (sometimes by accident)--knead a little more or less, pre-shape or not, turn the oven a few degrees up or down, leave it in a little longer--and you start to learn how to make a loaf that is perfect for YOUR OWN preferences, not anyone elses.


[warning, off topic philosophical musings below...]


One of the amazing things about baking to me is how much it's a concrete lesson in the value of practice.  I used to do some outdoor sports and played music in school but never had much patience for practice.  Maybe I'm just old enough to be more patient, maybe it's that life only allows me enough time to have practical hobbies with practical results like baking.  Don't get me wrong, I've taught myself many things in life (like, auto mechanics of old cars, beer brewing...) and I've definitely improved at my career over the years, but I think baking is very demonstrative of the concept.  You get very concrete results of your improvement if you stick with it, and people can be so impressed.  And even as you learn and gain skill, it still doesn't seem that hard.  It seems like, I just throw a few ingredients together, wait a while, manipulate it like this or that, and POW, this amazing loaf of bread pops out!  It seems easy, like anyone could do it; and yet there was a time when I couldn't do it.


It's kind of funny, but one of the things that has improved my baking the most, is the fact I can take bread into work and it will be eagerly devoured.  My family couldn't possibly eat as much as I want to bake, we actually don't eat that much bread.  But I can try any experiment, taste a slice or two, and take the rest in to work where it will be appreciated.


[end philosophical musing]


As far as the Stirata, I don't know it, and about the only thing I do with "toppings" is pizza.  Most of my additions are mixed into the dough.  I would think you'd want to add them late when the dough is well proofed and relaxed (not too elastic), but it sounds like you do that already.  Maybe it's under proofed and really springing in the oven?  That's pretty weird that it actually puffs up where you depressed it.  I'm almost tempted to try it to see what happens.

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

I guess because of the higher hydration levels, the conventional methods for determining if bread is done (thumping the bread, appearance of crust) are not reliable for determining if no knead breads are done.  A thermometer is a MUST, then you can be certain every time.  


I haven't tried Lahey's breadsticks yet, but I tried the garlic thing with another bread and had the same problem with it popping out.  So I'm interested in the answer as well.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The rising dough, the forch behind pushing them out.  How about slicing it or dicing it or covering each one in a little dough capsule or dusting with flour first or putting them on top of the parchment and underneath the dough?

BerniePiel's picture
BerniePiel

CaseyMcM,


You have a window to my mind if not my kitchen.


First never worry about seeming to be presumptious or even being presumptious, at least with me.  I will take lessons anytime, anywhere from anyone.  I'm not an experienced baker and am at the cusp of just learning to bake and although what I'm doing today is light years from when I started serious bread baking two months ago, I don't believe I could ever know all there is to know about this craft.  I'm happy to say the hockey pucks are behind me and probably less worisome mistakes lie ahead.  Yes, I am at that stage where I want to bake every recipe that I have in my little, or not so little, collection of bread books.  I bake for me and whoever ventures within my daily routine.  I enjoy taking a taste or two and then I wrap it up and give it to a  couple of appreciative neigbors or single friends who  seem to enjoy what rolls out of the oven.


You are right when you say "....baking to me is how much it's a concrete lesson in the value of practice...."  I guess all of life is like that.  I'm in my mid-60's, semi-retired attorney, and fortunate enough to have spells of free time which wasn't the case when I was a younger lawyer.  I've been able to indulge my sense of creativity by obtaining a BFA in my mid-50's from the San Francisco Art Institute and a year of study at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art to learn the fundamentals.  The parallels between making art and makiing bread are lessons in life.  When I paint, I like to grind my own pigments, mix my different oils and experiment to see what results are achieved with different pigments and their mixing, different oils, and so forth.  It is, in short, a bottomless pit of knowledge and one will never, if they live ten lifetimes, ever be able to plumb its depth.  Making bread is pretty much the same.  The pigments are the various flours or combinations thereof plus the additions we add to the ground grains--raisins, cinnamon, seeds of all kinds, herbs; then we have the different leavenings and oils, the various temps, whether to cook on a stone, in a clay pot, how much water, and on and on---again there is an endless wealth of knowledge for those who want to study and practice this craft of bread baking. One's mastery is not going to happen overnight.  It takes lots of practice, note taking, trial and error and the like.  I find it interesting that in all the bread baking books I've perused in the last six weeks, nearly all talk about the authors almost manic discipline of taking notes.  Those notes belie their practice and they are, I think, looked upon as the experts in this area, just as the world of Art has its well accomplished Masters.  I find another parallel in that one is food for the body and the other for the soul--to live fully, we need both.


So, I practice and practice and practice and get excited when something works out well for me; and try to seek answers when they don't.  That's why this website is utterly fantastic because it pulls together some really great bakers, some very accomplished amateurs, and allows knobs like me to sponge the copious wisdom that abounds here.  And the numbers of participants, like yourself, who are willing to share their knowledge, Mini Oven is another kind soul, and Andy from the UK, still another.  I do not know of another web site like it on the web that shares this kind of instant comaraderie---perhaps, just perhaps, this digital bread feeds the soul, as well.


Thank you, CaseyMcM.

Victoria CHA.'s picture
Victoria CHA.

Thank you so much to all who responded !! I just joined this site and am overwhelmed by the kindness of all you wonderful bread bakers. This AM I baked a loaf with the Lahey method, following all his instructions, but putting a cookie sheet on the shelf under the shelf that held the cast iron dutch oven, as several of you suggested. I preheated the oven and pot for 30 minutes at 475 F, baked the bread covered for 30 minutes at 475, and then for 10 minutes uncovered at 475. I used UB white and whole wheat flours, 2:1. Previously I had had darker scorching with whole wheat in the mix than with all white flour.  The bread emerged with a beautiful golden brown crisp crust, and No Scorching!!!! The interior is lovely: moist, chewy, some big holes among the little holes and I would say Perfect!


Lahey says to store the bread in a paper bag. I used to do this until I found that wrapping it in a non-terrycloth dish towel works even better, something I learned from an Irish soda bread recipe in Saveur magazine some years ago.


Victoria

jacobsonjf's picture
jacobsonjf

I'm glad you posted this topic. I have not had the issue of scorching and I do use an honest 475 preheated pot and have also used the Gold N Wheat Flour milled here in MN. There are two differneces I note in your oven and mine. I'm using enamled cast iron which os not black like the Lodge product. Additionally, I put the pot on my baking stoen, which i believe acts as a buffer and heat sink. 


 


When I've done the Lahey technique in an old cast iron Chili pot, I experienced the hot pot syndrome as did you. When I did the black pot, I did not use the baking stone, so I can't say for sure if the stone is the solution or whether its the lighter colored pot. IF you fix the issue by using a buffer such as cookie sheet or stone AND are still using the Lodge pot, please let us know. The Lodge pot is one of the few affordable, convenient pots for us home bakers. I'm on the verge of buying one, but will wait to hear results of your fine tuning efforts.


 


Cheers.........

BerniePiel's picture
BerniePiel

It's been a while since posting my experience with Lahey's recipes and procedures and I've had several opportunities to try some of the suggestions offerred in this string.  Initially I had suggested using a 1/8th inch layer of cornmeal on the bottom of the baking container.  I still do this and find it helps with the scorching issue.  But, I think it also contributed to the wet interior of some of my loaves.  So I tried to of the suggestions offered here, one was to put the loaf directly on the stone and turn the oven off and the other was to leave the oven door open and leave the loaf in its pan to use the residual heat.  Both worked extremely well.  I also noticed that when I took the temps of the loaves w/ my probe thermometer, there would be dough sticking to the probe.  Well, I've baked enough quick breads and cakes to know that this is a sure sign that the batter is not finished.  So I also use that as an aid to determine whether there is still moisture in the loaf.  If I see dough clinging to the probe I usually just put the loaf directly on the stone out of its baking vessel and let it set in the cooling oven--the stone retains heat wonderfully--for a minimum of ten minutes.  Once I was called away on an emergency and forgot the loaf which was a 3# loaf of sourdough rye, when I came back it was still warm and perfectly cooked, not dried out as I had expected.  So thanks to Martyn and Casey for these two suggestions.


berniepiel

namako's picture
namako

I used as a basic modified Lahey NK recipe version in Cook's Illustrated, and modified it further in the following ways:


Initial pre-heat temp: 475. Pot on lowest rack (electric oven) on top of a grid of six 6in unglazed quarry tiles (which I use as a pizza stone).


After placing dough in pot (using the Cook's Illustrated method of letting it rise on parchment paper and using the paper edges as "handles" for lifting), reduced heat to 420 and bake covered for 20 minutes. 


Remove lid after 20 mins and continue baking with heat further reduced to 390 for another 20 mins or until instant-read internal temp is about 200. Cool on rack.


Actual trial:one time I used as a cooker an old Guardian Service pot that I inherited from my mother (Al c. 1/4 in thick). Using above recipe (and pizza stone), got scorching over most of the bottom(oven temp calibrated). Found another use for micro-plane graters.


Another try: used a Lodge 5 qt dutch oven with the 8 in trivet in the bottom (flat side up, dimples on the bottom) on the quarry tiles. Same recipe and baking setup. No scorching. I think the trivet allowed for heat circulation rather than a direct blast of heat concentrated on the bottom. 


Will continue to experiment, but I was quite satisfied with the Lodge version.

Vbm's picture
Vbm

My problem with making the whole wheat bread is that the crust is so hard that it could quite possibly break some teeth.  The inside is fine - you just have to be able to get to it.  The crust is not scorched - just way too hard.  Any thoughts?

MrCincinnati's picture
MrCincinnati

I too noticed scorching on the bottom of the loaf using the Lahey method, regardless of the oven temperature setting, 475 or 450.   I use a Lodge cast-iron enamaled 6 qt dutch oven for these recipes in a GE Spectra gas oven.  What I noticed is that the oven is primarily heated by a gas flame on the bottom of the oven, and figured that heat radiated off the oven floor was radiating up and directly overhearing my pot, even though the air temp in the oven was the required temperature.    

To block the infrared that was being transferred from the oven floor to the pot,  I placed one rack in the oven in it's lowest position. I put the bottom half of a largish broiler pan on this rack so that the heat radiated from the oven floor would hit the broiler pan, before getting to my pot. I'm sure the broiler pan is re-radiating some of that heat, but at least it's not being heated directly by a gas-flame. 

Problem SOLVED!!!!.   No more scorching.    This way the pot only gets heated from the air in the oven rather than from direct radiation from the oven floor which is considerably hotter than the desired baking temperature.   I didn't need to make any other changes in the recipes, and I haven't had any scorching problems in the next 10 batches or so.   This was without changing the original recipes/temperatures at all.  I have dubbed my broiler pan method, the "MrCincinnati, IR Baffle".  And my baffle did baffle the problem of the burning bottom.   

Hope this helps you.