The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

sourdough no-knead disaster

matilda's picture

sourdough no-knead disaster

Hi folks,

I know that the topic has been discussed before, but I still don't get it. No-Knead (sourdough in this case, but I've tried the authentic recipe) just does not work for me!

I have pics and I would really appreaciate if you could give me feedback on my sourdough no-knead disaster. It has been quite frustrating since it is not the first time I fail, it is the 5th or 6th indeed (I lost count). It never worked! I keep seeing online beautiful pictures of fully risen loafes baked without effort, but in my case, unless I spend 10-15 minutes kneading the hell out of my dough, it just does not work!

So, here's my intuition:

1) The gluten did not develop. Maybe because this time the dough was not wet enough and I know that all flours have different absorbing power, but how the heck do you know if you have to throw all the ingredients at once?!

2) The second rise seem to be the real problem, since the first time it maybe even overfermented. Maybe my kitchen was to warm?!

Again, these are just random thoughts because every time a new problem arise. Ao any suggestion is appreciated! :-) I have more details in my blog post








margieluvschaz's picture

I could not see the recipe on your blog but I'll just post what works for me-

feed starter in the morning - about 6 hours before mixing bread

Mix bread at 6 pm

In a bowl I mix

3 1/4 cups AP


1/4 cup rye flour

1 1/2 tsp salt

use 1 1/2 cup filtered water  heat 28 sec in microwave

mix heaping 1/4 cup starter in water add to flour mix add a bit more flour so dough is moist but not wet usually about 1/4 cup

put bowl in turkey bag ties off with rubber band

ferment room temp 12-18 - I live in Arizone so when it's hot my ferment time is 12 hours

scrape dough out on floured board- fold over rest 10 minutes

shape into boule- making sure surface in tight

place on lightly floured parchment sling top side up- put back in turkey bag-

rise room temp 1 hour- turn oven to 500 degrees- put dutch oven & lid in oven

check to see if proofed by gently touching if indent holds - it's ready to bake

Slash loaf if desired

put oven liner in clay baker ( I use the kind you can cut to fit the bottom of your oven- looks like black plastic) put bread in baker on parchment sling  dust with flour put lid on

put empty old cookie tray under loaf to deflect heat so crust doesn't burn

bake 25 minutes- take lid off - turn oven down to 450 bake until probe thermometer reads 200 about 10-15 minutes

my tips - add a bit more flour- Read you dough don't overproof, use sling, use liner & cookie tray & you should have better luck- it works for me. - good luck!



margieluvschaz's picture

ps- has free videos that helped me


pmccool's picture

I'm sorry that your experiences have been so disappointing.  Maybe we can isolate the problem.

First guess: starter behavior and time.  If I were to allow a dough made with my starter a 12-hour or more first ferment at temperatures higher than 70ºF, it would be far past its prime and going into collapse.  Odds are also good that there would be gluten degradation because of either enzyme or acid attack.  The stickiness you mention would be a good indicator of this kind of problem.  Between the corroded gluten and the exhaustion of available food for the yeast, there wouldn't be much, if any, second rise.

Second guess: oven behavior.  The loaves pictured are pale on top (another sign of over-fermentation) and burnt on the bottom.  Where in the oven are you baking them?  On the floor?  On a lower rack?  On a higher rack?  If your oven is a gas oven, for instance, all of the heat comes from the bottom of the oven and placing the bread too close to the oven's bottom would invite a burnt loaf bottom.  If you have an electric oven, some models are designed to use both bottom and top elements to even out the heating.  If the top element in your oven isn't working properly, that could contribute to the uneven baking.

Third guess: quantities.  The original formula has one ingredient listed in grams, the others in volumes.  Volume measurements leave a lot of room for error, since none of us measure things exactly the same and since our volume measuring tools aren't nearly as standard as we think.  Further, there is no indication of the starter's hydration.  Presumably, it is a 100% hydration starter (equal weights of flour and water), but that isn't spelled out.  If your starter is wetter or drier than the formula writer's starter, that will cause a different outcome in your breads.

Fourth guess: baking equipment.  The formula calls for a container of some sort.  Your writeup appears to mention a stone.  The former would keep the bread from spreading sideways and help force a taller loaf.  The latter will allow a very wet (or gluten-damaged) loaf to spread sideways into more of a frisbee shape.

I'm not sure which of these may be the culprit in your case.  Or maybe all of them.  As a researcher, you can probably set up a protocol for working through the variables until you get to the outcome you want.  Best of luck.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

how the heck do you know the dough was not wet enough

Mixing up the dough should tell you a lot.  If you find that in 2 minutes of mixing by hand there are still pockets of flour that do not incorporate, it is too dry.  Add a tablespoon of water and see if they get doughy.  If not, add another.  Autolyse the dough letting it sit 30 minutes (without salt) and then after it has rested and developed the gluten on its own, sprinkle with the salt folding the shaggy dough to mix (right there in the bowl.)  Shape into a ball with some folds or light kneading (30 sec.) should not be crumbly or tearing but stretchy.  If not, wet your hands, sprinkle another tablespoon or two of water over the dough and work it in.

kitchen was too warm

More than likely.  This would speed up fermentation rapidly throwing all the times off and lead to overproofing and lack of rise in the end stages.

burnt bottom

Something wrong here with the balance of temperatures.  Something is too hot.

The recipe recommended a final rise using a pot or casserole, some shape to hold up the sides and possibly cover to trap in steam.  What was used?   Try a smaller form so the loaf cannot run sideways.  I would get this method to work first before attempting a free standing loaf using rising baskets etc.

Good luck with the next one!


carefreebaker's picture

I too have a too warm kitchen living in FL. Any suggestions on how to deal with this condition and the no knead dough? Would using cool water help? If I let the dough rest for less then 18 hours, how will I know it's rested enough? thank you

CaperAsh's picture

My impressions on this, still not fully (in)formed:

The no-knead people from 5 minutes a day book have stated that their method doesn't work well with sourdoughs, though are not sure why. Basically, they use a high hydration (70%+) formula, with yeast, retarded for 1 - 10 days in the fridge. And no kneading.

If you took the same recipe without putting it into the fridge, the dough would be ready for baking in about 4-6 hours I believe, but without any kneading, the gluten development would be poor.

Most sourdoughs take from 12-18 hours to ferment at 70d temperature and without kneading won't come out all that well, again because of insufficient gluten development. But if you were to retard the sourdoughs in the fridge the whole time as with the no-knead approach above, yeast and bacteria in the cultures respond differently to the cooler temperatures ( I believe the yeast is more impacted), so the culture gets a bit 'out of balance' between the two. I have tried this and don't get good results either.

I personally like cool fermentation, mainly because of the development of flavour, but also because it gives more flexibility in terms of timing in that a few more or less hours of cool fermentation has far less effect than a few hours more or less of warm fermentation.

One advantage also is that one does not have to have the typical 3-stage process which involves, essentially, adding in about 50% of the flour about 4 hours before baking, meaning that 50% of the flour has not been thoroughly 'predigested' by the starter cultures to the same extent as the no-knead, or extended fermentation method, might effect. And again, I like a longer fermentation process where possible. But if I do a 12-18 fermentation with all the starter and flour mixed at the beginning and around 70d plus temperatures, it always overproofs similar to what I think is happening to yours, although as others above pointed out you might have some oven issues as well it seems given the heavily burnt bottoms versus unburnt tops.

My solution has been a hybrid method which goes like this:

Having built up the natural rye starter to the right amount for the anticipated batches  (usually around 8% of the total pre-bake weight of the loaf; this build-up takes 6+ hours at room temp depending on amount of starter and final amount needed), then mix the dough, i.e. starter, water, flour, salt. (The initial rye starter is one I feed every week and use for all baking so I just take it out of the fridge, use to make the above build-up, and then feed the now empty jar with fresh rye flour and water and put back in fridge to be ready for next bake.)

Then I give the dough 3-4 hours at room temperature, during which I give it 3-4 stretch-and-folds, i.e. this is no longer 'no-knead' but it is not typical kneading either.

Then I retard for about 14 hours or so. If you count the time from when the mixing is done (ignoring the initial starter build-up to get the required amount), we are now at about 18 hours (i.e. 4 hours to start, 14 hours retarding).

Then I bring back to room temperature for 3 hours. Then shape and proof for 3-4 hours, i.e. 4-7 hours, so about 24 hours total. Now I haven't experimented with retarding for 2-5 days. Basically, there is about 4 hours room temp at the beginning to get a balanced mix of starter cultures working the dough, then retardation, then another 4 hours or so at room temp at the end.

But basically what you have is an almost no-knead method which alternates room and cold temperatures, gives the dough 24 hours fermentation (versus a more typical 4 hours at the end for 50% of the dough).

Hydration seems to work well between about 65 and 70%. Pic below (overly light color due to flash) of 100% organic wholewheat loaf made using above-described method.

Best of luck!

matilda's picture

Just beautiful!

matilda's picture

Your analysis of my loaf and comments are just amazing. I knew that pics would help.

To summarize, next time I try I will:

1) Try 100% dough and warm rise (now about 65F) or 70% and cold rise (in the fridge)

2) Make sure I mix ingredients well. It is no-knead not no-mix after all.

3) Use a smaller pot in the oven, to prevent the loaf to spread

4) Place pot on pizza stone. Unfortunately my oven in the new house has this problem of unbalanced heat, which increases if I use a tall pot to bake the bread.

Thank you so much. Next time I try I wil post my loaf again here so you can see the results ;-)


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

You could try raising the dough in the pot (final rise) and then when ready to bake, cover with parchment and invert the whole thing onto the stone, pot and all.  Use a pot that leaves half of the space in the pot for oven spring.  Remove the pot after 20-25 minutes.

Just a thought, haven't tried it myself, no stone.