The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Jim Lahey no-knead bread recipe help?

akat417's picture

Jim Lahey no-knead bread recipe help?


I'm a new baker.  I thought the no-knead bread recipe by Jim Lahey looked interesting so I tried it.  I have already mixed all the ingredients together, but I am using KA whole wheat flour.  I let the mixture rest for 20ish hours and I just took it out and folded it.  However, I found it to be very wet and hard to handle.  Is this normal or should I add more flour?

Also btw I am planning to bake it on a cookie sheet because I don't have an iron pot.  Will this be okay?  I'm assusimg I won't get the same crust though.  Right?

Also, I was wondering if oiling the bowl with olive oil/etc (as it says in some recipes) is necessary.  


Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Akat417.  I have never tried this recipe but wanted to try it when I first started baking bread last summer.

I am assuming by your post above, that you are using only whole wheat flour and no bread flour or All Purpose flour.  If this is the case, your main problem is deviating from the recipe.  Even myself, who has baked bread for almost 5 months now, learned the hard way too many times NOT to change the recipe in any way.  Especially since you are still in the learning stage (so am I) it is very important that you learn from the exact recipes and then once you have mastered them, move on and try to add your own flair.

I am sure others can back me up on this, that by using only whole wheat flour, you do not have nearly enough gluten development, which will make the dough extremely sticky.  When I first started making bread, I was thinking that using white flours were unhealthy and all I wanted to do was bake whole wheat and rye breads.  Well, I learned fast that you NEED bread flour and/or All Purpose flour to produce the dough strength.  This will take away the extreme stickyness you are experiencing.  There are ways to compensate the lack of gluten development whole wheat flours have, by using vital wheat gluten, but this is something you should try first in recipes that actually call for it.

I always lightly oil the bowls I rest the dough in.  The small amount does not effect the bread at all and it prevents it from sticking to the bowl.  If the dough sticks to the bowl, it tears the gluten strands when you perform the stretch and folds, etc.  This will destroy the gulten development you are trying hard to develop.

As for the cookie sheet, you will only be able to get away with basic results using this method if you follow a few steps:

1. LIGHTLY oil the sheet pan then sprinkle some corn meal evenly so the bread does not stick.  OR you can use parchment paper on the cookie sheet.

2. Try to find a lid deep enough to produce some steam baking which is important for this particular recipe.  You don't have to do this step, but you will not find the results nearly as good as Jim's photos show.

If you own a turkey roaster, you can get great results from it as a good steaming/baking vessel.  Some have said that using a roaster even produces better results than a dutch oven. I can not comment on this, as I have never tried the dutch oven method.

Let me know if you have any other questions, and welcome to this amazing world of baking breads.


carefreebaker's picture

I bake Lahey's no knead often. When I make a loaf with ww flour, I also add bread flour or vital wheat gluten. 

I only let the dough rest for 12-18 hours. I do not want to exhaust it.

You don't need an iron pot. Do you have a covered roaster or stock pot? I've used both along with a Dutch oven. All worked fine.

The dough will be  wetter then you might be use to. Use a dough scraper to help you work with it. 

Oil or no oil for bowl, either way is fine.

You can use a cookie sheet, just place the dough on it and stretch it out and make ciabatta. 

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Looks like we are on the same page carefreebaker :)

I am actually quite surprised that the user did not complain of a dry dough.  You would think using that much whole wheat flour would soak up too much water.


Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

You can see my post on my roaster steaming method here:

Good luck!

akat417's picture

Yes, I did only use ww flouyr in this recipe.  I think I am going to get some all-purpose flour as you said.  (Thanks for the tip)

I added a bit of whole wheat flour to the bread when I was shaping it, but it was still very wet and sticky.

I went ahead and let it rise for the final time.  It had spread out very far, almost off the cookie sheet (haha).  

I just put it in the oven.  It probably will be similar to ciabatta.

Thanks a lot for the help though, you all seem very knowledgeable.  

Great looking bread btw songofthebaker

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Thanks Akat417.  You can make bread just as good, just remember to follow recipes bang on.

Also, if you can get bread flour, get it.  It develops better, stronger dough strength than all purpose.  Both have their uses in bread.

When you use flour to dust the work surface or the dough surface, don't use whole wheat.  You will experience the same issue of stickyness.  Use all purpose if you can.

Happy baking,


BurntMyFingers's picture

Lots of people who are not regular bakers seem to have only whole wheat flour in their pantries. Seems healthier, plus if it costs the same as "regular" flour why would you not want it... more for your money!

However, this is actually a pretty specialized flour which is always used in combination with APF or BF unless you want a very heavy loaf. Even "whole wheat bread" is typically as little as 40% WWF.

aka417, I expect your bread is out of the oven now and you've found it's not ciabatta. Irrespective of the gluten content, the sheer weight of the whole wheat is going to keep it from rising much if at all. Start with APF or BF for your Jim Leahey experiments then gingerly try 10-20% WWF. Good luck!

JMonkey's picture

You can make good tasting, lean, 100% whole wheat bread with a good rise and an open crumb, but it's tricky. Enriched doughs with 100% whole wheat flour are much easier.

FWIW, I tried to make Leahy's bread a few times with 100% whole wheat flour, and got nowhere. The bread just never came together very well and was flat -- not quite flat as a pancake, but maybe flat as a very thick pancake. With holes. And definietly not with the fantastic taste you get when it's made with AP flour.

PeterS's picture

Lahey's calls for 3c flour. That could be anywhere from 360-450 g (about 3/4 to 1 lb) of flour depending how tightly packed your measuring cup is. With 12 oz water, that would give a baker's percentage hydration range (water weight/flour weight) of 100-75%--which is a huge variation.

The latter hydration, 75%, will give you a more manageable dough especially if you are not going to bake in a pot. 1-2 folds before the dough goes into the bowl for proofing also helps.

Master the recipe as published (and at 75% hydration and with all bread flour), then try replacing the bread flour with whole wheat in 10 or 15% increments until you get a bread that you like with dough you can manage. As you replace the bread flour, and as the others have noted, you will have to up your water content to maintain the dough's consistency due to the higher water absorption of the whole wheat flour. If I recall correctly, this recipe does well with 15-25% whole wheat. When you get above that you will find the crumb (the inside part of the bread) getting significantly more compact and dense.

As you become more experienced and build your comfort factor, you can also try increasing the hydration.

The best advice I can give you is to get a small scale and start measuring your ingredients by weight and don't change more than one variable between bakes until you get your hands around the recipe. Your results and consistency will improve, and you will avoid a lot of grief & frustration.

carefreebaker's picture

I have not tried this recipe but plan to.


carefreebaker's picture

 He has a bunch of no knead videos worth watching on youtube

akat417's picture

That sounds like a good recipe.  I think I will try it and see how it comes out.  Thanks.

barryvabeach's picture

Skyrose36,  I have been baking with 100% whole wheat for some time now, and get pretty good results , except when it comes to no knead.  I have seen that recipe as no knead ciabatta - it recommended a 24 hour ferment, then shape , then 2 hour final proof, then bake at 425 for 35 minutes.  What is the recommendation for your bread in terms of final proof time, and baking temps.  Are you saying it needs a longer proof as well?

jshep's picture

I've been making the Jim Lahey bread with very mixed results and I'm not able to identify which variables are the issue so I hope to get some help.  I've probably made 7 loaves and only 2 have looked right.  All have tasted good, but 5 have been really flat and pretty heavy & dense - I've hardly gotten any oven spring at all.  Even has seemed as if perhaps when I had to drop it into the cast iron pot, all of the rising was lost.  It looked like it had risen on the towel, but then collapsed upon dumping into the pot and didn't rise again in baking.  Also not gettiing a crack on the top and I know he says there should be one. 

I am using a scale and adding ingrediants based on weight, but the weights don't seem right for my flour... if I use the weights he suggested the dough is really dry and has lots of loose flour even after I mix it.  Should it be like that?  I didn't think so, so I've always added more water to get a dough that at least absorbed all the flour.  But I'm confused about whether I maybe need an even wetter dough to get the oven spring, or perhaps should stick to the book exactly and use the very dry dough? 

I've made the plain recipe (came out the prettiest of any so far), the ww bread, the chocolate-coconut, and the apricot-almond.  I noticed those with 'stuff' added used half the amount of yeast... maybe I should use a 1/2 tsp instead of the 1/4 tsp of the recipe?  It also seemed as if the bubbles in my dough after the overnight rise, were pretty small, not really very bubbly.Thanks for help and suggestions about whether I should try to make it even wetter, or go with a very dry dough to get a nice round, risen shape with a crack.

So appreciative this resource is here!  Thank you!