The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

No success with no need breads

Gene New's picture
Gene New

No success with no need breads

I am new to bread making and very much at the experimental stage. Thanks to a recipe by Micheal Roux Jnr and the method of slap and fold employed by Richard Bertinet  I have successfully managed to make a decent white loaf after a series of nice enough but still quite right  loaves and a few bricks.  

One fairly basic thing I havent managed to do properly is make a successful No Knead loaf, you know the type of bread that is so simple even a 4 year old can do it.  

So far I have tried two variations and failed both times, but never being one to give up easily I though I would give it another go so today was attempt number three.   This time I thought I would try a part wholemeal version that called for 300g bread flour, 100g wholemeal flour, 300ml water, 1/4 teaspoon yeast and 1.25 tsp salt.

The recipe is simple enough and after mixing it all I was really happy with how it went last night. However I got up this morning to a goo that stuck to everything, wouldn’t hold it’s shape for anything and gave off a smell in my kitchen was more like brewery than a household ready to bake bread.

I know I didn’t leave it too long and it wasn’t anything to do with heat or altitude since where I live we are only 200 feet above sea level plus it is winter and it snowed last night and we didnt have the heating on so my kitchen was like a fridge when I got up.

The next part of the recipe called for folding the dough which looked easy in the videos but I couldn’t handle it at all since my dough was at pouring consistency and the flour I put out for it to sit on had no affect, it was like trying to handle a very liquid tacky glue!

I couldn't do anything with it so I tried my own version of a resurrection.

Since I have had most success with Richard Bertinets method of kneading and that in turn works well with high hydration mixes I though I would try a little slap and fold and see if I could bring the glue together that way.    Initially I seemed to be getting somewhere but the moment I stopped working it would start to fall apart and stick to everything once again. I tried adding a little of flour but that didn’t work either so after a frustrating and totally unsuccessful hour or so it was back to the Internet and look for a solution but that was to little avail.  The picture at the top shows was what it looked like at that point.

However when I did a search about the strong smell in the kitchen a few people suggested the yeast may have eaten all of the nutrients and some suggested you should add more yeast but no one said how much so I added 1/8 teaspoon of instant yeast and worked it a bit more with another couple of pinches of flour and more slap and folds. After a lot more effort on my part it finally it started to come together so it’s currently sitting in a bowl proving, it’s been about 45 minutes and at least it is rising.

Alas I don’t have the experience to know what I should do next – should I treat it like one of Richards mixes and fold it, let it rise again shape and cook in a bread pan or should I continue treating it as a no knead bread despite all my work and simply shape and cook it in a Dutch oven – I really don’t know!

But the way things have gone with this bread I don’t hold out much hope for it producing anything remotely edible so I may just go for broke and cook it in the Dutch oven anyway, if I do I will report back and let you know what happened but so much for no knead!

Rocketcaver's picture

I have always had to add some flour to all of the no-knead recipes I have tried, otherwise I end up in the same boat as you describe.  If you haven't already done so, I suggest you visit and watch his excellent videos.




simon3030's picture

 In my limited experience, that seems a lot of water for the amount of flour - I make it 75%...others may wish to shoot me down for my maths skills...

I use around 520gm flour, with around 320gm/ml of water for a 800 gm finished loaf, so I reckon I work with around 62% - I do have to add maybe a couple of handfuls extra, dependant on the flour, so probably works out around 64-65%. Now I've been making the same recipe for a couple of years, I know what the dough should feel like..

I use a no knead technique - copied from  - which seems to be an adaptation of the Tartine fold in bowl method. It works really well for me - mix in bowl, quick stretch, cover, leave for around 45 mins, stretch all round, turn over, cover, leave for 45 mins, same again, and, if i'm busy, same again, then shape & prove around 60 minutes...seems to be foolproof. The quantities are from my classes at loafonline in Birmingham - and Tom's basic  recipe is at 64%, so bears out my increased quantities.

Check out azeliaskitchen - worth a look, also Dan Lepard is a great exponent of the no knead - 10 seconds every 10 minutes...

Good luck.















Ford's picture

The original recipe had a dough hydration of about 100%.  The flour would not absorb that much water, and the hooch separated.  I modified the recipe to 84% hydration.  I watched a video of the preparation and I believe that since the baker in this scooped out the flour with the measuring cup and shook off the excess flour, he probably had about 80% hydrtion. 

Here is my modifiction of the recipe:

No-Knead Bread

3.5 cups (14.9 oz.) bread flour + more for dusting

1/4 tspn. instant yeast (e. g. Rapid Rise or Bread Machine)

2 tspn table salt

1 1/2 cup (12.5 oz.) warm (~120°F) water

~84% hydration, very slack dough

 In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients – flour yeast, and salt.  Add water and stir until all flour is wet.  The dough will be rough and shaggy.  Cover the bowl and allow dough to ferment for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature ~70°F.

Lightly flour work surface and dump the dough on it.  Sprinkle a little more flour on the top of the dough.  Fold the dough 2 – 4 times.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.

Generously coat the surface of a smooth cotton cloth with flour.  Drape the towel over a colander or a bowl.  Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers or to the work surface, quickly form the dough into a ball, and place the ball on the well-floured towel.  Fold the towel loosely over the dough and allow the dough to rise until doubled, about 2 hours.

About a half hour BEFORE the dough is ready, preheat the oven AND a 6 to 8-quart covered pot to 450°F.  The pot (Dutch oven) can be cast iron, enameled cast iron, or ceramic.

When the dough is ready, remove the pot from the oven.  Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough into the pot.  If the dough is unevenly distributed on the bottom, shake the pot once or twice.  Cover the pot with the lid and replace it in the oven.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove the lid and bake for 15 or 20 minutes more until the loaf is brown and the interior temperature is 195 – 200°F.  Cool the loaf on a wire rack before cutting.


PS:  I prefer to knead my bread -- the texture is better to my taste.

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

No published no-knead bread I know of has a hydration of 100%, but I could be wrong.  I consider mastering this technique to be the essential first-step towards becoming a great baker, as it's a technique that, once mastered, provides the basic building-block of all bread:  fermentation.  From this beginning, a baker can begin to explore rheological concerns (say, by adding folds during bulk), which are secondary to understanding bread, and I think this is Lahey's point.  Bread of the variety we are talking about (leavened, salted, baked) was probably made, for most of its history, with only fermentation in mind, as rheology becomes a bigger concern once specialised milling instruments come into play (smaller particles also means more possible surface-area to form the sort of bonds involved in the principal rheological concerns of today's bakers).

The organisms involved in the leavening of bread have co-evolved with humans and the tall-grasses they render nutritious, preservable and tasty for longer than probably already predicted.  This means a stable group of (of at least four types of) organisms have been engaged in a complex set of co-evolutionary pressures for who-knows how many generations.  Thus, one can conclude that mastering fermentation is of a greater importance than successfully controlling rheology.

Every baking book out there focuses too much on the latter, on what's going on on the outside.  I think Lahey's instinct to teach home-bakers a no-work dough is right also the correct one, despite his books only focusing on the one type of fermentation, alcoholic, not exclusively used during bread's long history for transforming grains or seeds into a bakeable dough.

Lahey published the no-knead recipe shortly after I was considered for his head-baker position (did not get eventually get it, though, as I had lied about my lack of bread experience to get my foot in the door and then, after a great, hours-long interview, fessed up out of guilt!), when he was working on an ancient-Roman-themed dinner for the Beard House.  He theorised (incorrectly, in my opinion) that Romans did not knead their dough. (How else could they have time to conquer as much of the known-world as they did if they kneaded their dough, his logic went.)

He certainly is right to think that "kneading" (or focusing on what's going on on the outside) was not really as important a factor as fermentation in transforming raw, uncrushed wheat berries into bread, but I do think he has placed this too late on the social timeline.

I say all this to encourage more home-bakers to begin with, and then master, no-knead, no-work doughs, especially those in the direct-method.  Sourdough might be a better beginning, too.

Back on topic, Lahey has said the most common mistakes when making no-knead breads is under-fermenting, over-handling, and under-baking.  OP's bread was likely over-handled, at least from the perspective of this particular formula.

I would encourage OP to attempt again, and then post pictures!  Best of luck.

Edit for comment on just noticing OP's second attempt:  well-done!  Now increase hydration, and do it again!

Ford's picture

"No published no-knead bread I know of has a hydration of 100%, but I could be wrong." 

I agree, but the volumetric measurements given would translate to that, considering that a cup of flour weighed 4.25 oz (120 g).  However as the baker, in the video, just scooped up flour with a cup and shook off the excess, I guessed that the cup of flour weighed closer to 5 oz (142 g).  Thus, I guessed that the hydration was closer to 84% than 100%.


Gene New's picture
Gene New

First let me say thank you I didn't realise there were so many bread websites on the net, thats two more to add to my list.

You are quite right the recipe I used has a 75% hydration; it was a UK transcribed version, so given in grams rather than cups at 300g bread flour, 100g wholemeal flour, 300ml water, 1/4 teaspoon yeast and 1.25 tsp salt that was taken from Jim Laheys book 'Bread' and shared on the web.  Since it is only 5% higher hydration than the receipe I use for my kneaded white bread I really wasnt expecting it to be a problem but I just wasn't prepared for something that wouldn't come together in its reciped form whatever I did to it.  

It really was impossible to fold and looked nothing like the dough shown in so many videos of the no knead method incuding the couple I have just watched on the Breadtopia website, in all of those the dough had subtance but the stuff I poured onto my worktop really did not it was nothing more than a sloppy sticky incohesive goo.

That said the addition of a pinch of yeast( approx 1/8th teaspoon) , one or two light sprinkles of all purpose flour and far too much stretching and folding did the trick as far as producing a dough that at least finally came and stayed together- this was how it looked before rising


Still rather wet but at least looking and feeling more like dough.

 It rose beautifully the first time round but I think my next mistake was patting it down, forming it as a round and after a second rise cooking it in my dutch oven since it didn't rise as much the second time round and what came out of the oven was nothing more than a brown cooked version of what went in as this shows

However I was loathe to throw all that hard work into the bin so I let it cool down and to my total surprise it doesn't taste at all bad - this is the crumb

The crust is crisp and crunchy but the surprise was the crumb which is really nice-  what a shock. 

Hats off to Richard Bertinet his slap and fold techinque really does make for a light airy and tasty crumb.  This isnt quite as light as my regular white version but it wasn't heavy either nor is it dense and that was so unexpected because I worked it for hours so it had to be overdone.

Thanks for the recipe above, but having had so much trouble wth a 75% hydration I think I will leave an 84% hyrdation until I get a little more experienced but I will give it a try when I feel I am a little better equiped to handle any hiccups.

I will be in American West (my favourite holiday loaction)  later this year so while I am there I will pick up some American baking cups as they have a different volume to the ones we have in the UK then hopefully I can try some of the American recipes as they were written.

Thanks for all your help - all the best Jean


Rocketcaver's picture

Gene, if you are interested in no-knead sourdough bread I can list out my modification to the Breadtopia formula.  I have the flour and water converted to grams because I prefer to weigh than to rely on cups.  I am very happy with the results I get.  Here is a photo of my last loaf. 

Sorry, I didn't get a crumb shot.

Gene New's picture
Gene New

Looks lovely, I would love to see your recipe mind you if it's a sourdough bread it will no doubt need a starter and I don't have one of them so I wouldn't be able to try your recipe for a while.  

I look forward to seeing the recipe - thanks Jean

Rocketcaver's picture

Gene,  Ok, here is a copy of my recipe as I currently bake it.  This is actually a sheet I made up to give to friends, so the language is very informal and perhaps a little less technical that I might otherwise use here on the forum.   Certainly there are better formulas and better ways of doing things, but this works well, and I get consistantly good results.  Several friends have reported good results too.

<start copied file>

Fantastic No Knead Sourdough Bread  (adapted from

Remember to feed the starter the day before using it!

545 grams white bread flour   
65 grams cup sourdough starter (about 1/4 cup)  ( keep mine at 100% hydration)
1 1/2 tsp. salt
337 grams  water about 95 – 100 degrees  (no warmer than 105)
1 cast iron Dutch Oven (with lid) henceforth referred to as a “pot”       
    * Mix together the dry ingredients.  (flour and salt)
    * Mix starter into warm water until thoroughly dissolved.
    * In large bowl (not aluminum) mix water/starter into dry ingredients until the liquid is fully incorporated.
    * Cover with plastic and let sit 18 hours at room temperature.  I put bowl and all into a 1 gallon ziplock bag.
    * After about 18 hours carefully open the plastic and smell that wonderful smell.
    * Place the dough onto a smooth lightly floured surface and lightly sprinkle with flour.
    * Stretch the dough sideways and fold back onto itself.
    * Stretch it the other direction and fold back onto itself.
    * Do not knead the dough, this stretch and fold is all that is required!
    * Cover with large bowl and let rest for 15 minutes.
    * With floured hands gently pick up the dough and quickly but gently form it into a ball.  (might be sticky)     
    * Gently place the dough into a well floured proofing basket.   (any medium size bowl will work instead)
    * Cover with a clean towel and let rise about 1 hour at room temp away from drafts.  (might not rise much, that's ok)
    * After the hour is up turn the oven on to 500 degrees with the pot and lid inside.
    * Remember that the lid should not be on the pot as it is pre-heating.
    * If the lid is accidentally left on the pot during the preheat don't worry.  It just heats better if it's open.
    * In general, the pot needs about one half hour to fully preheat.
    * NOTE:  In warm weather the dough might be ready before one hour is up, but don't stress about it.
    * Now here is the tricky part.
    * Rip off a piece of parchment paper about as long as it is wide.   
    * Remove the towel from the dough, take a good whiff, then cover the dough with the parchment paper.
    * Center the parchment paper over the dough as well as possible then cover with a plate.
    * Pick up the proofing basket and plate and carefully but quickly flip it over.
    * Lift the proofing basket up, and hopefully the dough will remain on the plate/parchment paper.
    * Admire the cool pattern left on the dough by the proofing basket.  (plain bowl won't leave a cool pattern)
    * Sprinkle the dough lightly with flour one last time.
    * With a very sharp serrated knife cut a pattern into the dough, this helps prevent the crust from cracking. Sort of.
    * Open the oven door and slide the rack with the pot out most of the way, be careful it’s HOT.
    * Very carefully lift the dough by the corners of the parchment paper and lower into the pot.
    * With oven mitts or tongs place the HOT lid onto the pot and slide the rack back into the oven
    * It’s ok if some of the parchment paper sticks out from under the lid, but it’s better if it doesn’t.
    * Bake at 500 degrees for 30 minutes.
    * Remove the lid from the pot and reduce heat to 450 degrees and bake an additional 15 minutes.
    * After the last 15 minutes slide the oven rack back out again.  They make a wooden tool for this by the way.
    * Grab the corners of the parchment paper and carefully lift the bread out of the pot.    
    * Place the loaf onto a wire cooling rack and let cool for AT LEAST one hour before slicing.
   * Enjoy!

I always check the temperature of the bread before removing it from the oven.  If it’s not at least 210 degrees in the middle let it bake a little longer.  Use a good quality instant-read thermometer.  Digital or dial is ok, I use a dial type.  A candy thermometer will NOT work for this.
Remember that the bread continues to cook inside for about an hour after it’s removed from the oven.  If you slice it early it will be gummy and unpleasant in the middle.
The parchment paper can be very brittle after it’s baked at high temperature, so be careful lifting it out of the hot pot.  It might be best to place your wire rack on a cookie sheet on the open oven door so you can drop the loaf onto it before the paper rips.  Remove the paper from under the bread for proper cooling.
The bottom crust might get a little burnt.  If this is objectionable try lowering the oven temp by 25 degrees.   Using 2 layers of parchment paper instead of one helps a little but is harder to deal with.

A few more thoughts on No Knead Sourdough Bread my way...

The original instructions call for "purified" water.  The thought here is that the chlorine in tap water might interfere with the yeast and bacteria in the starter somehow, inhibiting it's action.  Truthfully, I usually use tap water.  It works fine for me.  I always warm my water before use to about 100 degrees.  The starter is more active when it's warm, so I like to help it along this way.  Don't obsess about it though, the dough is going to sit at room temp for 18 hours, it will catch up.  If you do heat the water, don't get it above 110 degrees; hot water will kill the starter, though opinions differ on how hot is too hot.  Stick with 95 to 100 and it will be fine.  The starter is still cold from the refrigerator, this will help it resist the hot water anyway.

I usually use "Bread" flour because it has a little more gluten and supposedly should rise better.  In truth I have used all purpose flour, both bleached and unbleached, and I don't really notice much difference.  DO NOT use "self rising" flour.  Ever.  For anything.  It's nasty.

Measuring ingredients
A lot of folks recommend weighing your flour instead of using a measuring cup.  I used to scoff at this, but now I recommend it too.  Flour compacts very easily, so if you aren't careful you can easily get as much as 1/3 more flour than you think you are getting, just by the way you scoop it out of the container.   If you go shopping for a set of digital scales look first at the bowl you will be measuring the flour in.  Make sure the bowl won't hide the readout on the scales.  Some scales set the display farther away from the weighing area to help with this.  Cheaper scales have the display so close to the weighing pad that a wide bowl completely hides it.  Shop carefully before you buy.   
Don't be afraid to use the measuring cup though.  It works fine if you are careful.

The instructions say 18 hours, but it doesn't have to be exact.  I make my dough late in the evening, cover it and let it sit until early the next evening, so sometimes it sets for almost 24 hours.  This is fine in winter, but in summer this might be a little too long.  If it is really warm in your house you might put the dough in the refrigerator over night then take it out first thing in the morning and let sit the rest of the day at room temp until baking time.  This should be fine.  It will ferment and rise a bit in the refrigerator, just more slowly.
For the final rise in the proofing basket (or plain bowl with no cool pattern), don't expect it to rise much.  This is more of a rest than a rise.  The dough will rise in the oven more than you think, this is called "oven spring" because it seems to "spring" up suddenly.

Parchment paper
This can be found in most grocery stores and of course Walmart.  It's pretty cheap.
No, you CANNOT use wax paper instead, don't even try it.  I mean it.

Oven mitts
I recently bought a new product called an "Ove Glove".  It's made with Kevlar and Nomex, and is particularly good for very high temperature work.  With the Ove Glove I can handle my 500 degree cast iron pot without fear of getting burned.  My regular oven mitts have allowed me to be burned many times.  I'll never use them again as long as I have an Ove Glove.

Dutch oven
If you don't have a cast iron dutch oven you can put the dough on a cookie sheet and turn a metal bowl upside down over it.  The aim is to trap the steam from the dough inside to produce a nice crispy crust on the finished loaf.  If you don't want a nice crispy crust you can just bake the loaf on a cookie sheet and forget about the dutch oven or bowl...  but you will be missing out on something really good.

Managing your sourdough starter  (adapted from
Keep your sourdough starter in a nice glass or plastic container in the refrigerator at all times.  I use a glass canning jar. If you have a choice get a wide mouthed one, it's easier to deal with and to clean.  Whatever container you use it's important NOT to seal the lid tight.  The starter is a live and working yeast and bacteria colony.  As it works it produces carbon dioxide gas which needs to escape somehow.  If the container is sealed it might eventually explode.  Prevent this by just closing the lid to "barely snug", not "tight".  If unsure, open the lid every day or so until you get the feel of it.
As far as feeding goes, at a minimum, all you have to do is add some flour and water once in a while to keep it alive during periods when you’re baking infrequently. To keep you sourdough starter near optimum health, feed it once a week or so and keep it refrigerated.  If you’re baking regularly, say weekly or bi-weekly, it’s easy enough just to feed it after using the amount called for in your recipe before returning it to your refrigerator.  If you really want to be sure your starter is in optimum shape, feed it once or twice the day before baking or the two days prior to baking day. In addition, here are a few points that are worth noting…
When you feed your starter, feed it with approximately equal weights of flour and water. That equates to about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of water for every cup of flour.
As a general rule of thumb, the amount you feed your sourdough starter depends on how much of it you have to start with. When practical, you want to approximately double the amount of starter you have each time you feed it. However, if you already have a couple cups of starter on hand and typically only use a cup of starter in your recipe, it doesn’t make sense to have to double the existing two cups of starter. In this case just dispose of a cup or more of the starter and then double what remains.
If it’s been a long time since you’ve fed your starter and you don’t plan on baking for a while, don’t feel like you have to go through a lot of fuss to keep it happy, just stir in 1/2 cup of flour and just a little less water and forget about it. That will at least buy you a few more weeks before you have to worry about it again.

<end copied file>

Rocketcaver's picture

If you compare the yeasted and sourdough recipes on Breadtopia you will see that they are very similar.  I would be tempted to use my adjusted recipe and just use 1/4 teaspoon of yeast instead of the starter and see how it turns out.

Gene New's picture
Gene New


was sure I had already done this but cant find my reply so I will redo - sorry for not replying sooner. 

Many thanks for your recipe looks really interesting when I get some time I will give it a try probably wont be for a couple of weeks though because I have just heard my son is coming up to visit this weekend and we havent seen him for a while so  we need to play catch up and I wont get any time to play in the kitchen but hopefully I will have time to do it the weekend after.

I am waiting for a copy of Bertinets "Dough' which could be here this weekend so that will make interesting reading too, looks like I am going to have a busy time of it.

I have just produced another nice sandwich bread so thats three in a row so I finally seem to be getting somewhere

Its shiney because I had just given it a butter wash to soften the crust as hubby prefers it that way for his daily sandwiches.

Next time I must try to score it a little deeper as this rose beautifully in the oven but a quick tiny score doesnt seem to give it enough room to open out. I used the same recipe as before (Michael Roux Jnr Great british revival) but I was really pleased how to progressed this time as I used the French fold and it soon got to babys bottom stage and my window pane was lovely, paper thin and not a tear in sight.

Thanks for all your help and advice


all the best Jean



Rocketcaver's picture

That looks great!

I haven't made a sandwich bread in years, that makes me want to give it another go.



Gene New's picture
Gene New

Why Thank you much appreciated, its great finally managing to get it right.

It was a great recipe  given by Micheal Roux Jnr on a video clip I found on here when I was looking for a white sandwich loaf. Here are the ingredients

so its about 75% hydration if you include everything and I used Bertinets french fold technique to knead the dough which was quick, easy and produced a fabulous dough; according to my other half it is my best tasting loaf yet.

I am so pleased with the resuts I am thinking of trying a part wholmeal version next