Monday, December 7, 2009

Trouble-Shooting No-Knead Bread Dough

"Hockey Pucks! It made hockey pucks!" a reader wrote, when they made my No-Knead Whole Wheat Egg Buns. I feel terrible that this happened and understand the frustration when trying out a new recipe and it flops big time. There is no doubt the reader is an experienced bread baker as witnessed by the photo they sent - a beautiful loaf of bread and pan of sticky buns as proof. Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong in the kitchen. What may have gone wrong? A few weeks ago I forgot to add yeast to a mix of raisin bread and then added it after everything else was mixed. Nothing happened for hours and hours. I ended up pitching it out - something I have never ever done when it comes to bread. Bread is forgiving. Cakes are usually the nightmare. It likely would have turned out just fine, but the dough was supposed to be a sweet dough and would undoubtedly begin to sour by the time the yeast came around. I should have dissolved the yeast into a bit of liquid and mixed it in with a dough hook. Last week I must have lost count of the cups of flour when making a batch of 100% whole wheat because I noticed the dough looked dryer and was more difficult to stir. So I added a little more water to compensate. I knew what consistency to look for, having made the bread several times now and the bread turned out just fine.To avoid that happening again, I've taken to inscribing numerals into the heap of flour after adding each cup - something completely unnecessary when making bread my old way. I wonder if there may be less wiggle room in making no-knead bread as compared to regular kneaded bread on account of the accurate measuring that occurs and how moist the dough is. I suppose the dough is actually what real bread bakers call "sponge." The first thing that came to mind that may have gone wrong with the reader's bread is the obvious - an ingredient was left out of the recipe. So I went back through my notes but found nothing amiss. (NOT!! - check comments - Leila, another reader found an error and it's all been corrected now.)I've noticed with the no-knead breads that they bake up beautifully when freshly mixed and risen, but the dough's character seems to change if it has been refrigerated. I don't know if the reader refrigerated the dough and then made the bread. No-Knead bread which I have baked from refrigerated dough has been more dense in texture, similar to a sourdough bread and chewier.
The rolls also rise up tallish and spread out less taking on the appearance of biscuits rather than rounded buns even if the dough is allowed to come completely back to room temperature. I no longer refrigerate the dough, but use it all up at one baking. Another thing we've noticed is pizzas take longer to bake with no-knead dough. For the time being we are going back to regular knead dough for pizzas.The second thing that came to mind that may have gone wrong was the yeast. Hockey puck bread suggests that something was retarding the yeast. A cool kitchen will produce sluggish bread that doesn't rise well even when everything is done correctly. One thing I have been doing is letting these doughs rise to more than doubled - more like quadrupled. I have a tallish lidded bucket - just under 8 liters capacity and let the dough rise almost to the top once mixed. This means, mix up the ingredients in the morning and come back to it later in the day, or mix it up late at night and it will be ready to use early in the morning. If the kitchen is exceptionally warm the dough will rise up very fast.Or there may have been a problem with too much salt. The reader said they had halved the recipe so I wondered if perchance the salt didn't get halved. Salt kills yeast. But we still use it because it tastes good.I have remade this bread several times now and it turned out fine each time. So what else could be the problem? The reader mentioned they have never had success baking whole-wheat flour bread. I wondered if perchance they had used all whole wheat flour. I've never had success baking bread using only all whole wheat flour either and have read professionals say that whole wheat bread needs all-purpose flour to rise properly. I could never produce a decent loaf of 100% whole wheat bread. But, no longer. Spurred on to see what would happen with no-knead using just whole wheat flour, I decided to give it a try, reasoning that with less flour in the no-knead recipes the dough just might rise. Guess what? It turned out perfectly. How exciting is that! And too, there may be a difference in the flours used. I recall reading somewhere that flour produced here in Canada is higher in gluten than flour produced in the U.S.A. I don't know where the reader was located, but think it was the U.S. Higher gluten means the bread rises better. I've noticed many bread recipes from the States call for bread flour, whereas recipes here in Canada just say all-purpose. If you are in the U.S. and have had trouble with Canadian recipes, maybe try using bread flour.Finally, I'm located at an altitude of approximately 600 feet. If you are located at a higher altitude - quite a bit higher, there may have to be some changes made. I went online to investigate this and found this site which explains how to make adjustment for altitude in baking.Whatever happened, I hope it doesn't put the baker off from working with No-Knead breads. They clearly knew what they were doing. Since discovering this method, I've not made a single loaf of bread or bun the old-fashioned way.


Adeena said...

If we could eat gluten, I'd so give those a try! :D

But alas, I have to stick to rice flour, or my new favourite, coconut flour!

Mental P Mama said...

I want one of those right now!

Caution Flag said...

Oh, those look glorious. Much better than the oatmeal I'm eating.

Leila said...

Well, when I look back at your recipe, I have to tell you that you don't have yeast in there...and maybe she knew she had to add yeast, but maybe she just followed the recipe as it was...

The only job I ever had was as a proofreader. Don't judge MY writing though -- you can't proof yourself, is the first rule of proofreading :)

And your rolls STILL look yummy!!

(by the way, I know that you sent the apron but it hasn't come yet. I'll let you know as soon as it does! I'm so excited!)

Decadent Housewife said...

HELLO!!! Leila! Thank you! I did miss that in the ingredient list, oh my. You are absolutely right about proofreading. And my grammar is the worst, GG has heart attacks over it all the time.

Add 1 Tbsp. yeast. The writer said they had added yeast and the amount would have worked. But no doubt, I take the blame here.

The apron has taken a week to travel 200 miles. It's still showing as being in Mississauga. (Toronto) Will send you the tracking number.

Mrs. T said...

Finally had a chance to make these. I didn't let them rise quite to quadruple,started them too late in the day and wanted them for dinner, but they turned out very well.

I'm in the states, so I did use bread flour as opposed to all purpose flour. Thanks for the recipe as well as your tips along the way. I had never tried a no-knead dough before. I'm with you, I'll be doing it this way again. Although there are days that I "need" to have something to knead. ;-)


Anonymous said...

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Azar [ZARA] said...

Did I read correctly? Did you say you made these using JUST whole wheat flour and they worked? I am wanting to make some and thought I could had some vital wheat gluten to make up for the lower gluten to help the rising of the bun. Your thought please on the use of just using whole wheat flour (I use hard white wheat, freshly gound).