Today I’m going to show you how to create silky smooth and fully developed dough without the need to knead. This post is mostly pictorial, but I’ll include additional written instructions for further clarification of this method. Just click on any picture to see it as a full size image.
And please note: this is not meant as a recipe. This is meant as a method. Therefore, you won’t find ingredient amounts (apart from what you can see on the scale) or fermentation times to follow. This post is meant for those with some experience who’d simply like to experiment with another way. Enjoy!
Step 1: Mix Your Pre-Dough
I call this a “pre-dough” because it includes everything in the final dough except for the starter. So we’ve got all the flour, all the water, and all the salt. The addition of salt means that this technically isn’t an autolyse. But since it’s going to sit overnight for 8 or more hours, it basically has the same effect.
This is why we don’t knead — time will do all the work for us. Time will allow the flour to hydrate completely. And time will fully develop our dough for us. All we need to do is measure out our ingredients and mix ’em up.
So . . .
I’ve weighed out my ingredients and mixed them into a rough shaggy lump. This was a basic white French Country style recipe with a small amount of whole wheat, whole spelt and whole rye. Just to make sure everything incorporated evenly, I first mixed the whole grains with the water and salt. Then I added my white flour and finished mixing.
Note: Only mix until everything is evenly incorporated. Don’t over mix!
While over mixing certainly wouldn’t be the end of the world, it defeats the purpose of our no knead method here. See how I just mixed it until everything came together? The dough is still a lumpy shaggy mess, but the ingredients are evenly disbursed so there’s no need to develop it any further.
Now just let time do its thing.
It’s important that our dough remain cool so we don’t get too much in the way of spontaneous fermentation or enzymatic activity. Too much of either might degrade the dough or produce off flavors. The salt really helps here, but I also use cold water and refrigerate my dough for a few hours to get it nice and chilly. Then, right before bed, I remove it from the fridge and set it on the counter top until I’m ready to add the starter in the morning. The dough will slowly come to room temp overnight and should be nice and supple for you the next day.
Time: This entire step took under 10 minutes.
Step 2: Add Starter to Make the Final Dough
Before we begin here, take a moment to notice how much your dough has changed overnight. It may not look all that pretty — still kinda lumpy, perhaps — but get your hands in there and give it a squeeze. See how smooth that feels? Silky. Creamy. A far cry from the sticky shaggy mess you had last night, right?
Compare theses two pictures . . .
The first is our pre-dough at the end of mixing. The second, the same dough after sitting out all night. Though the dough in the second picture may only look marginally better than it did the night before, take a looksie at what happens when you give it a tug . . .
Look how wonderfully developed and extensible this dough is! I could’ve gotten quite a windowpane had I both hands to use. Keep in mind that this dough has remained completely untouched from the time we finished mixing the night before right up until the moment I stuck my hand in there and snapped these photos. Pretty sweet, eh?
Now let’s add our starter . . .
As you can see, I just slather on my starter, spread it out over the surface, dimple it into the dough, then fold it all up into a nice little ball. Once the starter is all folded in, I then work the dough a bit to make sure the starter is evenly incorporated. If it’s a very wet dough, usually just a bit of hand mixing will suffice. If it’s a stiffer dough, then I tend to roll the dough into itself in the bowl for a few minutes — this gradually spreads the starter thin and works it into the dough.
Note: Be gentle! Because your dough is already fully developed, even hand mixing can begin to shred the gluten matrix.
If your dough is feeling tight or beginning to tear, just back away for a few minutes then come back and start again. Take as many rest/mix cycles as you need to get the starter fully mixed into the dough. Liquid starters are easier to mix in, but even stiffer starters are fairly easy to add.
The only times I’ve ever had difficulty adding the starter are if I’m using a very small inoculation amount, or trying to add stiff starter to stiff dough. If you anticipate having difficulty getting the starter thoroughly mixed into the dough, you can always hold back a bit of the water from the pre-mix and use it to soften up and dissolve the starter before adding it.
Once your final dough is all mixed, plop it into a clean bowl and begin your bulk fermentation.
Time: 10 minutes, if that
Step 3: Bulk Ferment/Fold Dough
No need to go too in depth here. Just do your thing. With that said, here’s some photos of me doing my thing . . .
I think I gave this dough 4 or 5 folds. These pictures were from the first fold when the dough was still young. Strong folds early; gentle or no folds late — that’s my rule.
But keep in mind, folds aren’t entirely necessary with this method. Because the gluten was developed overnight, folds are optional. I include them to help develop the dough structure, but only if I have nothing better to do. So don’t stress about folding your dough — once you’ve finished mixing, feel free to set it and forget it.
Step 4: Shape, Proof and Bake
Pretty straightforward here. Shape however you prefer (but be sure to follow Proper Benchwork Protocol). Proof as needed, then bake away!
And Finally . . . Enjoy!
Trevor J. Wilson