Jim Lahey’s No Knead Sourdough bread deserves all the praise it has received since he introduced it at least ten years ago. Here’s a link to an Epicurious article with his ingredient list and method: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/no-knead-bread-56389453
My ingredients are pretty much the same but I use just a bit more water and replace 1 cup of the unbleached flour with one of whole wheat. Or, use 3 cups AP flour for white bread.
2 cups unbleached all purpose (AP) flour (find and use organic if you can)
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. instant baking yeast
biga (More about the biga at the end)
1½ cups water
Mix the flours, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Add the water and stir until thoroughly mixed. Add the biga in small pieces to the dough. Mix again to incorporate it into the dough. Set a dinner plate on top and leave on the counter for the first rise, from 8 to 12 hours. The longer rising period gives a more pronounced sourdough flavor.
This is where I changed the method and made it so much easier to handle using parchment paper:
Prepare a smaller bowl for the second rise that is roughly the same size and shape as the covered vessel you plan to use to bake the bread. Here is a photo of the bowl, pan, and lid I use.
Note on pans: Any metal bowl or stainless steel, aluminum, or cast iron pan will work. Do not use non-stick vessels. Here’s why – https://www.ewg.org/research/pfcs-global-contaminants/teflon-and-other-non-stick-pans-kill-birds Better safe than sorry.
No lid? I have used pie plates to cover the loaf and it worked.
Put a sheet of parchment paper in the bowl and push it in so that it lines the bowl. Oil it or spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Don’t worry when the parchment paper springs up and assumes its former flat shape. When you place the dough into the bowl it will slip back into place. Just be sure to center it in the bowl so that there is an equal amount of paper extending a bit over the top of the bowl.
Put about a quarter cup of unbleached flour on the counter and scoop the dough out onto it. Use a dough scraper and your hands to fold the dough, shaping it as you fold it over several times. Use the dough scraper or a large spatula if you don’t have a scraper, to help you lift the dough into the bowl. Cover it with your dinner plate and let rise another hour.
Place the baking pan and lid in the oven and preheat your oven to 425 degrees F forty to forty-five minutes into the second rise.
One hour into the second rise and when the oven has reached 425 degrees, remove the hot pan and lid from the oven using hot pads or oven mitts. Use the paper that extends above the bowl to lift the loaf into the baking pan. Place the lid on the pan and put it into the hot oven. The cover keeps moisture in and helps the bread to continue to rise in the first few minutes of baking. Bake for 35 minutes.
Remove the lid from the pan and bake another 30 to 35 minutes – until the top is nice and deep golden brown. Remove from the oven, carefully using the paper to lift it out of the pan and let cool on a cooling rack. I usually remove the paper 5 minutes after I take it out of the oven.
I first read about bigas in The Italian Baker by Carol Field. A biga is simply a sourdough starter that is thicker than American style starters. I have found that the longer I keep a biga going, (I have been known to forget to pinch off a piece before baking, in which case I simply do it the next time I bake and start the process again) each loaf gains a more pronounced sourdough flavor.
To make and maintain a biga: Save a piece of dough from each loaf, pinching off about a 1/4 cup chunk right before I form the loaf after the second rise. It stores well in a short wide mouth jar 1 cup glass jar with a lid. Just to make sure to avoid stray yeasts or mold, wash the jar and lid well and rinse both by pouring boiling water over them. Let them cool and air dry before placing the dough in the jar and before putting the dough in it always sprinkle about 2 teaspoons of AP flour on the bottom to give it starch to feed on while it sits dormant between loaves. If you go longer than 2 weeks between making loaves, simply take the dough out of the jar, place it in a small bowl, add about 1 Tablespoon of water and knead in about that much or a little more AP flour. Put it back in the jar (with flour on the bottom) and it will keep well for another 2 weeks.