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I have made both the classic and the speedy version of the no-knead bread recipe provided by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. The one change I make is that I use active dry yeast rather than instant, simply because I don't typically have the latter at hand. I measure out the amount of water the recipe calls for, take out a quarter cup or so, heat it for a few seconds in the microwave so that it is warm (but not hot), dissolve the yeast in the warmed water, then add the dissolved yeast and the rest of the water to the flour to make the dough.

In the video that accompanies the speedy bread recipe, Jim Lahey suggests using hot water and adding a couple drops of red wine vinegar. The last couple of times I tried the recipe, I tried those suggestions. I separated out the water for dissolving the yeast and heated the rest beyond merely warming as needed for the yeast. I warmed the water for the yeast as usual. I added the hot water and a couple drops vinegar to the flour and gave it a couple of stirs first before adding the yeast water, as I thought the yeast would die if it came in contact with the hot water.

Both times, the bread was disastrous. The dough simply failed to rise sufficiently. Instead of more than doubling in size in four hours, it looked as though it had gotten to perhaps 1.5 times the original size, and it was quite smooth, like kneaded dough, instead of bubbly and stringy as the no-knead dough is supposed to be.

The first time, I thought I had made a mistake and added too little yeast, so I didn't think too much about it. The second time, though, I know I measured out the right amount of yeast and I was pretty careful in following the procedure. So I'm trying to account for the lack of rising. A little research suggested that perhaps the vinegar didn't help the yeast to rise, as it ordinarily would, but overwhelmed and killed the yeast.

I used a stainless steel bowl for mixing dough and letting it rise. I know that using stainless steel is generally fine, but perhaps it's a bad idea to add vinegar to the dough if I'm using stainless steel? Would this account for the lack of rise in the dough?

What other reasons might there be for the failure of the dough to rise? I tested my yeast with sugar dissolved in water and it's fine. Thanks!

  • A few drops of vinegar should be safe to do. I suspect the water was to hot and may have killed some of the yeast. It is better to measure ingredients by weight and water temperature (body temperature is safe). Give yeast a head start before contact with the salt. – Optionparty Dec 25 '16 at 3:33
  • @Optionparty I was pretty careful to make sure that the water in which I dissolved the yeast was not too hot, and that this water was added to the dough only after the rest of the water (which was hot) had been stirred in a bit with the dry ingredients so it was no longer too hot. – verbose Dec 25 '16 at 5:39
  • What kind if flour did you use and did you check the temperature in your kitchen? Usually it's a good idea to judge rising by volume, not by time. – Stephie Dec 25 '16 at 10:42
  • King 👑 Arthur bread 🍞 flour. I didn't specifically check the temperature 🤒 but it hasn't been exceptionally cold or anything. I'm fortunate to live in a part of the world where temperatures are mild year round. Also, the dough didn't look like it was partway through its rise. I've never seen the dough be smooth rather than bubbly before. – verbose Dec 25 '16 at 20:05
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First and foremost, the classic recipes states quite clearly, "Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles." Expecting microorganisms to do their work in precisely the same amount of time, every time, requires a good bit of precision on your part.

Why the slow rise? Almost definitely a yeast problem. The question is, which kind of yeast problem? Acid can kill yeast, heat can kill yeast, salt can kill yeast, sitting in a package forever can kill them, and there are other, less likely scenarios too.

Are you using jarred active dry yeast or individual packets? You mention testing it, but what technique did you use, a little water and sugar, watch for bubbles? You can (and probably should) do this at the beginning of the recipe, so that your yeast is kickstarted into alertness.

Stainless steel is not the problem. It's non-reactive.

Vinegar is likely to slow the growth, so you probably just need to give it more time. The best way to judge readiness is by the dough, not by the clock.

Another factor is that a few degrees difference can make a difference in the rate of yeast growth and CO2 production: "With glucose as growth-limiting substrate in the chemostat and aerobic conditions in the respirometer, the carbon dioxide output was found to be higher as temperature at which the organisms were cultured increased from 25 to 39" --Journal of Microbiosology

Hope these help, but I think there's not just one answer here.

  • Thanks @JK. I tested jarred active dry yeast using sugar and water. I also made bread today using the classic recipe and it turned out fine. The batches I asked about definitely had dead yeast. It wasn't that the bread hadn't risen enough—more time would have solved that. The bread had risen a bit and then stopped. I know what rising bread looks like with those recipes: it's bubbly and stringy. The smooth, flat appearance of the dough after several hours indicated to me that the rising had failed. I don't know what killed the yeast but your suggestions are as good as any I'll get. – verbose Dec 30 '16 at 8:04

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