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A few months ago, though, I came across a Lucky Peach recipe by Ben Wolfe advertised as "miso sourdough bread," a variation on the no-knead recipe in which miso is used to introduce bacteria and yeast (which would traditionally be added by a sourdough starter). I love sourdough, but making a sourdough starter and keeping it fed has always seemed like a lot of commitment. I had shiro (white) miso in the fridge already, so I started a batch immediately.
I noticed a couple of odd things in the recipe, however. While it uses the usual three cups of flour and a quarter teaspoon of yeast, it calls for one and a quarter cups of water instead of one and five-eighths—though it did specify that the dough should be wet and sticky. With the smaller amount of water it was neither, so I added more until it looked right.
The recipe also used a tablespoon of salt—in addition to two tablespoons of miso, which is very salty—instead of the 1.25 teaspoons of salt in Jim Lahey's no-knead bread recipe. (The amount of salt listed on the website is now a teaspoon, so I think the original amount was a typo that's been corrected. At first I assumed it was user error, but the version I downloaded to my Paprika recipe app says a tablespoon.) I tried to be conservative, using a scant two teaspoons of salt and two tablespoons of miso, and still ended up with dough that was way too salty. So I added another cup and a half of flour with proportional amounts of water and yeast until the dough was edible (though still pretty salty).
The finished miso bread didn't taste sour at all, but it did have a distinct umami quality to it that gave it an almost cheesy flavor, like Parmesan or another aged cheese had been baked into the dough. It was actually pretty delicious. I suspected that the reason I hadn't gotten the fermentation I needed was that when it's cool out, my kitchen is much closer to 65 degrees than the recommended 75 degrees. Wolfe uses a seedling heat mat to achieve higher temperatures, but I figured if I added more miso and let it ferment longer I could accomplish the same thing. For my second attempt, I used three tablespoons of miso and about a half teaspoon of salt.
That turned out to be a disaster. Or, depending on your definition of success, it worked perfectly. I produced bread with a great flavor—it just happened to be completely flat. The dough rose normally at first, but after about 24 hours it lost its oomph and started slowly sinking in the bowl. When I turned it out onto the parchment paper before the second rise, it oozed like a thick batter, without any of the soft springiness that the dough normally has. When I transferred it to the pot it spread to the edges of the dish.
But I have found myself adding miso to the dough when I make no-knead bread now. I've tried it with both red miso and white (both Yamabuki brand), with similar results: little to no added fermentation, but great flavor. I think a different type of miso might contribute more fermentation—the Lucky Peach recipe uses South River Hearty Brown Rice Miso, which I may try to track down sometime. In the meantime, I just make Michael Ruhlman's version of Lahey's recipe (I like measuring flour by weight as Ruhlman does, though I use volume for the other measurements), substituting two tablespoons of miso for one of the teaspoons of salt. (The bread made with miso and no salt never seemed like it had enough salt, so I went back to a combination of the two.)
Which means that I've come almost full circle back to the original recipe, with a few modifications (I use less salt, more water, and less time for the first rise). It's definitely not sourdough, but making no-knead bread with miso isn't much harder than making it without, and I've become a big fan of the cheesy, umami quality it adds to the bread.
Miso bread (adapted from Jim Lahey/Lucky Peach/Michael Ruhlman)
* 500 grams or 15 ounces bread flour (3 cups)
* 5 grams or 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 2 tablespoons miso (red or white; other types would probably also work)
* 3 to 4 grams or 1/2 teaspoon active dry or instant yeast
* 430 grams or 13 ounces water (1.5 cups plus 2 tablespoons)
Combine the flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Measure out 1.5 cups of water in a large measuring cup, add the miso paste, and mix with a fork until the miso is dissolved. Pour into the dry ingredients and mix well, then add more water a tablespoon at a time until the dough is sticky and shaggy (I usually use more than two tablespoons). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours.
Put a piece of parchment paper on the counter and coat it with olive oil. Scrape the dough from the bowl onto the parchment (I use my fingers for this, dipping them in the oil first to make sure the dough doesn't stick to them), spread it into a roughly even shape, and pull each of the four corners into the middle, forming a ball. Flip it over so the folds are on the bottom, use the parchment paper to transfer it back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let it rise for about two hours.
Halfway through the rise time, put a large, heavy pot with a lid in the oven and preheat it to 450 degrees. When the dough is ready, remove the pot from the oven and use the parchment paper as a sling to transport the dough into the pot. Cover, bake for 25 minutes, then remove the lid and bake for another 20 to 30 minutes or until the bread is well browned. Remove from parchment paper and place on a cooling rack.
The experts will tell you to cool the bread completely before cutting into it, but I usually can't wait more than an hour. Besides, if you let it cool completely you can't eat a slice of warm, fresh bread with melted butter, which for me is half the point of making bread at all.