The Evolution of No-Knead Bread

crusty bread



I have a little secret. I am in love with no-knead bread. Ever since I made my first loaf over a year ago, I have been a fan and I’ve followed along as the recipe has been refined and re-done and tweaked and added to.

Just recently, I was reminded why I should bake it even more often. I had a basket full of bread and rolls around over Thanksgiving, including a loaf of no-knead bread I had made. Several days after Thanksgiving I was cleaning up leftovers and noticed that, of all the bread in my bread basket, only the no-knead bread had started to mold. The other store-bought bread and rolls were as fresh as could be. Made me wonder what exactly they put in that bread to pull that off and it reminded me that there’s a lot to be said for knowing what’s in my bread! And when my bread is yummy and easy as well, it’s really worth the bit of effort.

So, I thought I’d devote a post to the origins and evolution of this wonderful method of bread baking, for the uninitiated. In my next post, I’ll round-up some of the recipe variations that are out there.

P.S. You do need an oven-safe Dutch oven with a lid for this. The perfect no-knead bread comes from the humidity created from adding the dough to a hot pan and covering it for most of the baking process. That said though, you don’t need to spend $150 for a Le Creuset one. There are a lot of inexpensive ones available.

Original No-Knead Bread

This is it. The original No-Knead Bread recipe as published by Mark Bittman in the New York Times. I’ve put weights in as well, as this is the most reliable way to measure ingredients for bread.

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour (430 grams), more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (1 gram)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt (8 grams)
1 5/8 cup water (345 grams)
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

Method

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 4, 6 or 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic – see warning below regarding Le Creuset Dutch Ovens) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1 1/2-pound loaf. Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1 1/2 hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

No-Knead Bread Revisited (changes are bolded)

A couple of months after it’s original publication, Mark Bittman published a follow-up article, detailing some of the tweaks he’s made to the recipe, including upping the amount of salt, specifying tepid water and suggesting an extending second rise.

Ingredients

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour (430 grams), more for dusting
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast (1 gram)
2-3 teaspoons salt (8 grams)
1 5/8 cup tepid water (345 grams)
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

Method

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2-3 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 4, 6 or 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic – see warning below regarding Le Creuset Dutch Ovens) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1 1/2-pound loaf.

Almost No-Knead Bread

While the original no-knead bread was wildly popular, some complained that the bread itself lacked flavour. The cooks at Cooks Illustrated took on the challenge of finding more flavour in a no-knead bread and came up with what they called the “Almost No-Knead Bread“. Their recipe adds a bit of beer, vinegar and kneading to the dough. Credit Cook’s Illustrated with introducing the “Parchment Sling” to the process, as well, which makes the whole process a little neater. The jury is split on whether this bread is “better” than the original. It depends on personal taste, I think. It’s definitely worth a try though to find out.

Ingredients

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 ounces), plus additional for dusting work surface
1/4 tsp. instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 tsp. table salt
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons water (7 ounces), at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager (such as Budweiser) (3 ounces)
1 Tbsp. white vinegar

Method

Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using a rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until a shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.

Lay a 12 x 8-inch sheet of parchment paper inside a 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into a ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to the parchment-lined skillet and spray the surface of the dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.

About 30 minutes before baking, adjust your oven rack to the lowest position. Place a 4, 6 or 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid – see warning below regarding Le Creuset Dutch Ovens) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, 1/2-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven.

Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

Makes 1 large round loaf. Published January 1, 2008. From Cook’s Illustrated.

Speedy No-Knead Bread

Two years after the original No-Knead Bread Recipe, Mark Bittman is back addressing one of the biggest problems with No-Knead Bread – how long it takes. By upping the amount of yeast, this variation brings the process down to about 5 hours!

Ingredients

3 cups bread flour
1 packet (1/4 ounce / 2 1/4 tsp.) instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups tepid water
Oil as needed

Method

Combine flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
Lightly oil a work surface and place dough on it; fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest 30 minutes more.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 4, 6 or 8 quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic – see warning below regarding Le Creuset Dutch Ovens) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under dough and put it into pot, seam side up. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.
Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: 1 big loaf.

Fast No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread

Finally, also from Mark Bittman, a fast whole wheat version of the no-knead bread.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup whole rye flour
1/2 cup coarse cornmeal
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups tepid water
Oil as needed

Method

Combine flours, cornmeal, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Add 1 1/2 cups water and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest about 4 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.
Oil a standard loaf pan (8 or 9 inches by 4 inches; nonstick works well). Lightly oil your hands and shape dough into a rough rectangle. Put it in pan, pressing it out to the edges. Brush top with a little more oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 1 hour more.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake bread about 45 minutes, or until loaf reaches an internal temperature of 210 degrees. Remove bread from pan and cool on a rack.

Yield: 1 loaf.

Note about Le Creuset Dutch Ovens: The knob on the Le Creuset is only oven rated to about 375 – 400° F. I’d hate to see anything happen to your lovely pot making No-Knead bread. At the very least, remove the knob and fill the hole with aluminum foil. Alternately, pick up a cheap enamelled, cast-iron Dutch oven to use just for this bread.

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5 Comments

  1. I loathe weird measurements…1 and 5/8 th cups water? Works fine with 3 c flour and 1 1/2 cups water, 1 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp yeast (or sub 1/2 cup wet sourdough starter for 1/2 cup water). Mix. Dough should be shaggy and just moist (if it looks too dry with flour on the bottom of the bowl, add a tbsp water). Cover and leave it alone for 18-24h. I find that the long rise gives more taste. I use the parchment sling but instead of greasing it, I use 9 grain cereal sprinkled all over the parchment and the dough to stop sticking. Bonus is that it adds crunch and lots of flavour.

  2. oh and hot water

  3. Jim Lahey had more to say about the Speedy method:
    http://youtu.be/4LaODcYSRXU

    same recipe as original no-knead but with 1/4 tsp of red wine vinegar, and only 3-4 hours of rising time

  4. Hi, I wanted to let you know I put a link to this entry on my blog … http://bigboldbeautifulfood.blogspot.com/2009/05/no-knead-bread-can-save-your-life.html. You have a nice blog. Do you post on tastespotting and foodgawker?

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