Tuesday, January 5, 2010

No-Knead Bread: Why Bother?

For some reason, the past few months, everywhere I go on the internet I see some reference to the Bittman/Lahey No-Knead Bread which Mark Bittman originally mentioned in a 2006 article, and this youtube video clip:

As a bread-lover and long-time home baker, the phrase "no-knead bread" gives me a visceral twinge, and not a pleasant one. Now, I don't always knead my doughs by hand: In the past, I've relied heavily on my Zojirushi bread machine, Kitchen Aid mixer and even my food processor to work the dough, but some breads I save for 100%-by-hand manipulation.

Kneading a large mass of dough just feels great.

Not only is there therapy to be had in sometimes-brute pounding, the rhythmic knead-turn-fold-knead-turn-fold technique required in some breads' longer kneading time is downright meditative. Each stage of bread baking brings along with it its own special pleasure, whether it's the physicality of the kneading, the warm, earthy smell of proofing yeast mixture, the sensual attraction of shaping the dough, or that final shudder of anticipation when you pull a fresh, nicely browned loaf out of a blazing hot oven.

So why would anyone forgo some of these pleasures by creating a no-knead bread?

Also (for the bread freaks out there): Can a long, slow rise with a very wet dough really build the same essential structure out of the flour's gluten molecules as we get from the traditional kneading process?

Fans of the No-Knead bread claim that the proof is in the final taste, crumb and crust.

I have to admit, it's intriguing, if only in an "I'll try anything once" way.

Despite the wave of ecstatic reviews (many by acknowledged first-time bakers), I have read a few reviews of this bread which are less than rhapsodic: loaves stuck to the pot, burned bottoms, wet interior, insufficient rise, and a flat taste.

To be fair, there's no way to be sure that these posters followed Jim Lahey's instructions exactly. Plus, as with any bread-baking adventure, we should account for any number of variables: the ambient temperature during the 12-hour rise, the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients, the type and liveliness of the yeast used, and the true temperature of the oven during baking, and over-hasty slicing while she bread is still warm.

I imagine I may have to put this on my to-do list of breads, which is not a short list.

Mmmm... bread.


  1. I like eating bread! I love the No-Knead bread for the texture of the bread and the toothiness of the crust. I know you can get this with kneaded breads, too, but I don't always have the time. The No Knead is so easy. It could also be called No Fail Bread. I taught it to my cooking class and they LOVED it.

  2. Thanks for the feedback!

    You had good luck with the texture, then? I read a lot of complaints that it was too wet, gummy, even; but as I mentioned a lot of these people claimed to be first-time break-bakers and as such, perhaps they weren't really aware of just how precisely the ingredients have to be measured.

    I've found that even in summer when it's humid, I have to make adjustments in the amounts of flour and water in the recipe, because the dough feels different when I mix it, y'know?

    I think that using a heavy covered pan is what helps the crust, because it creates a moist environment. I've been using a pan of water in a hot oven and a spray bottle of water to get a good crust in my breads. It's a bit of work, but a good crust is worth it. lol

  3. J'aime beaucoup faire du pain à la maison.
    Merci pour la recette.
    A bientôt.

  4. Good luck with this recipe!


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