Friday, April 10, 2009

No Need to Knead

Perhaps no other smell is as inviting as the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven. But as with so many "from scratch" baked goods, so few of us go through with the effort. Who can blame us? It's so hard! You have to proof your yeast, mix your dough, knead, let it rise, punch it down, knead some more, etc. And all too often, the results are lackluster: too soft, too dry, too yeasty tasting. For a few dollars (and much less effort), you can get a better tasting bread from your favorite bakery. That was, however, until the introduction of "No Knead Bread."

No Knead Bread came into popularity in November 2006, when Mark Bittman, New York Times food columnist and best-selling author of How to Cook Everything, published a column featuring a novel means of bread making. Yes, you guessed it, a way to bake bread without any kneading whatsoever. Incredibly, a small amount of yeast plus flour, water, salt, and time does all the work. Oh, that and a Dutch Oven. Yes, you actually make the bread in a Dutch Oven. Amazingly, Mr. Bittman promised that the end result was superb, describing it as "incredible...fine-bakery quality...European-style." After making the bread just one time, I was sold. With a modicum of effort, I had produced a beautiful, delicious artisanal bread that was better than any bakery loaf.

While the loaf was certainly easy to make, I wouldn't describe the recipe as perfect: the dough was way too sticky to handle, there were a couple of steps in the process that didn't make much sense to me, and transferring the sticky dough to a piping hot Dutch Oven was quite treacherous.

I soon became obsessed, scouring websites and blogs for pointers from other No Knead Bread aficionados. I was thrilled when one of my favorite cooking magazines, Cook's Illustrated, published its take on No Knead Bread. Unfortunately, in typical Cook's Illustrated style, Christopher Kimball and his test kitchen crew managed to complicate the beautiful simplicity that is No Knead Bread by adding in lager to add flavor depth (not necessary!) and adding in a knead. No thanks Mr. Kimball. Cook's Illustrated did, however, come up with an ingenious way to get the blob of dough into the fiery cauldron.

So if you've never made No Knead Bread, or if you've made it in the past and had trouble with certain steps, this is the recipe that you need. I promise that you will enjoy a delicious artisanal style bread with very little effort.

3 cups unbleached bread flour [scooped then leveled] (such as King Arthur)
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (such as Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise)
1 tablespoon Kosher salt (or 1 ½ teaspoons table salt)
1 ½ cups water at room temperature Cornmeal, wheat bran, or extra flour as needed.


  1. In a large glass or ceramic bowl, combine flour, yeast and salt. Add water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky.

  2. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at room temperature. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.

  3. Lay a piece of parchment paper, about 18 inches long, over a 10-inch nonstick skillet.

  4. Lightly flour a work surface (I use a Silpat) and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold each edge over into the middle (like an envelope).

  5. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball and place, seam side down, into parchment-lined skillet.

  6. Lightly flour top of dough and cover with plastic wrap 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.

  7. At least 30 minutes before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put Dutch Oven(with knob covered tightly in about 2 layers of heavy duty foil) in oven as it heats.

  8. When dough is ready, score the top with a knife (6 inches long by ½ inch deep), and dust the top with a little flour, corn meal, or wheat bran.

  9. Carefully remove pot from oven. Using the parchment as a sling transfer the dough, parchment and all, into Dutch Oven. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned.

  10. Cool on a rack.

Makes one 1 1/2 pound loaf

Cin cin!