Easy No-Knead Bread
No-Knead Bread Explained
The advent of bread machines in the 1980s and their ability to pop out a dense micro loaf spawned hundreds of bread machine mixes and more than a few cookbooks. Now, you can find them listed on eBay for a fraction of their original cost, and your local grocery has at least a half a dozen bread machine specific mixes.
I'm not a fan of bread machines. They take up too much precious counter space for far too little reward. Bu I am a fan of fresh, warm-from-the-oven homemade bread. I grew up making homemade yeast breads fairly often, and learned to love making bread regularly. Now, I'm surrounded by artisan bakeries, and while I do support them, it's a bit pricey to buy their bread on a regular basis. Working full time and living in a small apartment, making four (or more!) loaves of bread at a time using traditional kneading techniques is at best difficult, and in practical terms, not practical. I don't have the space to knead that much dough, or to let the bread rise, or really, an oven large enough to cook it.
Fortunately, there's an easy and delicious solution: No-knead breads!
Thanks to the quality of modern flour and yeast, and the reliability of modern overs, it's much easier to make bread by hand "from scratch" than you might think. No-knead breads aren't exactly new, nor are they a modern invention. They were in fact fairly common in the late Middle ages and early Renaissance in Western Europe. The basic idea behind no knead bread is "mix, now, bake later." You don't have to worry quite so much about the bread rising, because you let it rise slowly, over several hours (or even overnight and then some). The long, slow, rising period "makes" the bread, and removes the necessity of kneading. Given modern yeast, quality flour, and reliable ovens, it's less a matter of giving the yeast time to perform its magic, than one of choice and the bread baker's art.
Mark Bitman's 2006 article about no-knead bread making in The New York Times generated a fair amount of excitement, and is largely responsible for the subsequent interest in no-knead bread making. Jim Leahy provided a simple recipe and clear instructions, and Mark Bitman's excitement and enthusiasm was almost palpable (remember these names; they both have published more super recipes). Within a matter of weeks, all manner of bakers, both professional and dedicated home-bakers, began to experiment with Leahy's basic recipe and method. Their goal was to reduce the original 14 to 20 hours rising time in Leahy's recipe, and, they wanted to produce a no-knead bread that used more whole grains instead of white flour. Now, there are lots of no-knead bread recipes, many of which are flexible enough to let you add your own particular flourish.
Fresh No-Knead Bread
That initial New York Times article on no-knead bread by Mark Bitman is here. Bitman's subsequent article on a faster no-knead bread is worth checking out too. The Jim Leahy no knead bread recipe is here. This recipe is much better for someone new to bread-baking since it offers extensive illustrated step-by-step instructions for making no-knead bread. There are lots and lots of variations on the basic no-knead bread recipe. In fact, there's an entire collection of articles, recipes, tutorials and commentaries, all based on Mr. Leahy's recipe.
This site offers a whole wheat variant of no knead bread. This recipe for seeded no knead multigrain bread is fabulous; try a slice toasted or use it for sandwiches. If you like the idea of having no- knead bread a regular part of your meals, this illustrated step-by-step no-knead bread recipe uses SAF rapid rise yeast and King Arthur Flour and suggests that you "keep the dough in the refrigerator" so you can bake daily hot-from-the-oven bread.
What's the Fuss about Kneading/Not Kneading and Gluten?
Gluten (derived from Latin, where gluten means "glue" ) is combination of proteins occurring naturally in found in food made from wheat and other grains, including barley and rye. Gluten is responsible for the stretchy of bread dough. Gluten helps bread to rise, to keep its shape (and return to it after being punched down) and is at least partly responsible for the slightly chewy texture of freshly baked bread.
Kneading dough accelerates the natural process by which gluten forms protein chains, which means faster rising, and stronger, denser and slightly more chewy dought (and bread).
Adding gluten in powder form to bread dough recipes can add not only elasticity to otherwise heavy doughs (think whole wheat and whole grain), but added gluten can shorten the time needed for dough to rise.
Hub N-Knead Bread Stellar Recipes
Some of the best no-knead recipes I've tried have been those from Hub members.
Check out Words-by-William's Billy's Fast Raising No-Knead Bread Recipe. This version is interesting because by increasing the amount of yeast, Billy has decreased the time needed for rising. Also: Notice the reference to baking the bread using a pizza stone. It does make a difference.
PinotsHub has a nifty take on the original Jim Leahy recipe; baking no-knead bread in an 8 quart stainless steel pot.
And don't miss Hubber Dolores Monet's Whole Wheat No-Knead bread. Pay particular attention to her note about using bread flour, and adding a little gluten.
No-Knead Bread Cookbooks and Supplies
Jim Lahey, Mr. No-Knead Bread, has his own fabulous no-knead bread cookbooks, with recipes, tips, step-by-step instructions, and lots of different kinds of no-knead bread including homemade pizza, ciabatta, foccacia and rye.
Nancy Baggett's Kneadlessly Simple no-knead bread cookbook is perfect for someone new to bread making in general, as well as to no-knead breads. Super instructions, and 73 easy to follow recipes for all sorts of breads, including cinnamon raisin, buttermilk, and breakfast granola bread.
This Danish Dough Whisk makes it much much easier to make bread by hand, without a mixer. There are some very good reasons to avoid using a mixer, and this simple tool does a super job.
SAF Instant Yeast is the yeast used by many artisan bakers and restaurant bakeries. It's effective, reliable and easy to use.
King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour really does make better bread.
Think about using a cast iron Dutch Oven to bake your No-Knead bread.
This is the first baking dish I used for no-knead bread; you'll get a better crust with cast iron, but this Corning Ware casserole with lid is a time saver, and the bread is lovely.