No need to panic, it's No Knead Bread!
Look at that amazing loaf of bread in the photo. Doesn’t it look yummy? It’s crusty and just crying out to be slathered in butter and devoured!
Where I live a loaf of rustic bread like that can cost between $5 and $7 but I’ll tell you a little secret….I made that bread and it was incredibly easy. But I hear you cry, “Isn’t bread hard to make? All that mixing and kneading and proofing, doesn’t it take too long?” For standard bread recipes that is still true but thanks to Jim Lahey and his No Knead Bread recipe bread baking has got a whole lot simpler.
Back in 2006 Mark Bittman published Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread recipe in his New York Times column after Jim had sent him an email that claimed he had “…a truly minimalist breadmaking technique that allows people to make excellent bread at home with very little effort. The method is surprisingly simple — I think a 4-year-old could master it — and the results are fantastic.” Mark Bittman was intrigued and went to find out more. He discovered that Jim Lahey’s no knead bread recipe was as good as promised: no kneading and it produced a wonderfully crusty loaf of bread.
There are two main reasons that this recipe works so well:
Mixing the ingredients and letting them sit for a long period of time breaks down the gluten molecules in the same way that kneading does.
Bakeries use steam-injected ovens to develop a good crust, not an option for the average home baker. Baking this wet dough in a pre-heated lidded pot means there is enough steam generated to develop the hard crust we expect from a good rustic loaf of bread.
When I stumbled on this recipe I also found it revolutionary. I had attempted bread from time to time with varying degrees of success, but with this recipe I now bake a fresh loaf at least once a week – which is amazing from a bread-addict like me!
Now enough with the chit chat, let’s get down to business of baking some terrific bread.
What you need
15 oz / 450 g bread flour *
1 ½ teaspoon / 8 g salt
½ teaspoon / 2 g active yeast
1 ½ - 2 cups of lukewarm water
A bread pan or Dutch oven
* This can be all strong bread flour or a mix. I find a mix of 200 g whole wheat flour and 250 g strong bread flour makes a great bread, especially for toast.
When baking it really is best to weigh out your ingredients – baking is much more a science than an art. However, if you don’t have a scale and can’t wait to try this recipe, then it’s about 4 cups of bread flour: 1 1/3 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 2/3 cups bread flour.
What to do
Weigh the flour into a bowl.
Add the salt and yeast.
TIP: Make sure to add the salt and yeast to opposite sides of the bowl.
Mix the dry ingredients together.
Add the water to the dry ingredients and mix to form a shaggy, wet dough (see photo below).
TIP: add the water gradually as you may not need the whole amount.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for about 12 – 18 hours in a warm place (that's about 70° F).
The dough will be ready when it’s risen, and the surface is bubbly (see photo below).
Gently remove the dough from the bowl onto a well-floured surface
TIP: If the dough is sticky trying wetting your hands or spraying them with a touch of oil
Then shape the dough (see photos below):
If you are baking in a Dutch oven then check out this video of Jim Lahey shaping the dough in 3 quick folds and a roll: . Fast forward to the 1:27 mark if you want to save some time.
If you are using a bread pan, I usually shape the dough into a log shape.
Leave the dough to rise for about 2 hours:
If you are baking in a Dutch oven, place the shaped dough on a cotton towel covered in either flour or wheat bran and then cover with another cotton towel.
If you are baking in a bread pan, place the shaped dough in an oiled bread pan and cover with oiled plastic wrap.
TIP: reuse the plastic wrap you used to cover the dough for the first rise
About 30 minutes before the dough is ready preheat the oven:
If you are baking in a Dutch oven, preheat the oven to 500°F and place the Dutch Oven in the oven to preheat.
If you are baking in a bread pan, preheat the oven to 450°F.
After about 2 hours, check that the bread is ready:
TIP: press the bread with your finger:
If the indent bounces back quickly then the bread needs more rising time.
If the indent fills in slowly then the bread is proofed just right and is ready to bake.
If the indent remains, then the dough may be over-proofed. You can try reshaping it and reproofing it.
Bake the bread:
If you are baking in a Dutch oven:
Carefully place the dough in the preheated pot and bake for 30 minutes covered at 500°F.
Then bake for 10-15 minutes uncovered.
If you are baking in a bread pan:
Before placing the dough in the oven, remove the plastic wrap and make one quick slash in the dough.
Bake for 30 minutes in the pan at 450 °F.
Then turn out of the pan and back for another 15 minutes.
Place bread on a cooling rack and cool for about 30 minutes before eating. This may be the most difficult step, waiting 30 minutes before eating it as the smell will be amazing!
How much time?
The actual “hands on” time is pretty short but you do need to plan ahead to make sure the bread has time to ferment and rise. The day before you will need to mix the bread dough and then about 4 hours before you want to eat it you’ll need to shape it.
To make it a little easier for you here’s a sample timeline to bake the bread for a 7 pm dinner:
Night before: prepare the bread dough
3.15 - 3.45 pm: shape the dough and leave for it’s second rise
5.15 pm: heat the oven
5.45 pm: put bread in oven to bake
6.30 pm: remove from oven to cool for about 30 minutes
7.00 pm: wow your friends and family with crusty, homemade bread!
As I mentioned above, an artisan loaf of bread can cost me between $5 and $7. Here’s the breakdown of how much the No Knead Bread costs:
Flour: I can buy good quality King Arthur flour between about $3.50 and $5.00 a bag which comes to between $0.69 - $0.99
Salt: less than $0.01
Total cost between about $0.73 and $1.03
Is it worth it?
I gave No Knead Bread a "4 Pig" rating because it is very cost effective. For about $1 you can make great homemade bread that is as good than the $5-$7 bread from the bakery.
However, the recipe lost a "Pig" as it does take some time and planning as you need to make sure that you have the time to shape, proof and bake it on the second day.
Anything else I should know?
If you want to find out more about no-knead bread or check out more no-knead recipes then I recommend Jim Lahey’s books:
There are also a few other no-knead bread recipes out there and The Spruce does a nice job of comparing them.
Lastly, have fun with this recipe and don’t get hung up on making the “perfect” loaf. Each time you bake you’ll discover something new. Perhaps you prefer the bread with a wetter dough or a different mix of flour? And you will also be creating wonderful bread from simple ingredients at a much lower cost.
Even the “disasters” may not be so bad. One loaf I made was still doughy in the middle so was not great bread but made excellent toast. You could also try making breadcrumbs or peach cobbler. And if it doesn’t look so good that’s not a problem, just call it “artisanal”!
Have you tried this recipe? If so, how did it go? Any tips or tricks that you would like to share?