No Knead Bread

January 11, 2009 at 9:07 am (Starches, unrated, Website / blog)


In 2006, Mark Bittman wrote a short New York Times article about Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread recipe. The recipe immediately insinuated itself into the food blogosphere. Over the following two years it propagated virally, infecting what seemed to be every last foodie blogger–every blogger, that is, except for me. It’s not that I wasn’t exposed. Although I don’t read many blogs, I do read the New York Times food section regularly. I was certainly not immune. I’m a lazy cook, and a lover of bread, so I should have been an early casualty. I managed to evade the recipe using one simple tactic: I avoided acquiring a 6- to 8-quart heavy, covered pot. Recently, however, I bought a 6-quart enameled cast-iron dutch oven, and immediately thereafter I caught the no-knead bug.  Luckily, however, it was only a 24-hour bug.

I’m not sure whether the yeast I bought in Germany was instant yeast, but I hoped for the best. I left the dough sitting in front of the radiator, where it was probably slightly warmer than 70 degrees.

After the dough had risen for about 20 hours, I floured my work surface, and tried to pick up the dough and fold it over itself, but the dough was extremely sticky and stuck to everything. The same thing happened when I tried to shape the dough into a ball. I guess I should have used more flour? I coated a cotton towel with cornmeal, and I used a lot because I was afraid the dough would stick. I think I used too much, however, because the bread turned out with an unpleasantly thick layer of cornmeal over the top.

I let the dough rise in the cotton towels for 2 hours, but even though my kitchen was over 70 degrees, the dough hadn’t doubled in size.

I preheated my oven and left my dutch oven (but not the lid) inside for the specified amount of time, but my oven is finicky and the temperature may not have remained at 450 degrees the whole time.

The bread turned out really small and flat; it was kind of shaped like ciabatta, but the crust was tough rather than crisp, and the inside was very moist. It wasn’t doughy exactly–just kind of grey and more gluey than it should have been. Derek said it had a really weird, off flavor, but my sister Hanaleah said she liked it. I didn’t think the bread was good exactly, but unlike Derek I thought it was edible with something on it.

There are a number of steps that I could have gotten wrong, and I’d be tempted to try again, except for the fact that the recipe really made a mess. First I had to clean a dough-covered metal bowl. Then I had to clean the flour and dough from my cutting board, as well as my hands. Then I had a cornmeal covered towel to clean, as well as a large (and heavy) cast iron dutch oven to rinse out. I thought this no-knead recipe would also be no-clean and a no-brainer, but clearly I was mistaken. I may do some reading on other people’s experiences (and failures) with this recipe, and try it again, but I’ll be annoyed if I make so much mess a second time, without the stellar results that everyone else is getting.

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4 Comments

  1. Jane & Lane said,

    Okay, so I’ve never heard of the no-knead recipe until now, but I say go with the real deal. I can make two loaves of whole wheat bread or one loaf of hoska (a sort of eastern european take on challah) in two hours time – that is start to beautiful fresh piece of hot bread with butter on my plate finish. For both, kneading doesn’t really exceed more than 10 minutes and is even shorter if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook. Anyway, listen to me going on like I’m some baking pro. I’m totally not. I’m just into bread. Happy new year!

  2. Charmaine said,

    I haven’t bought bread since I found this recipe a few months ago. I went with the “quick no knead bread” after reading the story on the original recipe. I don’t even bother with the dutch oven. I just put the dough in an iron frying pan with a large pan of water under it in the oven. Comes out great.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/08/dining/081mrex.html?ref=dining

  3. G said,

    Keep trying with the no-knead bread, I am a huge fan, but with very little baking experience. My experience, and what I have read, is that you actually want the dough to rise in a fairly cool environment – not next to your radiator. If it rises too long or in too warm an environment, the yeast will run out of steam. 12-18 hours is about right, 20 might be a little too long. The point is to have a long, slow rise that allows the flavours to develop. It can also end up with a beery taste if it is left for too long.
    In terms of the difficulty of working with it, it happens. It is a very wet dough, that is why you work with it as little as possible. Folding it will make a mess though. It is inevitable. A way to avoid some mess though is to skip the whole laying it on a dishtowel step. Try putting it on oiled parchment paper and cover it in plastic wrap. Oil the top of the bread too to keep the plastic wrap from sticking. If you want to keep its shape more, put the parchment paper in a frying pan, then put the dough in it. When it’s time for the bread to go in to the oven, pick up the parchment paper and drop it in. Makes cleaning the dutch oven easier and it’s a lot easier to get the dough in.
    For preheating, try preheating to 500, then turning it down to 450 once the bread is in. This compensates for the heat that is lost when you have the oven open. The high temperature at the beginning gives the bread a snap rise before the crust forms. If it isn’t hot enough, a crust will form before the bread can get that last bit of rising in.
    Good luck, and keep trying.

  4. captious said,

    Thanks everyone who posted a comment. I *will* try this again and report back.

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