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dvmrtn

No Knead Bread

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I love fresh baked bread, but although I cook frequently, I had always been afraid to try my hand at baking, after some disastrous early experiments. Yeast breads in particular are scary, because of all the extra variables such as yeast type/quality, temperature and rising times, not to mention the art of kneading flour.

A few months ago I saw this article in the New York Times, and was tempted to try it because of its simplicity. I was particularly attracted to the recipe because it was simple (just flour, yeast, salt and water), and because there was no kneading involved.

I have since made this bread dozens of times, and every single attempt (including the first) has resulted in delicious bread. The work involved in minimal. Details are on the link here, but in short:

1. Take 3 cups of flour and mix in 1/4 teaspoon of dry instant yeast and 1 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

2. Add 1 5/8 cups of water, and stir everything together with a large spoon (mixture may be lumpy and sticky, that is ok)

3. Cover with plastic cling wrap, leave it at room temperature for 18 hours.

4. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and fold it over a couple times. Cover it with a cotton towel and leave it alone for another 2 hours.

5. Preheat the oven to 450 F, put the dough in a heavy oven-safe pot *with a lid*, cover the pot with the lid, and bake covered for 30 minutes.

6. Remove the lid and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes until the top is browned. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

The actual "kitchen-time" involved is about 5-10 minutes. The rest is just baking/rising time.

This is the basic procedure, but I've made a few simplifications and modifications based on my own experiments.

1. Always use bread flour, not all-purpose flour or self-raising flour. Although the recipe says you can use all-purpose flour, and many versions of this recipe found on the net mix the wheat flour with oats/barley/rye, etc., I would not recommend it, at least not until you are very familiar with mixing different kinds of flour. Bread flour (not bread machine mix, just plain bread flour so marked on the package) is made of "hard" wheat with a high gluten content, and makes the best bread (unless you are allergic to gluten).

2. I try to minimize the cleanup chores, so I don't use the "lightly floured surface". I use one large pyrex bowl for mixing and rising. After mixing the ingredients, I cover the them with plastic cling wrap (the plastic must stick to the surface of the dough, not be stretched across the top of the bowl) and leave it for 18 hours. Then I peel off the plastic wrap, pick up the dough and turn it over a couple of times, while gently pressing the surface. If you follow the recipe exactly, you will find that the dough is really too wet and sticky even after dusting with flour. So I don't bother to dust it at all, or even take it out of the bowl. I just try to unstick it from the sides of the bowl, turn it over a couple of times, cover it back up and then leave it for another couple of hours. If you prefer a more moist crust, don't cover it with a paper towel for the second rise, cover it again with plastic cling wrap - the same type you used for the earlier 18 hour rise.

3. At the end of the second rise, I pour the dough into the oven-safe pot. Removing the bread from this pot after it has baked is difficult, and cleaning the pot is a chore. I have tried various remedies to prevent the bread from sticking to the pot, including coating the inside with cooking spray, lightly flouring it, etc. None of them worked. The *only* thing that works is parchment paper. Line the inside of the pot with parchment paper before pouring the dough into it, then cover with the lid and put it in the oven. When it's done, the parchment paper will slide right out of the pot, and the paper can easily be peeled off the bread without any sticking. Remember to remove the bread from the pot and peel off the parchment paper before putting the bread on a rack to cool, otherwise the crust will be soggy. If you can't bother with a rack, just put the bread on some flat surface and prop one edge up with something so that most of the bread's surface is exposed to the air and water can evaporate.

4. Don't worry too much about shaping the loaf. This is rough or "peasant" bread, not a perfectly shaped loaf. If the surface is uneven when you put the dough in the pot, just shake the pot slightly to even it out. It'll even out as it cooks in the oven.

The bread is delicious, and the smell of baking bread is quite wonderful. There are many ways to enjoy it, but one of my favorites (provided that you like garlic and you are not expecting company) is to simply eat it with roasted garlic and olive oil, with perhaps a bit of cheese added.

Take 1-2 large heads of garlic. Don't take them apart into cloves, leave them whole, but roll each lightly in your hands to remove the outer papery covering. Take a sharp knife and slice off about half an inch from one end of the head of garlic, so each clove is partially exposed. Drench the open ends with extra virgin olive oil, wrap each head in aluminum foil, and place them in a 350 F oven for about an hour.

After they have cooked, remove the garlic from the oven and squeeze the heads over a plate to squeeze out the garlic and discard the husk. Pour some extra virgin olive oil on top, and mash it up with a fork. If you prefer, you can also add some freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese (not romano). Dip the bread into this mixture and enjoy. The quality of the olive oil makes a big difference. If you already have a favorite brand, stick with it. Otherwise, don't pick the cheapest extra virgin olive oil. It might be a second or third press, which isn't as good.

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2. I try to minimize the cleanup chores, so I don't use the "lightly floured surface". I use one large pyrex bowl for mixing and rising...

3. At the end of the second rise, I pour the dough into the oven-safe pot.

Removing the bread from this pot after it has baked is difficult, and cleaning the pot is a chore. I have tried various remedies to prevent the bread from sticking to the pot, including coating the inside with cooking spray, lightly flouring it, etc. None of them worked. The *only* thing that works is parchment paper...

To minimize cleanup time for hands, kitchenware and various surfaces, I rise breads in a different way. I do it in a large bag that lines the bowl, so the bowl stays clean. For no-kneads, after the first rise, scrape down the sides of the bag, add flour, shake and turn the bag inside out to do the second rise in another bag that replaces the first in the clean bowl. Throw away the first bag. The second bag, however, is lined with parchment paper that protrudes so that you lift the whole thing, dough and parchment, from the second bag-in-bowl into the pot. Throw the second bag away as well when you're done with it. I just bake with a foil tent over the bread-in-parchment-nest in a large, deep Corningware dish since I would rather not acquire any tool that has a very limited use but results in a clutter. When done, I just lift the parchment out and peel as per the rest of your #3. It gives a better brown with the Corningware-foil tent in my opinion, especially if one likes to bake anywhere (not your own familiar stove at home).

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The current Cooks Illustrated has a no-knead piece. I'd bet that they worked out a solid recipe and a practical approach.

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The current Cooks Illustrated has a no-knead piece. I'd bet that they worked out a solid recipe and a practical approach.

My practical approach, is to buy it from someone that has made themselves into a great baker. :)

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We've made that several times, and it has always been better than the bread bought at our local bakery, Macrina, which is one of the best bakery in Seattle. The main issue is that even though it requires very little actual prep and cook time, you have to plan the work in advance a good deal. Also, Macrina has more variety of breads (sourdough, olive, etc, etc).

Cook's Illustrated built on top of the recipe and improved on it (apparently - I haven't yet tried the CI variation).

Note that Cook's Illustrated has a video podcast on the no-knead bread. It was the 1/03/2008 episode.

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The current Cooks Illustrated has a no-knead piece. I'd bet that they worked out a solid recipe and a practical approach.

My practical approach, is to buy it from someone that has made themselves into a great baker. :)

Unfortunately, Ray, few US markets support bread bakers of the highest quality right now.

Bouley in NY gave it a go after the original La Brea and a few other West Coast concerns started making truly excellent breads, but between the Atkins/low-carb thing and the prices he had to charge, he ended up shutting down the retail operation in 8/01. (A lot of the original artisan bakeries that brought truly great breads to the attention of the US market shut down around the same time.)

We also had the far more successful, original Ecce Panis make a solid run, a popular concern that came about because the family that owned important restaurants like Sign of the Dove (this is the place that put Nouvelle in the American map, BTW), Contrapuento and Arizona 206 couldn't find great bread in the North East. They shut down a while before Bouley's place was turned into a cafe. (These days, Ecce Panis, like La Brea, is little more than a above average wholesale label. I think they "just" sell frozen doughs and equipment to good supermarkets under a name with good recognition. I don't think the Spano family is directly involved with the label anymore.)

The breads Bouley now makes, while better than most on offer around here, are nowhere near as good as what he used to make, and not as good as the stuff the average home cook can turn out with a little reading. While a lot of this drop in quality is the whole wheat flour(s) he feels he now has to use, people that work there have told me that he never brought back the expertise, discipline, or the prioritization needed to turn out truly exceptional bread products.

So, if you want truly great bread, Ray, you're more or less stuck making it yourself or spending serious $$$s flying it in.

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To minimize cleanup time for hands, kitchenware and various surfaces, I rise breads in a different way. I do it in a large bag that lines the bowl, so the bowl stays clean. For no-kneads, after the first rise, scrape down the sides of the bag, add flour, shake and turn the bag inside out to do the second rise in another bag that replaces the first in the clean bowl. Throw away the first bag. The second bag, however, is lined with parchment paper that protrudes so that you lift the whole thing, dough and parchment, from the second bag-in-bowl into the pot. Throw the second bag away as well when you're done with it. I just bake with a foil tent over the bread-in-parchment-nest in a large, deep Corningware dish since I would rather not acquire any tool that has a very limited use but results in a clutter. When done, I just lift the parchment out and peel as per the rest of your #3. It gives a better brown with the Corningware-foil tent in my opinion, especially if one likes to bake anywhere (not your own familiar stove at home).

The plastic bag idea sounds neat, I'll give it a try.

Is there any advantage to dusting with flour after the first rise? I usually skip this step. I understand that some people dust the surface of the dough just before putting it in the oven for a slightly dryer crust (I don't), but dusting prior to the second rise wouldn't have this effect. So why do it? The recipe actually calls for handling the dough with your hands, so I could see dusting your hands or work surface to prevent the dough from sticking, but you're doing everything in a plastic bag so what's the purpose?

I have tried the foil tent and it indeed produces good bread. A heavy lid keeps steam in better and produces a more chewy crust, while the foil tent produces a more crusty texture. I guess it's a matter of preference, I like both methods.

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My practical approach, is to buy it from someone that has made themselves into a great baker. :)

Well, if you are lucky enough to have a great bakery nearby that's a good solution.

Unfortunately, the ones here are kind of mediocre. Also, they do their baking very early in the morning, so the options are either to buy it in the evening after work, when it's not so fresh, or get up *very* early. Neither is very convenient, but I do occasionally buy bread from them on the weekends.

This no-knead bread is as good as anything sold by all except the very best bakeries. And the extra advantage of baking at home is the baking-bread smell, which I find very appetizing!

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I had a client once that owned a bakery and had been in the baking business almost his whole adult life, he is now almost 70. His bakery makes all sorts of different types of breads 24 hours a day that they sell to the casinos, it is a huge business. They have staff making bread in three different shifts, so the bread is always fresh and varied. The benefit that local Las Vegans receive is the increase in good bread because of this type of demand. At high-end hotels a guest can order almost anything and receive it in a short amount of time. When there are left-overs (even if just a few hours old) one can buy these breads from local distributors and in my clients business he has his own local stores around the city.

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Is there any advantage to dusting with flour after the first rise?

Scraping down and transferring to a second bag lined with parchment releases previously encapsulated gases. Starch in the new flour stimulates further fermentation as much as possible before the dough proofs. At high temperatures the first rise is nearly exhaustive unless you have access to a working fridge, even for no-kneads.

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