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Dec 27, 2006 05:23 PM

Do you like no-knead bread better than kneaded bread?

I know there have been countless posts on Chowhound about Bittman's no-knead bread and the raving about the crust. It seems like every food blogger imginable has tried it and posted their thoughts. However, I've only seen a few that say the bread looks great, smells great, but doesn't taste great. Are people afraid to admit they don't like the recipe that stormed the nation? Are they afraid to tell the emperor that he really isn't wearing clothes?

I've been putting off trying the recipe because 1) I don't have a dutch oven yet and 2) I haven't found a good time to set it up where I can bake it after 18 hours.

However, I did make a regular batch of baguettes that only took 1 1/2 hours for rising and 1/2 hour to bake. It took me 6 minutes to knead, 10 minutes to rest (the bread, not me), a minute to shape. I threw ice cubes in a cast iron pot to create steam when I put the bread in and the crust was very nice.

So, aside from the method of no-knead bread (honestly, I kind of like the kneading and feel of the dough) and the "spectacular" crust, is it really so much better than "old-fashioned" bread baking?

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  1. 18-24 the time line doesn't seem to matter much. It's fun to do and different. Better I don't know, but when I made it for Christmas Eve my 85 year old mother couldn't get enough of it. She may have eaten the same amount of regular baked bread but I will never know because I didn't have any. She has been baking for 75 of those years and some of her breads are certainaly as good as the NKB. I think that it's great that people a baking their own bread. When it's hot and the butter is cold there is nothing better. But better than what? The crust is like nothing I have ever been able to make so I think untill the next great method comes along I'll stick with the NKB

    1. I never make crusty bread and there's something wonderful about hot crusty bread with cold butter as ibew said. So, I couldn't compare it to kneaded crusty bread from the oven but I do like the no knead one because it's so easily do-able. But, it does make me wonder if I do make a kneaded crusty bread, how much better it could be...

      1. I've made no-knead twice after hand-kneading for years and I enjoyed the different crust and crumb. It was also novel to tell people how I made it.
        Most of the taste in bread comes from salt (unless you add tastifiers) and it's been acknowledged that the original Lahey recipe was under-salted. I have also made tasteless traditional bread and realized that I'd forgotten the salt. Try eating a spoonful of white flour some time (ick).

        No-knead gives me another trick in my bread arsenal.

        1. I've been surprised at comments about the bread being short on flavor, for that certainly has not been my experience. Maybe people have an expectation that bread will be more than bread. Do increase the salt if you like. But also be aware that the flavor and "nose" of bread depend on both the action of enzymes and the development of acids in the dough, not on the kneading. It is the long rise that makes the difference.

          Flavor also depends on the formation of Maillard bodies in the crust, which is again helped by the long fermentation and by baking in a closed atmosphere. This Lahey bread is an Italian-style bread with an open crumb and a rather thin, but crisp crust. French bakers sometimes fault Italian-style bread as being short on flavor, because there are fewer Maillard bodies than in the more robust crusts of French-style breads. The first time I baked the Lahey loaf, however, I got a crust that should have pleased any Frenchman. A lot depends on how hot the oven is how moist the dough, and how long you leave it in.

          You will, of course, get flavor variations depending on the flour you use. But we could start a whole new thread on that topic.

          The sourdough version of this develops complexity of flavor that the yeasted version doesn't have because of the lactic and acetic acids in it. To make a sourdough version, use a quarter of a cup of soft, vigorous (recently refreshed) starter (same hydration as the dough) in place of the yeast.

          Still, if a person enjoys kneading, knead away and give it a long, slow rise and bake it in a closed container.

          A good compromise would be to take Jeff Hamelman's basic leavened bread recipe in his book and bake it in a closed container. It begins with an autolyse (20 minutes to an hour) of flour and water, after which the salt is mixed in, then the broken up leaven. A short kneading period follows. Then it is allowed to ferment at 76 for 2 1/2 hours, folding twice at 50 minutes intervals. Then dough is then cut, loaves shaped and allowed to rise for another 2 to 2 1/2 hours. I made it with 15 oz of Pillsbury patent flour, 2.5 oz. of rye flour, 1/3 cup firm starter, 2 teaspoons of sea salt and about 12 ounces of water (I started with 10.5 ounces and adjusted after the autolyse). When I baked it in a 10 1/2 unglazed terra cotta bulb pot, with an unglazed saucer for a lid, I got spectacular results.

          Conclusion: some of the best aspects of the Lahey recipe can be used with other breads as well. As El Puerco noted, it gives us another trick in our bread arsenal.

          One final thought: There are no great mysteries here. Try it. Very little labor is involved and a few dimes' worth of flour and yeast. You may never bake it again. Or it may become your favorite loaf.

          3 Replies
          1. re: Father Kitchen

            You're so familiar with all aspects of bread making and I learn so much from your posts. This question made me curious, though, and I had to compare two side by side loaves(since I've never made crusty bread before). I tried the no knead recipe and the Cook's Illustrated recipe for rustic country bread. Thanks to all those who helped me on a different thread with the CI recipe. The CI bread is much more complicated than others I've seen. You make a sponge overnight, very similar to the no knead recipe. But, the next day you add bread ingredients (same flour, water, salt but this one add honey), stir, knead. This process would have been simple if I had a stand mixer but I did it by hand. The dough is really sticky, not quite as sticky as the no knead, but still difficult to knead and it stuck to everything. You let it rest, similar to the no knead, and bake in an oven (I used a pizza stone) at 450 degrees w/ a cast iron skillet below, filled w/ 2 cups of hot water. It was three times the size of the no knead bread but both were great. Everyone commented that they looked like they were out of a great bakery. I'll try to post pictures later. I don't know if it's a gender thing but the women loved the CI recipe--dense, hearty while the men liked the no knead (a gender thing that women ooh and aah over foods where guys just eat and say, "Good"?) because it was light and airier. The CI crust was chewy while the no knead is slightly crispy. Overall, it was almost a 24 hour process. My house smelled great yesterday! I'll stick with the no knead for weekdays when we're busy and the CI for weekends when I have more time. Personally, I thought the CI was far better.

            1. re: chowser

              I wrote a reply and then lost it. Let's try it again. Thanks for the comparison of recipes. I wondered how a bread baked with a biga or poolish would compare.

              You can knead those very slack doughs without a stand mixer. One easy way is to run it for 45 seconds in a food processor with the steel blade. (You may need to do it in batches.) But it is possible to knead it by stretching and folding as if it were taffy. I believe Nancy Silverton describes the method in her La Brea Bakery book. Marcella Hazan describes a related method in her recipe for Mantovano or Mantuan bread in her book on the essentials of classic Italian cooking.

              1. re: Father Kitchen

                Thanks--I will try my food processor next time. I did end up kneading it like taffy just because every time I kneaded, it would get stuck, I'd have to pull it up and try to unstick it before I could knead again--kind of like a taffy pull.

          2. Well, I made the no-knead bread today. I started it last night (along with croissant dough and cinnamon rolls) and baked it this morning after we ate cinnamon rolls (the CI yeasted version, actually). I had to bake it in a SS covered pan because I just haven't had time to find a decent dutch oven.

            I concur that the crust is very good and the crumb is more open than other breads I've made. However, the fact that it still needs another 2 hours for the second rising seems like it's not making things easier on me. I have plenty of recipes that only need a couple of hours for the rise before baking. If I make the preferment overnight, isn't this similar?

            One note, my bread stuck to the bottom. I'm thinking this may be because of the type of pan I used, since no one else seems to have had this problem.

            I'm confused as to why this would be a "trick" to add to your arsenal? Your guests won't see the dough before it's baked, so is it just a matter of telling them you didn't knead it at all? I'll stick to my loaves that I can shape, but keep this in mind if I ever get gifted a proper dutch oven.

            3 Replies
            1. re: leanneabe

              I don't know what El Puerco meant by tricks. I understood it to mean simply one more useful skill, one more technique. In any case, they are only as good as the results. This isn't a performance. And, yes, it is similar to bread with an overnight preferment. So there is no one right way to bake bread. Still, for people who are afraid of kneading or who do not have space or the active time, it is a good approach. I have a handicapped friend on a limited income in a tiny apartment with his counter space taken up by a convection toaster oven and microwave. He can still bake bread now and save himself some money.

              If your bread stuck to the bottom of the pan, sprinkle some corn meal into the pan before plopping in the bread.

              Finally, you don't need a proper dutch oven. I baked a wonderful loaf yesterday in a flower pot (10 1/2 unglazed terra cotta bulb pan with saucer). The pot was pre-baked after getting a Crisco coating to make it somewhat non-stick. Put it in a cold oven and heat to 250, then 350, then 450 for 20 minutes each, and then let it cool. (Don't wash with soapy water, just rinse). I put a round a foil in the bottom to cover the hole. I preheated it to 450 from a cold oven, plopped in the dough, and covered the pot with the saucer. 20 minutes later I removed the saucer and finished baking it. I think I got better results this way than even in a dutch oven. And it was lot cheaper!

              1. re: Father Kitchen

                I started giving my no-knead breads their final rise nestled in parchment paper which is itself set into a casserole. I got this trick from a CI Podcast.

                Using the parchment paper allows you to transfer the dough to the hot Dutch Oven, casserole, flowerpot, etc, with a minimum of distortion and degassing. You have no worries about sticking.

                As for which is better, kneaded or no-knead; why it depends on what kind of bread I fancy. One need not choose one exclusively over the other.
                But in the end, no-knead requires less attention and handling than kneaded bread.

              2. re: leanneabe

                mine stuck the first time but I was thinking it was the amount of ww flour I used. I now do the 2nd rise on pam sprayed parchment and put it directly into the LC with the parchment...