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Jan 19, 2007 02:13 PM

The advantages of the no-knead baking technique

I've been baking a lot more bread lately, having started with the no knead bread. At first, I loved the baking technique, in the enclosed container, with the crust at the end. But, now I'm wondering if what the advantage of it is over having a cast iron pan of hot water in the oven at the same time and using a pizza stone. Both give you the same crust but I don't have to preheat the oven for half an hour w/ the hot water technique, or wait half an hour to remove the top. Does anyone see advantages of the enclosed pot over the more traditional methods?

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  1. In my opinion, baking in a closed pot or stone dome will always give a better crust than the pathetic steam that one can generate in his or her home oven.

    The no-knead part has nothing to do with that baking technique, and is basically a gimmick that's useful to people without mixers.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Luther

      I agree--there are two parts to the no knead bread technique, the dough making and the baking. I realize this isn't comparing apples to apples but I prefer the chewy crust on the rustic country bread I've made w/ hot water in cast iron to the crispy, chewy crust of the no knead bread baked in the enclosed container. I guess to get an accurate assessment, I'd have to do the rustic bread in the enclosed container and the no knead in the steamy oven. Even without a mixer, kneading the regular loaf is only a 5-10 minute process.

    2. If you want to use a pizza stone, you HAVE to preheat that oven for at least as long as you would for the no knead bread. Stone heats up more slowly than your pot would. So it's not a time saver.

      Also, a pot of water at the bottom won't result in the same crust. Trust me.

      I love making bread of all sorts. The no knead bread is more than a gimmick and people have been experimenting with this technique (folding over kneading) for some time (check out the folks at the sourdough forum). The most important part of this recipe is the high water content. You just can't hand knead a loaf that wet. It's darn near impossible. You can do this same bread with a machine too, which will speed the rise time, but what's the point? Then you dirty something else and you get no benefit of increased gluten or anything.

      The method bittman presented from lahey was great because it was a sime play to take advantage of this technique.

      About the pot... the reason the pot is key for this recipe (I've made it without it too) is that it creates an enclosed chamber to trap steam. Having a pot of water below a pizza stone doesn't do much at all. Trust me. I've tried many, many methods for getting moisture into that oven - dropping ice cubes on the bottom, throwing a red hot axe head into a tray of water (julia child's favorite) putting water at the bottom, and spritzing the oven before and after throwing in the dough. The pot is the most effective way of getting the appropriate moisture to create that crust without seriously endangering your safety.

      I still love making other breads that require kneading and without a pot. The flavor at times is better. But the crust... it's hard for me to beat the crust of this one.

      3 Replies
      1. re: adamclyde

        Thanks--I'm a neophyte bread maker (well, at least for crusty bread) and only started a couple of months ago w/ the no knead bread so it's great to read other people's feedback on what works for them and doesn't. The bread I've been making most is Cook Illustrated's rustic country bread. I love this one. They don't have you preheat the stone for long, just leave it in the oven w/ the cast iron skillet until the oven is heated and then pop in the dough. And, as you were saying, the issue is safety for adding water for the steam, so they say to add it hot water CAREFULLY. I haven't had problems with it, though, and have always had a great crust. Not the same crust as the enclosed chamber crust but I guess it's comes down to a personal preference on the type of crust people like. Maybe I'll try this dough w/ the enclosed pot and see how it goes. For the record, I wasn't kneading the no knead dough. The CI dough is pretty sticky, though. Not as sticky as the no knead dough but pretty hard to knead. Father Kitchen gave me the hint to stretch it and treat it (like taffy) and it's worked. I've learned so much from you all here. Thanks!

        1. re: chowser

          I've done that same CI recipe. It is good.

          as you say, the crusts are different in both of those recipes and it is a personal preference. For me, it's easier to get a good crust on the no knead, as sometimes I won't have the right water ratio or run the oven slightly too hot with others and the crust gets a little too thick and hard. I've yet to get a bread that has a true thin, crisp shatter to it like my dream baguette would have. (that said, I've yet to really make my dream baguette).

        2. re: adamclyde

          You don't need to really "knead" if you've got a good Kitchenaid. That's how you put some mechanical motion into a really wet dough. I like to fold a few times during proofing after that. Aside from the fact that no-knead bread takes way longer to proof, I thought it had an inferior hole structure compared to a kneaded (mixed), folded dough made with a stronger yeast inocculum and a shorter proof time.

          The oven-spritzing/pan tricks are totally useless, it's true. The crust you get from an enclosed baking device is incomparable in thickness and crispness. Of course, making a proper baguette probably still requires a real steam oven.

        3. I love the no-knead bread recipe. It's very forgiving and doesn't seem to mind neglect or being left to itself for longer than called for. The crust is good, the texture excellent, and it does seem to keep fairly well (if we don't eat it first). So far, I've done just the all white flour (I use King Arthur's unbleached bread flour), but am looking to start adding some whole wheat or other goodies to the mix.