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No-Knead Bread vs Traditional (Kneaded) -- How are they Different?

For a long time now I've wanted to do my own bread baking, but, after buying a couple of books (The Bread Baker's Apprentice among them) and even a used Zojirushi bread machine, I still haven't plunged into the process. Truth is, the more I read, the more intimidated I become. It seems there are too many decisions to be made -- what yeast to use, what flour to use, whether or not to use the bread machine, and maybe on top of the list of decisions -- to knead or not to knead.

Now that fall is here, I'm thinking of baking bread once again. Another recent post (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/654413) offered some links to YouTube videos demonstrating the no-knead method of bread making. After watching a couple of the videos, I found myself puzzled again. Those loaves of no-knead bread looked really good. And it looks like they're relatively easy to make. So what am I missing here? Or, should I ask, what are those loaves of bread missing? If the bread dough doesn't need kneading, why does anyone need to knead?

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  1. I'm not exactly sure how the no-knead method works its magic, but it does. My husband wanted to start making fresh bread daily, and I was hesitant. He told me that he read an article in the NY times that gave a 5 minute, no knead bread recipe. I was skeptical. He made the first batch and I've been a believer ever since. It tastes awesome and is incredibly cheap. Give it a try.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/21/din...

    5 Replies
    1. re: nolafoodie87

      not sure how it works either but Ive been making the no knead ever since the times story was published and it is beyond delicious. It is so so so easy....you really should give it a try

      1. re: nolafoodie87

        That recipe (in the link above) is fairly different from the ones I've been looking at. First of all, it calls for a relatively short (2-5 hours) rising time, whereas the other recipes all give the dough 12-18 hours. Second, it calls for baking the bread on a pre-heated baking stone whereas the other recipes bake it in a covered bowl of some sort. I had been guessing that the moisture in the dough turned to steam, which, when retained in the covered bowl, caused those nice "holes" in the finished bread. The moisture would disappear if the bread was baked on a stone, wouldn't it?

        1. re: CindyJ

          I think the reason you don't need to knead the no-knead breads is that gluten strands (which give bread its structure) form naturally over time as the dough sits for a long period, rather than through the kneading process.

          I think when you bake the bread in a covered dish, there is steam. But then you finish it uncovered, which makes the crust nice and crisp.

          Here's what the baking.911 site says about how the steam works:

          "Applying steam to the dough during baking keeps the outer dough layer flexible and moist. This helps achieve the greatest amount of oven spring and loaf volume. Once the outside layer of the dough sets, gases in the loaf can no longer expand to increase the loaf size. Steaming the dough as it bakes also gelatinizes starch on the outside layer, producing a bread with a crisp crust and a brown crust color in varying degrees; . . . . However, in contrast, during the last stages of baking, a dry oven is required when the crust is browning; after the steam is removed, the gelatinized layer dries out forming a thick crunchy crust.."

          Another way to get the crisp crust -- at least on the bottom -- is to use a baking stone.

          1. re: CindyJ

            I should clarify that when I said NYTimes recipe I meant the Bittman/Lahey bread not the 5 minute bread.

            I think they also did a story on the 5-minute bread later.

            1. re: CindyJ

              I've never had a problem with a lack of moisture, because the dough is so wet when it starts. Also, the water in the pan does turn to steam and it makes the bread have a moist body, while the stone makes for a super crusty crust.

          2. The no-knead bread in Cook's Illustrated Jan/Feb 2008 issue is the best tasting of any I have made. I bought "Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day" and it is good, but the cook's
            recipe makes a better tasting one. Uses a little beer and a little vinegar to bump up the flavor and is really worth it. I've made about 50 loaves from various recipes and my family likes this over all the others. Also, some say you can keep the dough in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. I didn't find that very successful. Perhaps my storage method was not the best....I covered it in a 6-quart dish fitted with a non air-tight cover, as called for in the recipe, but the dough was an "off" color and not fresh smelling after about 9 days. In the future I'll use if all in one week, just to be on the safe side. All that being said, definitely try the bread. Use whatever yeast you find at your market....use whatever flour you get your mitts on, just use unbleached. Enjoy the process and the results. Be fearless! It'll be great...you'll see!!!

            7 Replies
            1. re: amazinc

              I really like the taste and texture of the Bittman/Lahey bread from the NYTimes. Great taste and texture.

              I also like the 5-minute a day bread but not quite as much. I do like making it though because it's great to have the dough in the fridge and be able to take a little blob out and bake it when you need it.

              One of the 5-minute bread authors has said that the dough will change in the second week -- it gets a little sourdoughy I think and does not rise as much. She has recommended using it for flatbreads after that amount of storage. But she has also said you can freeze the dough if you don't want it to get to that stage -- say after a week -- and then thaw and bake it. The freezing will arrest that process.

              Also, I learned that you can keep the 5-minute bread pretty tightly covered, at least if you're using a container that's not glass. I used a plastic food storage pail type thing with a cover that twists on. If I left the cover ajar, the dough got crusty on top. Putting the cover on more securely resolved that. And I checked with the author at a class she taught and learned that that was right.

              When it comes to these breads, I agree -- be fearless, it'll be great.

              1. re: karykat

                I've been baking with the 5-minute book for a few months now, and I really enjoy the results.

                My one discovery is that wetter = better. I add ~25% more water than their base recipe calls for. I've found that this allows for fluffier loaves on the bread I bake right away, and keeps things nice and moist as I pull off loaves during the next couple weeks. If you want to carefully shape loaves the wetter dough can hinder this effort, but the taste / consistency payoff is worth it for me.

                I also was disappointed when I tried to keep the dough in an unsealed container, so like karykat I just started using a sealed plastic containe, and that works wonderfully. The dough does turn more sourdough'ish during the 2nd week of its life, but I I enjoy this.

                I definitely recommend doing some kind of steaming when you put your loaf in the oven. I just have a cast iron pan that sits on the rack below my baking stone. Right after I place the loaf on the rack, I pour a cup or so of water into the pan (careful, the steam can scald) and quickly shut the oven door.

              2. re: amazinc

                Amazinc,

                I have been making no knead for a while from the Bittman video and it is good, but lacks complex flavor, so I have been turn off to it lately. I was thinking that I could add a little bit of starter or something to jazz it up. I like the beer idea.

                So is the cook's illustrated recipe basically the same with a little beer or vinegar thrown in?

                CB

                1. re: chefbrian1

                  Here's link to the CI recipe.
                  http://blog.seattlepi.com/devouringse...

                  It does require a small of amount of kneading, but I like the flavor of it much better than the no-knead recipe. I didn't have a cast iron dutch oven and didn't feel like buying one at the time, so I just used a heavy stainless steel stockpot.and it actually worked out fine. The only thing that is kind of a pain is the beer. We don't drink it in my house so I end up buying one beer and only using a portion of it. According to this article it's just for flavor, so I'm wondering if I could just freeze the leftover beer next time around. And I think the step of rising it in a parchment-lined skillet makes transferring it to the baking pot much easier than maneuvering it with a towel.

                  1. re: gmm

                    gmm, buy beer with a replaceable screw cap -- Budweiser comes that way -- and just screw the cap back on and stick it into the fridge. This isn't the normal screw bottlecap -- it's a screw top like you'd find on a liter of pop.

                    1. re: valereee

                      i bought a can of beer to make the bread, and poured the rest into an empty soda bottle with a screw cap. It was flat by the time I used it again, weeks later, but seemed to work almost as well.

                  2. re: chefbrian1

                    I also thought the lahey's no knead bread could use more flavour. After a couple tests, I now use a version of Michael Ruhlman's recipe (http://ruhlman.com/2011/02/no-knead-b...), as it gives much fuller flavour and better crumb texture. I forego the 2nd rise of 30min, going directly from first rise to folded dough in cloth, don't notice any difference.

                2. I'm curious -- what have you been using for your "oven-within-the-oven"? My smaller LC Dutch oven is oval -- not a good shape. And my round one is way too big. One of the videos said a Pyrex bowl would work with a Pyrex pie plate for a cover, but said that it should be new, meaning you shouldn't use it for that purpose more than one time because it might get weak from the high heat.

                  And what kind of flour have you been using?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: CindyJ

                    I was using a pyrex casserole pan which worked great but someone brought up here that it might be dangerous. I wrote to the company and they agreed (you should never heat pyrex empty, and the hot pyrex and cold dough is a bad combination). I would try the oval dutch oven. It would be fine. I bought a Lodge cast iron dutch oven from Costco which is the perfect size for this. You could also use terracotta pots and cover it.

                    I used unbleached ap flour but have also used half white whole wheat, a little more water and it's been good.

                  2. Actually, kneading isn't all that necessary. Provided you have the time to allow the bread dough to autolyze. If you mix the primary ingredients thoroughly and allow the mixture to rest for a lengthy period the flour slowly absorbs water and thus the dough requires little or no kneading. In my own experience, it works better with slack doughs than the heavier varieties but it does work just the same.
                    Even when using the autolyze method, I knead the dough to some extent prior to it's final rise so that I can feel its temperature and texture to make certain it has developed to the level I intend to use for a particular style of bread before actually proofing the mix.
                    There are also a number of different methods for "kneading", including the old fashioned style or fold and push, the periodic fold with waiting periods between each folding sequence (used frequently with slack dough mixtures like Ciabatta, Focaccia, etc.) the "slam" and fold and the stretch and fold. There are probably more than that but that's all that comes to mind at the moment.

                    1. You don't need to knead, as the no-knead bread proves. As others have said, what you need is the time to allow the yeast to do its work. To me the main differences are the taste--which is vastly improved by the long first rise--and the texture, which is more chewy and has bigger holes than kneaded bread.

                      Cindy, I'd say if you want to try, just choose a recipe that you like the look of and try it. It takes a bit of patience to get used to making bread, but once you start to get the feel for it, it's not hard. The biggest lesson I've learned is that it's really forgiving, but it's more important to watch the dough than to watch the clock. You learn by look and feel when it's risen and ready to go into the oven.

                      Meanwhile, I had great success the other day with sourdough no-knead. A couple weeks ago I found an old container of sourdough starter in the back of the fridge. I made it years ago from the recipe in the Moro cookbook. I started feeding it to bring it back to life, and it worked. I did the no-knead recipe: 3 cups of flour, about 1.5 cups of water, and about a tablespoon of salt (sourdough sometimes needs more salt than other bread). Added about 1/2 cup of sourdough starter. Left it overnight and about 12 hours later did the fold, and then shaped into a ball and did the second rise. Preheated the oven to about 250C with the LC pot, baked the bread 1/2 hour covered, 1/2 hour uncovered. The loaf was beautiful! it rose really high and had the lovely crackly crust. Not terribly sour, I suppose because I skipped the sponge stage that you normally do with sourdough. But it tasted delicious.