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What is the point of no-knead bread?

No, this is not a disingenuous post aimed at mocking people who like something I don't. I really want to know. A friend of mine lent me a baking book with recipes that all required letting the dough hang out in the fridge for a day or two, but no kneading. I made a couple of loaves and they were delicious, but no better than if I'd kneaded the dough and finished the whole thing in a couple of hours. You can achieve the same flavor by keeping starter around and just using what you need. Either way, you get your bread faster if you knead it. What am I missing? Are there recipes that really taste better if you don't knead?

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  1. Not better just easier. Even if I knead, I let the bread rest a long time so it's not a time savings in how fast I can get good bread, just a savings in the amount of free time and energy I have. You don't like no knead bread?

    2 Replies
    1. re: chowser

      No, I liked the loaves I made. I just didn't get the point of not kneading, when i really love to knead. So I figured there must be some reason (other than disliking kneading) why people are into no-knead breads. The wet dough explanations below make sense to me.

      1. re: Isolda

        The wet dough is more about the baking--you don't need to add steam/water to the oven because it's self contained and the dough contributes the steam--not the no knead aspect of it. I'm with you, I like to knead but there are times when I don't have the time, or energy (and then there was the time I tore my rotator cuff skiing...) and make the no knead. I also think of it was the gateway to baking bread, an easy way to start and not worry about the window pane test and all.

    2. I have never made a bread at home that I like as much as the Lahey no-knead bread - no other recipe/technique I've ever used gives me as nice a crust. The extremely wet dough inside a dutch oven is the key, and you can't really knead a dough that wet, at least not by hand. There's also the ease factor - I can stir up a batch of the dough in about 2 minutes before I go to bed and bake it pretty much anytime I like the next day.

      2 Replies
      1. re: biondanonima

        I agree entirely. The wet doughs can't be kneaded, at least not easily. And they give you that really nice crusty crust. Also, as I understand it, when the no-knead breads sit over time (like the Lahey bread or the 5-minutes-a-day bread, the gluten strands form. But the other thing that happens as hours go by is that flavor develops. So without the kneading you have to let the dough sit to form the gluten and you get the flavor at the same time.

        And then there's the ease factor, as biondaninima says.

        But if you like kneading, do it! Lots of different ways to get different kinds of good bread!

        1. re: karykat

          I love the way this bread turns out-it as others have said, it's so beautifully crisp on the outside. IT's also fabulously inexpensive (I think I figured out that it cost me about a quarter a loaf). Main reason, though? It takes me 3 minutes to mix up, including cleaning the bowl. I love to cook, but I have a job and three children, including a toddler, and often don't have time to devote several hours to bread-making, and end up with a trashed kitchen to boot ('cause I'm a very messy cook).

      2. I've never gone so far as no knead- even the wettest doughs get some kneading when they are mixed- but most rustic bread types with open texture and large holes are best with very little kneading. More kneading distributes things more evenly and leaves a finer texture.

        1. IMHO the best thing about kneading bread is the way it feels. It's like any other ancient, or merely old, food preparation process. It isn't necessarily a better result, but it connects with something. My handmade emulsified sauces are no better than the ones I can make in a processor or blender, but a cook who had never made mayonnaise in a bowl in their lap with a whisk or a fork has missed something. So has a baker who has never experienced the rhythm of kneading a loaf. Sometimes I will resort to no knead or throwing starter, flour water, and salt in the KA, but a little bit of me misses the connection of doing it the way a nonna would have done it in some little town in Italia.

          2 Replies
          1. re: tim irvine

            That's how I feel about kneading. It's almost a healing thing for me, and i'm not at all earth-crunchy and have never set foot in a yoga studio. But I really love to handle yeast dough.

            1. re: Isolda

              me, too -- I love how the dough feels as it tranforms from a rough mixture to a smooth form. And yes, it's *very* therapeutic.

          2. The recipes in Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes don't have to be held in the fridge for days. You can use the dough as soon as it's mixed, although it's easier to work after it's been in the fridge for a couple of hours. Alternatively you can keep the dough in the fridge for up to two weeks (or so the book says; I've never held it longer than four days) and you can use as little or as much of the dough at any given time as you want. After a couple of days a nice pseudo-sourdough taste develops, which is a plus.

            2 Replies
            1. re: mandycat

              The 5-minute author says you can freeze her dough too. After about a week of sitting in the fridge, that dough gets more sourdoughy than I like and also may not rise as much. (Good for flatbreads though.) But you can freeze the dough at, say, day 4, and that arrests that process. So when you take it out of the fridge and thaw it, it's still at day 4.

              It's a little cooler here now so I'm going to make a batch of the 5-minute dough. It's great to be able to pull out a blob from the fridge and have a good loaf pretty quickly.

              1. re: karykat

                I haven't tried the freezing method but it sounds like something worth trying. It's cooler here in Northwest Florida to the extent that the high temperatures are only in the mid to upper 80's, which is a blessed relief from our pre-Tropical Depression Lee conditions. Ladies, start your ovens!!!

            2. In my opinion, it's by far the fastest and easiest way to get sourdough. I'd love to see a panel of experts try to tell the difference between old yeast dough and starter dough. It also allows you to have bread or fresh dough pizza as often as you want with no planning. Once the dough is a few days old, it doesn't even have to rise before it's baked because you get so much ovenspring. You don't have to feed a starter, so you don't have to bake on a set schedule or waste ingredients on a feeding.

              1. If you have a good starter, and if you actively enjoy kneading, I see no cause to go no-knead. But the point of no-knead for most fans is that they don't maintain a starter and have no passion for kneading. I think it's as simple as that.

                By the way, I do both approaches, and have had a starter going for over 10 years. Still, I go the no-knead route whenever I only want one loaf and whenever I'm busy. That way, I don't need to be fussing with ice cubes and spraying water in the oven during the bake, which is the only way I can create a crust to compare to the no-knead one.

                1. No-knead bread was the recipe that first convinced me I could make bread at home when I was a grad student with a tiny crappy kitchen and little spare time. It is a really easy technique to get into, and very forgiving. I made my first batch in a foil-covered nonstick pan in a toaster oven and it still turned out great. It was a good gateway into home baking.

                  19 Replies
                  1. re: RealMenJulienne

                    " It was a good gateway into home baking."

                    Exactly. I went from that to making bread from recipes w/out understanding what I was doing to reading Reinhart and anything I could get my hands on. A gateway drug, so to speak.

                    1. re: chowser

                      It is a good gateway to baking but I have yet to get it to turn out right.

                      I have lost track of how many times I have tried it and the center of my bread never gets cooked enough, it is always very, very dense and wet. I do not have this problem with my kneaded attempts.

                      I know my measurements are correct, my oven temp is correct (got a thermometer) the interior bread temp is in range (have an instant read thermo.) and I let it cool long enough. I like the crust so much I just discard the center and eat the "done" parts.

                      1. re: cleobeach

                        Odd result. Do you use instant yeast? What's your flour? How do you judge when the rise is done? Those could be culprits if your loaf is dense.

                        Also, what internal temperature do you regard as okay? I generally go by the look of the crust but on checking find that my interiors are generally within 5 degrees of 200 fahrenheit.

                        1. re: Bada Bing

                          Internal temp of 190 the first couple of times I tested, then I upped it to 210 degrees

                          I am using King Arthur all purpose flour, bleached

                          I use the Fleishman's yeast in the little packets from our local grocery store. I think it is instant yeast.

                          I have let it rise as long as 20 hours on the counter. Most times, it was overnight, I mixed it up after work (6pm-ish) and baked it the following afternoon right after lunch.

                          If I let it go days, where do I let it rise? On the counter or should it go into the fridge at some point? I am willing to try again this weekend because we are making butter.

                          I baked it every single time in a preheated (500 degree) dutch oven with a lid.

                          1. re: cleobeach

                            I think you're actually using what's called activated dry yeast, which is not the same as instant yeast. Does it say "instant yeast" on the packaging? If not, I'm confident that this is your issue.

                            Someone here is surely more expert than me on yeast, but I can say this much. Typically, users of activated dry yeast are asked to dissolve the yeast in warm water to check its potency. Instant yeast has a higher proportion of yeast organisms by volume/weight, and it is typically added directly in with the dry ingredients. You might try adding 50-75% more of your yeast, as I think that's roughly the proportion that would bring your activated dry yeast up to to oomph of instant yeast. Warm up and reserve some of the water for the purpose of dissolving the yeast. (You should ideally use rather cold water for the main dough.)

                            If you go looking for instant yeast, I recommend SAF brand, which you can get at health food stores, restaurant supply stores, Gordon Food Services, many places, but not always in average supermarkets. Anything labeled "Bread Machine Yeast" is also instant yeast.

                            edit: Does King Arthur make a bleached AP flour? In any case, their AP flour is slightly higher in protein than the average AP, and I've made very decent breads with it. King Arthur Bread Flour is worth a try, though.

                            1. re: Bada Bing

                              I always use Fleischmann's Active Dry yeast for the Lahey no-knead recipe - simply because it's the easiest thing to find in my grocery stores. I do add just a bit more than the recipe calls for, though - generally a heaping 1/4t. instead of a level one. Seems to do the trick just fine, and I don't warm the water for mixing. I generally put the dough in the oven for the overnight rise, though, where the temperature is slightly warmer than room temperature.

                              If you think your yeast is the problem, adding a little more or adding a touch of sugar to your dough (to give the yeast more to feed on) may help. I've started making this recipe with whey (leftover from yogurt making) instead of water and I think it improves everything about the bread - rise, flavor, texture, etc.

                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                Proofing of yeast is pretty much a holdover from the days of cake yeast that was often dead when you got it. Active dry yeast needs no special treatment. I don't think KA has a bleached flour, I never saw it. Does anyone even use bleached flour anymore, besides fortune cookie manufacturers? KA bread flour would be better, both for flavor and texture, though their AP makes good bread- it's ideal for pizza.

                                1. re: oldunc

                                  I thought bleached seemed unlike something KA would do so I looked it up and you're right. I also didn't know they have an unbleached cake flour. I always assumed all cake flour would be bleached. Many companies still make bleached AP flour.

                                  1. re: oldunc

                                    People must use bleached flour, because it's all over the supermarket shelves. I've noticed that in bulk sellers like Sam's Club, it's sometimes impossible to find a 25 or 50lb bag of anything but bleached flours. Apparently unbleached is still occupying a kind of artisinal/gourmet market niche.

                                    1. re: Bada Bing

                                      I must live in a gourmet infested area (well, I do, but few of them cook)- even the storebranded basic AP flours are unbleached. Someone, I think Gold Medal, still makes a bleached AP that's usually available.

                                    2. re: oldunc

                                      If you buy your yeast in an average supermarket, you'd better proof it! I can't tell you how much dead yeast I've bought over the years.

                                  2. re: cleobeach

                                    Possibilities on where it could be going wrong:

                                    1) Are you cutting the bread before it cools? That can make all the difference. As hard as it is (for me with the smell), it's an important step.

                                    2) Make sure it's instant yeast, or you need to increase the amount. Because you let it rest so long, active would be fine with a larger amount. Theoretically, you should mix it w/ warm water but on the advice of a few CH, I stopped doing it and it's been fine.

                                    3) Bleached flour has less protein than unbleached so you might not have enough gluten development. Unbleached is better, or even bread flour would be good.

                                    4) Lahey changed the amount of water in his new bread book, My Bread and lowered it so it's much more manageable. He cut it back to 1 1/3 c water, instead of 1 5/8.

                                    If you let it rise longer, I'd put it in the refrigerator. Even 20 hours, in a warm house, could be too long and the yeast could run out of sugar and die. If you're into the geeky details, this might be helpful:

                                    http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe...

                                    1. re: chowser

                                      Interesting that Lahey cut back on the water in a new version. CI's "improvement" on his version calls for slightly less liquid, too, and I find that I usually end up adding a bit more flour than called for in the second rise because I have bread soup if I don't. I actually prefer to add the extra flour though - gives me a slightly bigger loaf which fills my Le Creuset more completely and results in a higher rise.

                                      1. re: biondanonima

                                        I did the same (adding a little more flour), before reading the new book. I use a smaller container (a 2 1/2 qt) cast iron dutch oven and get a nice high loaf, too. Filling the pot more makes a big difference in the height. I haven't made this bread all summer (too hot) but look forward to cool fall days and fresh bread.

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          Wow, with a 2.5qt dutch oven you must get a really high rise. Mine is a 6qt oval and I find that the bread expands to fill it pretty nicely, although it isn't always as tall as I'd like. Perhaps I should invest in a smaller one, given how frequently I make this bread. My husband might kill me if I buy one more piece of cookware, though!

                                    2. re: cleobeach

                                      I am very confident that the yeast is not your issue. I've found the type of yeast not to matter at all. Bread recipes have anywhere from a quarter teaspoon to several tablespoons of yeast for the same amount of flour. Yeast is a rapidly reproducing organism, and you're giving it tons of time. As long as you've got some in there and it's alive, you're fine. Same thing with flour. There is maybe a 3% difference in protein content between flours. It's insignificant unless you're very picky about your bread. It's not the reason your loaf is raw in the middle.

                                      I usually stick the dough in the fridge right after mixing it up, then take it out of the fridge after work a few days later and shape it into a rough ball and bake. I usually stick mine straight in the oven without rising, and just let the ovenspring do its thing, but you can let it rise before baking if you want extra insurance. If you're using the Lahey/Bittman version, you might benefit from a little more flour. I like the Artisan Bread in 5 recipe, which is still a wet dough, but firm enough to hold a rough ball shape. I bake mine at 450, but if you're baking it covered, the difference is probably negligible. It should be visibly risen before you take off the lid, like twice as tall as it originally was. Maybe 30 minutes with the lid on.

                                      1. re: cleobeach

                                        cleobeach
                                        My guess that the inside doesn't get done and the outside does is because you're baking at too high a temperature..ie the outside gets done while the inside does not.
                                        Try baking at a lower temperature like 425 degrees.

                                    3. re: cleobeach

                                      I had this problem too. It was fixed by making sure the dough is at least three days old and covering the loaf for 3/4 of the baking time.

                                  3. re: RealMenJulienne

                                    This makes sense. Lots of yeast-phobes out there, so anything that tempts them to start baking is a good thing.

                                  4. My question to you expererinced bread people is can I make a challah version of this? I really want to have Challah more regularly on Fridays... and this is a good solution. Can I add Eggs to this? Can the eggs sit and rise 18 hrs?? I would forgo the braiding during the bake.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: cheesehead in recovery

                                      I find the brioche recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes to be more like a challah than a brioche:

                                      http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/200...

                                      Oh, and I just looked and there is a no knead challah in that book:

                                      http://www.lynnskitchenadventures.com...

                                      1. re: chowser

                                        The non-knead challah is quite good. It's a favorite around here.

                                    2. No-knead and kneaded bread taste different, with different textures and tastes. Kneaded bread generally has finer and closer gluten bonds.

                                      Both processes can produce excellent breads. Neither is better than the other. It just depends on what you prefer, or want as your ultimate end product.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Yes, different textures because the gluten forms a different way. In no-knead, it forms gradually as the protein molecules link up. Rather than through the kneading process.

                                        And the taste can be different because the no-knead dough kind of develops flavor as it sits.