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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!!!