Recipe Trend: You’re Not the Boss of Me, No-Knead Bread

no-knead bread

No-knead bread has tormented me for nearly a year now. In January, actually at the very beginning of January, so about 11 months ago now, I decided to attempt the recipe, which many bloggers touted as the easiest thing they’ve ever made. Steamy Kitchen even bragged that the recipe was so easy that her four-year-old could make it. So when I failed miserably, this fact haunted me even more. If a four-year-old can make it, why can’t I? I put the recipe away, never to be looked at again.

So when I saw that no-knead bread was trend #6 on Saveur’s recipe trend list (for those of you keeping count, I am skipping kale chips, recipe #5, because I’ve blogged about them already), I figured this would be a great opportunity to force myself to face this recipe again. Surely I had just made a small error in my first attempt that could easily be fixed this second time around, I thought. To be on the safe side, I decided to use a slightly different variation, a ratio-based recipe from Michael Ruhlman’s bread-making app. Surely Ruhlman’s recipe would be foolproof.

Well, almost. Attempt #2 was slightly better than my January failure, but still not quite great. In Ruhlman’s defense, I did not follow his recipe precisely and used parchment paper instead of oiling my pan, and I’m pretty confident that was my downfall. Determined to finally master this recipe, I decided to make Ruhlman’s recipe again the following week, this time foregoing the parchment.

Which brings us to attempt #3 today. And success! Finally.

If you haven’t heard of no-knead bread before, let me tell you, it’s truly a simple recipe to prepare but necessitates some advanced planning. So far, I’ve only been able to accomplish it on weekends I planned to spend around the house anyway, but eventually I’ll get my timing down. The dough requires an incredibly long, slow rise time, which is the secret to developing the gluten that is normally made during the kneading process. Baking the bread in a covered Dutch oven keeps the moisture circulating around the bread rather than evaporating in your oven, and a good crust requires that moisture content. My crust isn’t as great as some of the other no-knead breads out there, but I think that’s mostly due to the pan I use—a lightweight stainless steel one instead of enameled cast iron (I’ve not invested in a cast iron Dutch oven because I can barely lift them when empty, let alone when full.). If any bakers out there have some tips for me to get the crust I want without the cast iron, let me know!

A final note: Ruhlman’s recipe is by weight, not volume. At first I thought it was a little weird to cook that way, but now I see the benefit. So easy and precise! Plus there’s less equipment to wash afterward because it makes measuring cups almost obsolete. Now I specifically seek out recipes that offer weights in addition to volume, when I can.

No-Knead Bread

Modified from Michael Ruhlman

20 ounces bread flour
17 ounces warm water
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon active yeast

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until flour is moistened. It will look globby and messy. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rise at room temperature for 14 to 18 hours. As you near the end of the rise time, the dough will look very loose and bubbly, which is what you want.

Dust your counter or a large board with flour and turn the dough out. Fold the edges of the dough onto itself in thirds (right edge over about a third, left edge over about a third, top over about a third, bottom … you get the idea). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Oil a Dutch oven and set nearby. Flour your hands and shape the dough into a ball, pulling the edges up and into the middle. The bottom should be somewhat smooth and the top will be kind of ugly because of the dough that you’ve gathered there. Plop the ball of dough into the pan, with the ugly side up, believe it or not. This will actually make for an attractive, cracked top. Place the lid on the pan and set aside to rise for 1 hour. If you use a lightweight pot like I do, crimp foil around the edges to help keep the moisture in. (Not necessary with a heavy cast iron Dutch oven lid.)

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. After the bread has risen for a total of one hour in the pan, put the pan, lid and foil and all, into the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and foil and bake for another 30 minutes or until the crust is very brown. Turn bread out of the pan and cool on a wire rack.

3 responses to “Recipe Trend: You’re Not the Boss of Me, No-Knead Bread

  1. My sister and I both make no knead bread using the Sullivan Street Bakery recipe. ( I use a Lodge enameled dutch oven (not quite as nice as LeCreuset, but 1/4 the cost). My sister makes a loaf or two per week, but makes them in quantity for parties, big family dinners, etc. When she does, she often makes 6 loaves in a day. Since she only has one dutch oven, she has also used large round;Pyrex lidded casseroles with good results.

    As with any bread recipe, the more you make it, the easier it is. You learn what is the best consistency for the dough and adjust accordingly. That’s why professional bakers always use weight. There are too many variations that can affect the actual amount of flour when you measure a cup: your scooping technique, the humidity, atmospheric pressure, how the flour was stored, and on and on. From one day to the next, you can get vastly different amounts of flour when you measure 1 cup. I always convert volume to weight in recipes that use volume. (There are plenty of conversion charts on the web, but 1 cup of flour = 5 oz.)

    The key to a nice crust is to preheat the pan. Let your dough do its final rise in a different bowl. When you’re preheating your oven, preheat the pan and lid too. Then (carefully) put your dough into the pan and proceed.

    • Wow, Kristen, thanks so much for the insight! I definitely plan on practicing this recipe some more; your recommendation makes sense because it did take three full tries before I got any satisfactory results whatsoever. I did preheat the pan on my first attempt but the Ruhlman recipe did not instruct this and overall the bread that first time was a resounding failure. Now that I have a bit of confidence, I’ll have to give preheating the pan another shot.

  2. No problem! My sister hasn’t had a failure in years and gets far more consistent results than I do, but she makes 75+ loaves per year to my dozen or so. She is a no knead goddess. She modifies the recipe, making various whole grain versions, cheese bread, olive bread and even cinnamon swirl. I wish I were as confident with my mastery of the recipe to experiment like that. I bow before her. And she likes the results she gets from pyrex as much as the cast iron.

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