No-Knead Bread, Version 2

March 8, 2010 · 6 comments

Low-Knead Bread

My first attempt at no-knead bread was serviceable, but, as I noted at the end of the post, I felt it could be better. By the end of the week in which it sat in the fridge, the last of the dough had become so wet that it was almost unworkable. It oozed water during its final rise, which caused to to stick to the peel. I averted an oven disaster by quickly applying a bench scraper and shaping the dough on the fly into something that resembled a ciabatta loaf.

In response to my complaint about the inaccuracy of the master recipe — which used dip-and-sweep volumetric measurements instead of weights — Andrew Janjigian, a baker, blogger, and test cook for America’s Test Kitchen, sent me this:

As a serious baker, I have a kneejerk bias against “no-knead” recipes in general. They work, but the difference between no-knead and a minimal amount of kneading (or folding) is significant. You seem like the type of person who can find more than 5 minutes a day to dedicate to great bread.

In any case, here is my version of that formula:

900g good AP flour (KA is excellent)
675g H20 (75%)
2g instant yeast (0.25%)
23g salt (2.5%)

Follow the recipe in the book, or try my way: mix flour, water, yeast in a bowl or sealable container (I do 4x this, in a large fish box). Cover lightly, let sit 20m, then incorporate salt. Cover. Every 30m for the next 2h, fold the dough over itself 6-8 times (grab an edge and pull it up and over the center of the dough; repeat, working your way around it in a circle.) After four folds, seal and place in fridge. After 24h (should be gassy by then) you can bake. Dough without natural starter is best used within 3-4 days, after that it tends to get slack and difficult to work with.

So that’s what I tried next. I weighed out the flour, water, salt, and yest, and ran into my first problem: my kitchen scale is only accurate to 5-gram intervals, so I needed to figure out a way to measure 2 grams of yeast. A helpful hint on the back of a yeast packet — 7g = 2.25 teaspoons — let me calculate that I needed 5/8 teaspoon of yeast. I mixed the four, water and yeast together.

I noticed immediately that the dough was stiffer. When I added the salt after 20 minutes, the dough became much wetter. After another 30 minutes, I folded the dough as described in the recipe.

After a day in the fridge, the dough had risen considerably.

Again, I could tell that the dough was stiffer and drier just by looking at the top.

I followed my original recipe from this point on. I cut off a one-pound piece of dough, dusted it with flour, shaped it into a ball, let it rise for forty minutes, then dusted it with more flour before slashing the top with a knife. I was about to learn that it doesn’t always pay to get fancy with the knife cuts.

After thirty-five minutes in a 425°F oven the loaf was done.

What’s that big lump in the middle? It’s the center square formed by my knife pattern, which rose too quickly relative to the rest of the loaf. Lesson learned: Use a simpler slash pattern next time.

After the bread cooled to room temperature, I cut off the center dome, then sliced the rest.

Compared to the loaves from the previous recipe, this version had a better internal structure: it was airier, less, dense, and had a better chew. The flavor wasn’t that different, but the improved texture made it taste better.

Andrew was right. A few more minutes invested at the start of the process — along with accurate measurements — made all the difference. This “low-knead” method will now become the standard method for quick, tasty, basic bread here in the Belm Research Kitchen.

My new scale arrived today, so there won’t be any more early-morning panicked algebra exercises to calculate weight/volume equivalents. No amount of caffeine makes that pleasant.


Adina March 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm

Last week I made basic no-knead bread, (the one where you just make one batch of dough and let it rise overnight, without refrigeration) and it came out very well. I will probably stop buying breads from Iggy’s, because I can now make something almost as good. The crust was shatteringly crisp, the inside was light and just chewy enough, and it was very, very tasty.

A friend of mine has been making bread using the _Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day_ method, and the loaf that I tried was good, but not that tasty. That sounds like what you’re getting, so you may want to experiment with the non-refrigerated method to see if it you like it better.

David March 8, 2010 at 6:37 pm

You made the recipe that you bake in a cast-iron pot, yes? That’s the original version I read about in The New York Times. Cook’s Illustrated has a variation that uses beer to add additional flavor, but I haven’t tried it yet.

You should check out this article by Harold McGee, and the embedded video in which Mark Bittman revisits the original no-knead recipe.

Adina March 8, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Yes, that’s the one–I just plopped the dough into a pre-heated enameled-cast-iron pot to bake. Bittman has a follow-up article with a whole wheat variation that I’m going to try next.

Amusingly, Bittman’s first article says that a 4-year-old probably couldn’t make this, but I actually got my recipe from a blog called Steamy Kitchen, where the author took pictures of her 4-year-old son doing the mixing.

Andrew March 9, 2010 at 11:10 am

Very nice looking loaf, glad my suggestions were helpful. I think the reason you got that flap is because you a) slashed a bit too deep, and b) overdid it with the flour dusting. It’s always best to use a light hand with bench flour, because it can dry out the crust, which makes it leathery and less extensible. Instead of stretching, it peeled.

As for getting more flavor into the bread: aside from swtiching to a sourdough starter (highly recommended, let me know if you want a clone), you might want to try making a preferment with the yeast and part of the flour & water the night before, and use it instead of (or in addition to) the yeast in the final dough.

David March 9, 2010 at 11:53 am

I have plenty of dough left from this batch, so I’ll try less flour and shallower cuts.

How much of the flour and water go into the preferment?

How much work is involved in maintaining a sourdough starter?

Nancy Baggett March 10, 2010 at 7:28 pm

In response to your comment that after a week in the refrigerator the dough was difficult to work with–I think that this often happens when dough is kept that long. I was surprised that you didn’t find that it rose poorly and tasted strong, too–as I’ve experienced this after refrigerating a dough for more than just a couple days. If you are still looking for an improved no-knead recipe, I hope you’ll give the several free no-knead breads on my website a try–I believe that you will find the flavor better than most no-knead breads, and the method very simple. All my recipes use a slightly different method from most recipes out there–a cold water slow-rise method that I feature in my Kneadlessly Simple cookbook. Happy Baking!

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