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No-knead bread has been a phenomenon in the bread-baking world for about 20 years. Made popular by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery and The New York Times’ Mark Bittman, it is “one of the most popular recipes the Times has ever published”; a recipe that spurred a bread-baking revolution. There are a couple novelties at play here. First, the bread requires only four ingredients. And other than mixing a few ingredients and covering the bowl, there’s very little work involved at all. Essentially, bakers just mix the salt, yeast, and flour in a bowl, add water, and then let it rise. The result is a country boule to rival the bread you’d find at your favorite bakery.
Why Is No-Knead Bread Such a Phenomenon?
It’s all in the simplicity of the process and high-quality result. No-knead bread gets a long, slow rise at room temperature, which gives ample time for a successful fermentation process. The yeast does the heavy lifting—the baker never really needs to work with the dough. Bakers might assume that a recipe so straightforward produces a less exciting loaf, but the most impressive part of no-knead bread is that you wind up with a bakery-quality round loaf with a rustic country white-like texture. It’s perfectly fluffy on the inside with a hearty crust. In an excerpt of his book published on Epicurious, Lahey himself characterizes this signature bake as a “long-fermented rustic bread, a round loaf, or [a] boule.”
The Best No-Knead Bread Recipes to Follow
This recipe—the no-knead bread pioneer—calls for a 12-hour rise at the very least, but 18 hours is preferable. It requires only water, flour, yeast, and kosher salt. One of the marks of dough executed properly is it’ll be bubbly and shaggy post-rise. Bittman and Sullivan then favor two additional hours of rise before coating the dough in cornmeal or wheat bran for added exterior texture. Baking the bread in a covered pot is required for this loaf—your crust will thank you.
Following the viral rise of no-knead bread, other noted chefs published their own takes on the recipe. The biggest challenge for bakers looking to tweak the recipe? Shortening the rise time. The Times’ no-knead bread is phenomenal—but the process, done perfectly, takes 24 hours. The Kitchn’s approach to no-knead bread is to work with slightly more yeast than the Times’ recipe. Because of the increased yeast usage, they’re able to shorten the rise time to six hours. While the Times’ bread is best made the night before (we’d recommend starting around 3 p.m. to give it the full 18-hour rise and then bake it off the next morning), The Kitchn’s no-knead bread can be started in the morning and served by dinner time. The Kitchn recommends a Dutch oven for baking as well.
Baker Rosemary Molloy shortens the rise time even more than The Kitchn, and also packs in an additional flavor to give her bread extra dimension. Instead of directly mixing the yeast in with the flour and salt, Molloy uses a more traditional method to activate the yeast: letting it sit in lukewarm water. However, she adds honey to her yeast concoction for increased flavor. The rise for Molloy’s no-knead bread is a mere two hours.
You’ll notice this recipe is extremely close to the Times' recipe, because it was written by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery. An excerpt from his bread-making cookbook, My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method, this version was published nine years after the original recipe appeared on the Times and is, in Lahey’s words, “an adaptation for the home kitchen of the much larger oval filone and the football-shaped pugliese sold at the Sullivan Street Bakery.” This recipe provides more context for the bread-making process and more specifics in terms of how the bread should look and feel at every step.
Choosing Your Dutch Oven
Baking your no-knead bread in a Dutch oven is really what makes the crust shine. The Dutch oven bake makes all the difference. Most recipes (including Sullivan’s and Lahey’s) suggest you preheat the Dutch oven before putting the bread in to bake—the baker should then carefully remove the piping hot Dutch oven, throw the loaf in, and bake in accordance to the recipe’s temperature and timing. Here are our two favorite Dutch ovens to choose from:
Le Creuset Signature Round Dutch Oven
What sets the Le Creuset Dutch oven apart is its polished finished (twice fired with two coats of enamel) and heavy-duty lid. For baking, it evenly retains and distributes heat and moisture, which is crucial when making a rustic country loaf with a hearty crust.
To buy: $359.95, Sur La Table
Staub Essential Oven
Staub’s Essential Oven combines the best features of a cast iron and a Dutch oven. The six-quart cocotte accommodates larger loaves, the heavy lid keeps the heat inside for a perfect, crust-browning effect, and the Dutch oven requires no seasoning.
To buy: $249.96 - $269.96, Sur La Table