No-Knead Bread: Your Experiences

No-Knead Bread

I am not a bread baker–I reserve my weights and measures for the sweet stuff. But last Saturday, The One and I spent the day with one of LC’s testers, Cindi Kruth. She made the New York Times‘ famous No-Knead Bread using her 23-year-old sourdough starter named Lex. (Why it’s called Lex, don’t ask me.) She was kind enough to give me some of the starter, which we re-named “Lexi, the Spawn.” Here’s my first attempt making the bread using no commercial yeast, just Lexi.

I was wondering what your experiences were with the No-Knead recipe? I feel it needs much more salt (about 2 tablespoons in total), but I was pleased with the rise and shape of Spawn Bread, and its crust was fantastic. I hope as Lexi gets older, it’ll develop more of a sourdough taste–still too adolescent for my taste.

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  1. David: Just seeing this now, after reading the no-knead bread recipes from the new Lahey book. I have been making this bread since the NY Times article came out and have been passing it around like a missionary, including to the restaurant where I worked, where they replaced it with the frozen bread they were buying from La Brea. I have lots of experience with this.

    I think it’s fabulous that you can get this kind of a raise with just sourdough starter.

    Here are my observations:
    1. Yes, you need more salt. I use a generous tablespoon of kosher. While an on-going starter is fabulous, if you have it, most of us don’t. You can get a very “sour” taste by doing the following: Every time you make a batch, simply do not wash your bowl. Start the next batch of batter. Even though there might be only a couple of tablespoons of batter left, within two days of batches, you will start to taste the sourness. By the end of the week, it will be really sour (longer more than that, and it starts to get in the way).

    2. I actually find the best size boule for the standard Dutch Oven uses 4 cups of flour, and my family likes 1 cup of that to be whole wheat. The amount of water will vary slightly with the age of the flour and the ambient conditions, but it will be at least 2 cups of water to 4 cups of flour. (I usually make two batches at a time; it never lasts.) I find no difference whether I use all-purpose or bread flour.

    3. I find the working time quite flexible and forgiving; anywhere from 8 hours to 30 hours; though 18 to 24 seems to give the best flavor/texture. The best working/raising container for me are those huge covered Tupperware bowls.

    4. The wetter the mixture (more batter-like), the larger the holes and more moist the bread will be. This is also the more tricky to handle in the towel-raising stage (will tend to stick even in a generously floured towel), and getting into the Dutch Oven. The dryer (more dough-like) it is, the tighter the crumb will be and the and easier it will be to handle. (I prefer the first).

    5. I use antique cast iron pots, and haul it where ever I go (state to state). Both have their own ‘legs’—and one is perfectly round, giving me a true ‘boule.’ In my gas oven, I take out the oven racks, and place one or two of the Dutch ovens on a cookie sheet and place on the oven floor. In an electric oven, the cookie sheet with Dutch oven(s) on it, go on a rack on lowest position. The cookie sheet allow me easier access to the heavy Dutch ovens.

    6. My whole grown family of five makes this bread (although they “say” they like mine the best), to the delight of their friends. It is the most welcome of host/ess gifts.

    Finally the thing no one talks about, and I love, is the wonderful ‘cracking’ sounds that continue for about 5 minutes, when the bread comes out of it’s ‘oven’ and begins the cooling process.

    I look forward to getting this new book! Thanks, Pamela

  2. thanks so much for sharing this…i can’t wait for my 7 and 10 year-old kiddies to come home from school so we can bake some bread together!

  3. One, I agree about the salt.

    Two, I think the best thing the Cook’s Illustrated redux offered was the use of a ‘sling’ to move the bread from second rise to hot pan. After the first riste place the dough on a large square of greased parchment paper in a skillet. When it’s time for the bread to go into the oven, gather the corners of the parchment and transfer the whole thing, parchment sling and all, in to the pot and bake.

    Oh, and the beer makes a nice addition if you’re using whole-wheat flour—which this recipe takes very, very well.

  4. I’ve also combined the no-knead recipe with the delayed fermatation technique described in Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice recipe for the pain a’la ancienne baguette. E.g., mix the dough with ice cold water to the shaggy ball stage, then immediately put it into the ‘fridge. Flip & fold it a few times over the next 12-18 hours. Take it out of the ‘fridge and let it proof for 8-12 hours and then bake.

    The delayed fermatation in the ‘fridge gives the flour (carbs) time to break down into simpler sugars for the yeast to feed on when the dough warms up.

    I find that the residual sugars make for a sweeter, nuttier tasting bread as well as better caramelization of the crust.

    The problem with the no-knead technique is the short fermentation period, the main premise being convenience and minimal effort. Getting the complexity of a sourdough takes time. If you really want a sourdough, a no-knead loaf will never satisfy.

    You can boost the complexity/taste of no-knead loaves easily. In addition to (or in place of) the ‘fridge trick, try adding chopped kalamata olives, roasted red pepper and onion (1/4 cup of each). The olives make up nicely for the missing salt. A little bit of balsamic helps.

    And experiment with different flours: I use Gold Medal’s Harvest King and mix and match with semolina, rye and regular all-purpose. My standard for no-knead loaves is 1/2 Harvest King and 1/2 semolina. 1/2 HK, 1/4 semolina and 1/4 rye is nice, too.

  5. Hi David ~ One of the grocery stores where I used to live has this great roasted garlic/asiago/black peppercorn bread I’ve tried to duplicate. I don’t have the garlic down yet, as I seem to remember reading somewhere that garlic retards the yeast or something, so I’ve been afraid to add too much. There’s also a garlic/cheddar bread from another bakery that I am also afraid to add too much garlic to. I guess I should just DO it, it’s just flour and water, after all.

    Other than that, I’ve added parsley and pepper and rosemary and chives and all sorts (not all at the same time) of stuff when my garden was not frozen, and gray salt and Himalayan pink salt and sea salt, and Spike seasoning, and crushed red pepper too. I’ve just remembered I’ve got some of that bacon salt too, maybe I’ll throw some of that in the next batch!

    ~ Peggasus

  6. Well, I’m one lucky girl because I have celiac disease and can’t eat gluten, so there’s no need to knead my bread to begin with. Are you jealous?

    I’ve yet to try a spawn-of-Lexi type starter, but I will share with you why those of us who dabble in the parallel universe of alternative flours don’t bother kneading. Gluten is the storage protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It’s what gives kneaded dough it’s elasticity, texture, and acts as the leavening agent.

    Yes, I know, all good qualities.

    But, if gluten is what gives kneaded dough those qualities and you can’t include gluten in the mix, then you get to go directly to bake and skip the kneading process altogether. Ha-ha-ha. We get to do this every time we bake bread. So there.

    Having said all that, I refuse to agree to a taste test with any of you. Even you, David (no offense, but you did say you’re not a bread baker).


    1. So YOU’RE the original no-knead baker. You’re like Baker Zero. Well, if I can’t seduce you into tasting my bread, perhaps you can convince me to try a gluten-free morsel. But I’m warning you now, I’d rather fight than switch.

      1. I should have said baking contest, rather than taste test.

        But yes, I was there first, doing the no-knead thing. However, the NYTs never contacted me about my bread. You New Yorker’s get all the attention.


    1. Cindi, I took I cup of Lexi and mixed it with 3 cups of bread flour, about 1 1/2 cups of water, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and 1 tablespoon of salt. (I’ll bump that to 2 tablespoons next time.) I made the shaggy dough, then followed the recipe’s directions. The only thing I did differently was flip the dough so the seams were on the top so that when I plopped it into the pan, they wouldn’t show.

      Next time I think I’ll take your advice of letting it proof in the fridge at least 18 hours then at room temp until doubled–maybe that will give it some more interesting sourdough flavor.

  7. I found out about this fairly early after it hit the big time (I live in Central Illinois, it takes a while…) and have had good success with it. I agree with you that it needs more salt, so I add more too. Cook’s Illustrated (Jan/Feb 2008) had a No-Knead 2.0 that recommended adding some beer and vinegar to the original, but I don’t think it added all that much extra taste. I’ve been experimenting with adding herbs and spices and cheeses to the mix, and that’s working out much better.

    The biggest fault I’ve found with the original is that it instructs you to put it in a 7-qt. LeCreuset. The first time I did that, it turned out so flat it was like…uh, a flatbread. Now I use an oval 4.5 quart LeCrueset pot and it’s perfect. My teenager would eat an entire loaf for dinner with dipping oils if he could!

    ~ Peggasus

    1. Peggasus, thanks for the info. Glad to know someone else uses more salt. I’m always accused of being a salt fiend, but this really needs it. And I agree with you about the pan size. My friend Cindi, from whom I got the recipe (and Lexi the Spawn Starter), uses a small pan, too.

      What kinds of cheeses and herbs do you add?

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