Well, it’s taken me 15 years to try the no knead bread method out for myself. I am not sure why I haven’t tried it before, it may have been scepticism that it surely couldn’t be that easy to make bread and for it to taste good. I should have ignored my sceptical self and just tried it. In October’s Bread Social Jacqy mentioned that it is a method that she often uses and so I promised to give it a go. I can tell you that it works really well and makes bread making even easier than I have already been telling you all that it is.
The method relies on the fact that once you add water to flour the two proteins that make gluten, gliadin and glutenin, start to form chains and develop the gluten structure in the dough. I normally combine this chemical reaction with the mechanical action of stretching and folding the dough. The no knead method just requires you to leave the dough for a long time so that the chemical reaction can fully play out.
It delivers a tasty bread with absolute minimum effort.
The method was pioneered by Jim Lahey from Sullivan Street Bakery in 2007. He bakes the bread in a preheated casserole dish to emulate a professional bakery oven as close as possible.
I have been doing a lot of experimenting in the last couple of weeks with this method. I have baked as per the original recipe in my preheated casserole dish, a cold Dutch oven, free form in the oven and in the slow cooker. I have also dabbled with the timings, baking at 8 hours and after two days. All have worked well. So, it seems that this method is fairly foolproof and works well whatever your schedule.
Top tips to bear in mind:
- You only need to mix the dough to a shaggy consistency.
- This method requires a sticky dough to work properly – so 80% hydration is about right
- Shape very gently to preserve the lovely bubbles
- use 1g of yeast if you want to leave this dough for 24 hours, use 2g if you intend to leave it for about 8 hours
- Bake the loaf seam side up and it will burst naturally at the weakest points
500g white strong (bread) flour
1-2g of easybake/ instant/ quick yeast (use more or less according to how long you intend to leave the dough)
5-10g fine sea salt (I use 8g)
400g warm water
Place the ingredients in a large bowl and mix the dough to a shaggy consistency – just mixed so that there are no dry bits. Cover the bowl (I use a large dinner plate or large inflated plastic bag). Leave the dough at room temperature for at least 6 hours and up to 24 hours. If it’s summer or you live somewhere hot then leave the dough at room temperature for 2 hours and then pop it in the fridge overnight. The dough will get increasingly bubbly. At 18 hours it starts to look like you have a dough monster in the kitchen. See the photo below.
The dough can then be transferred to the fridge and will happy sit there waiting for you for a few days.
When you are ready to bake, flour your work surface (I use semolina and lots of it for this sticky dough). Carefully tip the dough out of the bowl. Fold one half of the dough over the other and repeat from the other end, being as gentle as you can so that you don’t knock all the bubbles out of the dough. I then place the shaped dough, seam side up, onto a piece of baking parchment also liberally sprinkled with flour/ semolina and leave it prove for about 1 hour.
You can then preheat a casserole dish/ covered pyrex dish/ Dutch oven or use the cold Dutch oven/ cold oven method or you can preheat the oven and bake the loaf directly on a hot solid shelf or baking stone. See timings below. I have also had a successful loaf from the dough when it is two days old and baked on low in the slow cooker for 6-8 hours. The slow cooker doesn’t brown the loaf so it makes a very light coloured, soft crust but lovely texture inside. If you happen to have the oven on you can bake it for 5-10 minutes to colour the crust.
For a preheated Dutch oven/ casserole dish:
Preheat the casserole dish/ Dutch oven in the oven at 220c, 430f, gas mark 7 for 30 minutes. Using heavy duty oven gloves carefully remove the hot dish from the oven and carefully place the loaf inside, seam side up. Place the lid on top. Bake for 20 minutes with the lid on and a further 20 minutes without the lid. Place on a wire rack to cool completely.
For cold Dutch oven method:
Place the dough in the cold Dutch oven, seam side up, place the lid on and place in the centre of the oven. Turn the oven on at 230c, 450f, gas mark 8. Bake the loaf with the lid on for 45 minutes and then with the lid off for 15 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool completely.
If baking without a casserole dish/ Dutch oven then preheat the oven to 220c, 430f, gas mark 7 and when up to temperature place the loaf, seam side up on a preheated solid shelf. Bake for 30-35 minutes until baked and cool on a wire rack.
To bake in a slow oven, shape the loaf gently and place inside the cold slow cooker. Turn the slow cooker to low and bake for 6-8 hours until fully baked. It won’t colour so it will have a pale, soft crust. If you like you can finish it under the grill or in a preheated oven for 5-10 minutes.
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