The promise of no-knead bread seems impossible to keep: Combine flour, yeast, salt, and water in a bowl, let rise, and bake in a Dutch oven. An hour later, out comes the most beautiful open-crumbed, crisp-crusted loaf most people have ever baked at home.
But in the hands of home bakers, no-knead loaves can vary wildly in size and shape, from rounded mounds to squat, irregular blobs. And though the crusts are often extraordinary, the flavor just as often falls flat, lacking the complex, yeasty tang of a true artisanal loaf. Our version of no-knead bread delivers consistent results and better flavor —in other words, we made it foolproof.
No-knead bread starts with a wetter dough than traditionally made bread; the high level of moisture in the dough and the extended resting time (called autolysis) take the place of kneading in terms of developing the gluten network necessary for the bubbly, chewy crumb structure that is the signature of a good loaf. But that extra moisture makes the dough too delicate to handle. Though it rises well before baking, it deflates on its way into the Dutch oven and spreads out before it firms out properly. Reducing the hydration makes the dough easier to handle but leads to dense, rubbery loaves.
We discovered that the secret was actually adding 1 minute of kneading, turning no-knead bread into almost no-knead bread. After the long resting time, the proteins in the dough have broken down enough that they quickly organize into their gluten network. Then, instead of using a separate vessel to rise the dough before baking and then transferring it to the Dutch oven for baking, simply let it rise right in the Dutch oven.
To achieve complex, artisan-style flavors, add vinegar and beer.
The acetic acid in vinegar is the same acid that is produced by “good” bacteria during dough fermentation. And a few ounces of lager gave the loaf a “bready” (not “beery”) aroma. Since yeast in lagers is treated in a way that resembles the way yeast acts in dough, its addition resulted in the production of similar flavor compounds.
1 Using rubber spatula, fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl, until dough starts to form and no dry flour remains.
2 Cover bowl tightly with plastic and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead for about 1 minute.
3 Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle, then transfer seam side down to greased parchment paper.
4 Using parchment as sling, lower loaf into Dutch oven. Cover tightly with plastic and let rise until doubled in size and dough springs back minimally when poked.
5 Using paring knife, make two 5-inch-long, ½-inch-deep slashes along top of loaf to form cross. Cover pot and place in cold oven. Turn oven to 425 degrees and bake loaf for 30 minutes.
6 Remove lid and bake until deep golden brown and loaf registers 205 to 210 degrees. Using parchment sling, transfer to wire rack.