No-Knead Bread
This wheaty, crusty, no-knead sandwich bread looks beautiful and tastes quite good.

Still, I don’t think I’m going to make it again. The no-knead craze has had a good run, but — I’m calling it — by my oven clock its time is done.
 
When the innovation began in 2006, with Mark Bittman’s writeup of a Jim Lahey recipe, I gladly jumped on the cast-iron bandwagon. The Lahey recipe indeed required no kneading, but, to me, its main appeal was its back-door skeleton key to professional-quality baking. Lahey’s techniques (later refined by Kenji Alt) allowed any home cook with a quarter-teaspoon of yeast and even a Pyrex dish to produce what I think of as bakery bread; thick-crusted, European-style boules that were once the province of either Old Masters or steam-injected commercial ovens.

Then came interesting variations such as Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, where Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois showed the no-knead method could be extended to sandwich breads and even enriched doughs such as brioche. They upped the “convenience” ante by tweaking recipes into multiple batches that could hold for days in the fridge. You could, in theory, come home from work, slice off a hunk of dough, and have fresh-baked bread by dinnertime. That was enough to certify its “time-saving” stamp in my book, even if the dough did have to sit a day or two first to develop the best flavor.

But now, with award-winning cookbook author Nancy Baggett’s new “Kneadlessly Simple,” I’m done. It’s nothing against the book, which offers a good-looking range of recipes from gluten-free no-knead bread to no-knead apple cream-cheese pinwheel pastries. It’s nothing against the book’s contribution to the “time-saving” no-knead pantheon (subtracting the step of shaping a loaf, allowing a conveniently wide range of rising times.) The problem is that the “all-purpose light wheat bread” I just made from the book has occupied my brain for most of the last 24 hours.

The draw of no-knead bread, as the author writes, is that the method is simple and convenient. The book’s recipes “eliminate all the obstacles that used to deter folks from enjoying one of life’s great pleasures.” Yet, after mixing the dough, setting it in the refrigerator 3-10 hours for its first cold rise, putting it on the counter 12-18 hours for its next rise, then stirring in more flour to make the dough properly stiff, then oiling a rubber spatula to lift and fold the dough toward the center of the bowl (as much trouble, in my book, as shaping it would have been), then waiting another two hours for the final rise, baking it until a skewer showed just a few particles on the end and then baking it five minutes more “to make sure the center is done,” as these doughs are necessarily wet — I’ve just been lost on the convenience argument. True, the process didn’t take a lot of active time… but it nagged at me. There was too constant a reminder at the back of my brain that I had a project underway. If I’d started my standby, Beth Hensperger’s Buttermilk Honey Bread, at the same time as I started this bread last night, I would have had a finished loaf on my counter and off my mind by the time I went to bed.

Here’s the strange fact we seem to collectively have lost since 2006 in our embrace of no-knead recipes: It isn’t a big deal to knead a batch of bread dough. It isn’t technically difficult. For most people without joint problems, it isn’t physically difficult. And, it doesn’t take very much time.

I’ll still make Lahey’s no-knead boule when I want that particular style of bread. Otherwise, as I said, I enjoyed the taste of Baggett’s loaf. I’m going to go into her book’s final chapter, a “recipe makeover guide” showing readers how to convert any recipe to a no-knead version… and reverse-engineer it.

I want a yes-knead recipe for the bread I just baked.

Want to judge the convenience for yourself?

Here are recipes for one no-knead and two yes-knead breads, all of which taste great. The first recipe is, to my mind, the simplest. The second one is the no-knead bread pictured above. The third is a recipe I’ve taken to calling my “10-minute knead bread,” which takes some time to put together. It doesn’t claim to be convenient, but it always feels worth the time. You also get three loaves for your effort.

Buttermilk Honey Bread

Makes two loaves

¾ cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 tablespoon (or 1 envelope) active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ cups buttermilk, warmed just to take off the chill (alternatively, brought up to room temperature)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon salt
6-6 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Rich egg glaze: 1 egg, beaten, with 1 tablespoon milk or cream

Pour warm water into a small bowl. Sprinkle yeast and sugar over the surface of the water. Stir to combine and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. You may cover with a dish towel.

In a large bowl (or in the work bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment), add buttermilk, butter, honey and yeast mixture, and stir to combine. Add salt and 2 cups flour. Beat hard to combine. Add remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, beating with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula after each addition, until a shaggy dough is formed.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead about 5 minutes, until dough is smooth and satiny, dusting with flour only 1 tablespoon at a time as needed to prevent sticking.

(If kneading by machine, switch from paddle to dough hook and knead for 3-4 minutes, or until dough is smooth and springy.)

Place dough in a greased bowl. Turn dough once to grease the top and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, 60-75 minutes.

Gently deflate dough with your fist. Turn dough out on a lightly floured work surface. Grease two 9-by-5 -inch loaf pans or a baking sheet for freestyle round loaves. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise until fully doubled in bulk, 30-45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush top of loaves with egg glaze. Put pans on the center rack of the oven and bake about 45 minutes, or until loaves are brown, pull away from sides and sound hollow when tapped with your finger.

Remove loaves immediately to a cooling rack. Cool completely before slicing.

– From “The Bread Bible” by Beth Hensperger, via A Mighty Appetite

All-Purpose Light Wheat Bread

Makes one loaf

3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more as needed
1 cup (5 ounces) whole wheat flour, plus 1 tablespoon for garnishing loaf top
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Generous 1 3/4 teaspoons table salt
3/4 teaspoon instant, fast-rising, or bread machine yeast
3 tablespoons corn oil, plus extra for coating dough top and baking pan
2 cups plus 1 tablespoon ice water, plus more if needed

First Rise: In a large bowl, throughly stir together the white flour, whole wheat flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. In another bowl or measuring cup, whisk the oil into the water. Then vigorously stir the mixture into the bowl with the flour, scraping down the sides and mixing until thoroughly blended. If too dry to mix together, add just enough more water to facilitate mixing, but don’t over-moisten, as the dough should be stiff. If necessary, stir in enough more white flour to stiffen it. Brush or spray the top with oil. Tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap. If desired, for best flavor or for convenience, you can refrigerate the dough for 3 to 10 hours. Then let rise at cool room temperature for 12 to 18 hours; if convenient, vigorously stir once during the rise.

Second Rise: Vigorously stir the dough. If it is not stiff, stir in enough more white flour to yield a hard-to-stir dough. Using an oiled rubber spatula, gently lift and fold the dough in towards the center all the way around (this organizes the gluten for shaping the dough into a loaf.) Invert it into a very well-greased 9 x 5 loaf pan. Using an oiled rubber spatula or fingertips, smooth out the top and press the dough out into the pan. Brush or spray the dough top with oil. Evenly sprinkle the top with 1 tablespoon whole wheat flour. Using a well-oiled serrated knife or kitchen shears, make 3 to 4 evenly spaced diagonal 1/2-inch-deep slashes down the loaf. Cover the pan with nonstick spray-coated plastic wrap.

Let Rise Using Any Of These Methods: For a 1 1/2 to 2 1/2-hour regular rise, let stand at warm rom temperature; for a 1 to 1 1/2-hour accelerated rise, let stand in a turned-off microwave along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water; or, for an extended rise, refrigerate, covered, for 4 to 24 hours, then set out at room temperature. When the dough nears the plastic, remove it and continue the rise until the dough extends 1/8-inch above the pan rim or doubles from its deflated size.

Baking Preliminaries: 15 minutes before baking time, place a rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 375 degrees.

Baking: Bake on the lower rack for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the loaf is well-browned and crisp on top; as necessary cover with foil to prevent over-browning. Bake for 10 to 20 minutes more, until a skewer inserted in the thickest part comes out with just a few particles on the end (or until the center registers 208 degrees to 210 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Then bake for 5 minutes longer to make sure the center is done. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Turn the loaf onto a rack and cool thoroughly.

Serving and Storing: Servce warm, cool, or toasted; the bread slices best when cool. Cool throughly before storing in plastic or foil. Keeps at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. May be frozen, airtight, for up to 2 months.

– From “Kneadlessly Simple” by Nancy Baggett

Robin’s Bread

Makes 3 large pan loaves

4 cups lukewarm water
2 cups whole or reduced-fat milk
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons mild honey
8 to 10 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons plus one teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, vegetable oil, or unsalted butter, softened
1 cup hulled unsalted sunflower seeds (optional)

Place the water and milk in a large bowl and stir. Stir in the yeast to dissolve. Add the whole-wheat flour and stir to blend in. Stir in the honey. Add about 3 cups of the all-purpose flour and stir, always in the same direction, until you have a smooth batter. Stir in the salt, then add the oil or butter and optional sunflower seeds and stir in. Add 4 to 5 cups more cups all-purpose flour, 1 cup at a time, turning and folding the dough to incorporate it.

Flour a work surface generously and turn the dough out. Knead for about 10 minutes, incorporating more flour as necessary to prevent sticking (another 1 1/2 to 2 cups) until you have a soft, still moist dough. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic, and set aside to rise overnight, or for 8 to 12 hours, whichever is the most convenient. The risen dough will be spongy and very moist and sticky.

Flour a work surface generously. Use well floured hands to pull the dough away from the sides of the bowl and turn it out. Use a dough scraper or sharp knife to cut the dough into 3 equal pieces. Let rest while you butter or oil three 9×5 inch bread pans.

Briefly knead one piece of dough, incorporating a little flour from the work surface, then flatten to an oval about 10 inches long. Starting from a narrow end, loosely roll up the dough; it will feel soft under your hands. Pinch the seam to seal, and place seam side down in one of the bread pans. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Set aside, loosely covered with plastic, to rise for 40 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Fill a sprayer with lukewarm water.

Spritz the loaves with water and place them in the oven. After 10 minutes, lower the temperature to 375 degrees, and bake for about 20 minutes. Rotate the pans and bake for another 20 to 25 minutes.

To test for doneness, take one loaf out of the oven, slide it out of the bread pan, and knock it on the bottom. It should sound hollow. Pinch the bottom corners of the loaf: They should be firm, not yielding. If they are still a little soft, bake the bread for about 10 minutes longer.

When the breads are done, tip them out of the pans and place right side up on a rack to cool and firm up. Do not try to slice them until they have cooled completely.

Note: To freeze, wrap the cooled loaves separately in plastic bags and seal tightly. Defrost overnight at room temperature, still sealed in plastic.

 

 

 

 

– From “Home Baking” by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid

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