Edited to add: Okay, I didn’t realize Cook’s Illustrated *also* dubbed their version of no-knead “No Knead 2.0.” Whoops! FYI, this post does not describe the CI recipe, but rather the one printed in the Washington Post.
By now, most home cooks are familiar with “No Knead Bread,” at least in name or concept if not in practice. Mark Bittman’s 2006 article on Jim Lahey’s novel technique sent curious bakers and novice knead-a-phobes running to their kitchens to master the art of crusty, delicious, homemade bread, sans fuss.
I may be the only enthusiastic baker in America who has yet to try Mr. Lahey’s technique. I know, I know, what have I been doing, right? Well first I didn’t have the right pot…then I did…and then life sort of got in the way.
But then a few weeks back, two different articles appeared — one in the New York Times, one in the Washington Post — that attempted to best the original No Knead recipe, making the process even simpler, even “no kneadier.” Luisa at Wednesday Chef had iffy results with the Times recipe, so I ditched that one.
But Nancy Baggett’s recipe in the Post looked promising. Whereas the latest Times recipe claimed “No Knead” results could be accomplished in half the time, Baggett’s recipe didn’t cut the time much at all, but it cut out the need to touch the dough entirely. Even Jim Lahey’s recipe required a little futzing, just gently shaping the dough before the final rise. But the Post recipe required no kneading at all — none. I think she should have called it, “No Knead, for Reals.”
Does that make it more clinical and sterile? Yes. Admittedly, sometimes I really like kneading dough. Rough week at work? Family giving you a hard time? Take it out on the dough. I also consider it a workout, justifying the copious quantities of bread I will soon eat.
But sometimes, you just want delicious bread without the cleanup. Although I’ve never made Lahey’s recipe (I will, I will, I promise!), his method does require a special pot and just a touch more “cleanup” than Baggett’s recipe. That said, Baggett’s method yields a rectangular loaf, not the rustic boule shape that makes the original No Knead Bread so beautiful. The Post recipe yields more of a sandwich bread or loaf for morning toast than something you’d make for guests.
So, compelled by my guilt for not trying this method the first time around, I gave Baggett’s whole wheat loaf a try for breakfast this weekend. The verdict? Very, very tasty, and I’ve been enjoying the loaf for breakfast all week. The texture is soft and the exterior has a wonderful crunch. Sadly I cannot compare it to the Lahey bread (the shame!), but I suspect it’s a very different type of bread prepared using a similar method.
Next time I have a dinner party, I will give Lahey’s method a try. And I have a delicious, old-fashioned, knead-to-your-heart’s-content bread recipe I will be sharing soon. But for an average morning after a tiring work week, this recipe does the trick.
Slow-Rise, No-Knead Light Wheat Bread
Adapted from a recipe by Nancy Baggett
Note: There are two keys to this bread — a long, slow rise and “rapid rise” yeast (sometimes labeled as “quick rise” or “instant” yeast). Baggett gives a range of 12 to 18 hours for the first rise. I let it sit for 12, but next time I think I will let it go for longer. The longer the rise, the more flavor.
For the first rise:
3 cups white bread flour or all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon “rapid rise” or “instant” yeast
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, or 1 1/2 tablespoons corn oil, plus 1 teaspoon extra for coating dough
2 cups room-temperature water
For the second rise:
1/2 teaspoon melted butter or corn oil
1/2 tablespoon whole wheat flour
Combine the flours, sugar, salt and yeast in a 3-quart or larger bowl. Mix well. Add the butter or oil and the water and stir vigorously until well combined; the dough may be stiff. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a greased spatula. Drizzle 1 teaspoon melted butter or corn oil over the dough and, using a pastry brush or your fingers, spread the butter or oil evenly over the dough. Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and let it sit at 70°F or cooler for 12-18 hours.
Stir the dough vigorously with a spoon to deflate it. Coat a 9″x5″ loaf pan with cooking spray. Scrape the dough into the pan and drizzle 1/2 teaspoon melted butter or corn oil over the dough, spreading it with a pastry brush or your fingers until the surface is evenly covered and looks smooth. Sift about 1/2 tablespoon whole wheat flour over the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 45-75 minutes, until the dough nears the rim of the pan. (Baggett also says that for a quicker rise, you can microwave 1 cup of water for 2 minutes, until it is nearly boiling. Place the hot water in the back corner of the microwave, and place the loaf pan in the microwave as far away from the water as possible. The rise will take 30-50 minutes in this case.)
Once the dough nears the rim of the pan, carefully remove the plastic wrap. Let the dough continue to rise until it is a 1/4″ above the rim of the pan.
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 425°F. Gently transfer the loaf pan to the oven (don’t jar the pan, which can cause the dough to deflate). Bake for 25-35 minutes, until the loaf is well-browned on top and sounds hollow when thumped with your finger. (For me, it took more like 40-45 minutes. A good gauge is to stick an instant read thermometer into the bread; the internal temperature should read about 200ºF. If the top starts to get too brown, cover with aluminum foil.)
Transfer to a rack and let the bread cool in the pan for several minutes, then run a knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the bread. Turn the bread out onto a rack and cool completely before slicing (if you don’t cool it completely it will be gummy when you slice into it…).
Yield: 1 9-inch loaf