No Knead Bread

Jim Lahey's no knead bread is one of those recipes that makes you want to slap your head - it's so easy and the end result is so so SO beautiful.

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It’s frustrating to think that for years we believed that bread that looked this good was something you’d find only in an artisanal bakery, and definitely not something you could make at home, let alone by someone with only a 5-minute attention span. And yet, there it is – simplicity sitting right under our noses. No need for kneading.

No Knead Bread after it has finished baking in the cast iron Dutch oven.

Jim Lahey, the owner and baker of Sullivan Street Bakery, produces breads for over 300 restaurants in New York and in 2006 the New York Times first published Jim’s method of making bread without kneading it – No Knead Bread. This went against centuries of tradition where kneading the bread dough was deemed critical to developing the gluten in flour, which in turn was necessary to create a bread that would rise beautifully and hold its shape while having the loose airy crumb of artisan bread loaves. Jim figured out that a slow rise of a relatively wet dough created a more flavorful loaf – similar to those loaves he had eaten in Italy – and that the extra moisture in the dough would evaporate into steam in the oven, helping the dough to rise and the crust to crisp.

Ingredients for no knead bread on a countertop.

The no knead bread is baked in a cast iron Dutch oven which is pre-heated for 30 minutes along with the oven to 425ºF. The cast iron holds the high heat of the oven and turns into an oven in and of itself – an oven in an oven, so to speak. Topping the Dutch oven with a lid allows the baker to trap that steam being released by the bread and helps with the rise – a more intense bake than just baking in an oven on a stone.

No knead bread dough mixed together in a bowl.

The dough after being stirred together.

Of course, this is the only tricky part of the recipe – getting the bread into the smoking hot cast iron Dutch oven without burning yourself or deflating the dough too much. One trick is to use the parchment paper that the bread is resting on as a transfer mechanism, placing it into the cast iron pot along with the bread dough. The downside of this trick is that I’ve found that the paper traps a little moisture on the bottom of the loaf, which ends up less crusty, but you can always crisp the bottom of the loaf back up in the oven after it has baked.

No Knead Bread dough after 18 hours of slow fermentation.

The dough after 18 hours of slow fermentation.

The other challenge to the recipe is handling the dough when it is so wet and sticky. The answer here is a little counter-intuitive – you want wet hands. Before you turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface, wet your hands so that the dough can’t stick to you. It works every time. 

No knead bread turned out onto floured parchment paper.

Ready for the second rise, dusted with flour.

Finally, be sure to flour the surfaces of the bread well. Really well. I use a flour duster for this, which gives me an even coating of flour. The flour helps make the transfer of the dough from countertop to cast iron much easier and it creates a pretty pattern on top of the loaf. You can’t really avoid getting flour on your countertops (or floor.. or face for that matter) with this recipe, so just let it happen and clean it up later. Besides, what excellent artisanal bakery doesn’t have flour on the flour and counters? 

No Knead Bread after the first 30 minutes of baking in a cast iron pot.

After the first 30 minutes of baking.

If you like this white version of Jim Lahey’s No Knead Bread, try my whole wheat version here.

A loaf of white and whole wheat no knead bread on a wooden cutting board.

White (left) and Whole Wheat (right) No Knead Bread

No Knead Bread

  • Prep Time: 5 m
  • Cook Time: 23 h
  • Total Time: 23 h 5 m
  • Servings:
    12
    1 loaf

Ingredients

  • 3 cups bread flour 360 g
  • teaspoons salt
  • ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 12 ounces 1½ cups water

Instructions

  1. Combine the flour, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add the water and stir all the ingredients together. The dough should be shaggy and a little sticky - you shouldn't really be able to pick this dough up or handle it.
  2. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest in room temperature for 12 to 18 hours. The longer you let it sit, the more flavor is developed. After 18 hours, the dough should be bubbly on top and a shade darker than it was when you started.
  3. Place a piece of parchment paper on the countertop and dust very generously with flour. Wet your hands and fold the dough over on itself a few times to release the air inside the dough. (Wetting your hands will help prevent the dough from sticking to you.) Turn the dough out onto the floured parchment paper, seam side down.
  4. Dust more flour on the top of the dough and cover the dough by inverting the mixing bowl over the top. (Alternately, you could use a clean kitchen towel to cover the dough, but I find this often sticks to the dough, ruining both the appearance of the bread and the towel.) Let the dough rest like this for up to 2 hours. After the dough has rested for 1 to 1 ½ hours on the countertop, place a lidded cast iron Dutch oven into your oven and pre-heat the oven to 425ºF for 30 minutes.
  5. Then, working carefully, remove the Dutch oven from the oven and take off the lid. Remove the bowl and slide your hand underneath the dough ball. Making sure you don't touch the hot cast iron pot, invert the dough into the pot as gently as you can. Cover with the lid. If this seems too much for you, use the parchment paper to lift the dough into the pot, paper and all, and cover. Return the pot to the oven for 30 minutes.
  6. After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the Dutch oven and let the bread continue to bake until it is nicely browned on top - about 10 to 20 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven and let the bread sit in it for about 5 minutes. Then, transfer the beautiful loaf to a cooling rack to cool. Although it is tempting to dive right in, let the bread cool for 30 minutes before enjoying.
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Comments (2)Post a Reply

  1. Hi Meredith,

    I think I missed something in the recipe for the NO Knead Bread. What size dutch oven does one use in this recipe?

    Looking forward to watching another evening class. Thank you!

    1. Hi Karen,
      I use a 5 to 6 quart Dutch oven. You could use a 4 quart instead – it will be a little tighter to get the bread into the pot, but it will have a higher rise. Anything bigger than 6 quarts will allow the bread to spread out a little too much – still delicious, but not as high a loaf.

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