The Resurgence Of No Knead Bread

Crusty

I’ll be honest.

I’ve been categorically ignoring the whole no knead bread trend since I first heard about it back in 2006.

It became quite the internet sensation at the time, died down and now seems to be making the rounds again, due at least partially to Cathy Erway’s new book about not eating out for 2 years, I assume (which includes her riff on the recipe).

As someone who loves cooking and food as much as I do, I can say with alacrity that I’ve often thought of no knead bread as the lazy person’s shortcut, aka baking for dummies.  If you asked my mother, she’d probably cluck her teeth and mutter something under her breath about it being the cowboy way.  Beyond that, even though I start by mixing 90% of my breads in a stand mixer for at least part of the process, I can’t imagine giving up the interaction with the elementalness that is bread just to make life “simpler”.

But, when I saw Erway’s recipe for parmagiano, peppercorn and potato no knead bread, I made an exception and decided to try it.  At the time I had no knowledge of what made her recipe differ from the standard no knead bread, so I followed everything to the letter except for 2 things.  I subbed in a cup of whole wheat flour to surreptitiously improve its healthiness and instead of cracked black peppercorns, I mixed up a blend of 5 different ones that I’ve had lurking in the kitchen, including Muntok, Sarawak, Malabar, Tellicherry and Moula peppercorns crushed in a tea towel with a mallet.

The first sign that things were going slightly awry was when I realized I had no white potatoes to contribute to the potato water called for in the recipe.  Because I wasn’t sure whether it was intrinsic to the success of the original or not, I didn’t want to omit it altogether, but I also had no time to run out and get a spud.  Instead I boiled the only thing I had left in the house that was tuber-like; a yam.  After combining everything with the yam water, I wondered whether I’d be able to discern the taste in the finished product.

After 24 Hours

As it sat there on the counter in a bowl for the next 24 hours, there was no visible reason to believe that it did.  On the contrary, I found the odd grey shade from the peppercorns much more ominous than the potential of orange yam bread.

Doughy

The next day the small dough ball looked relatively spongy and ready to be shaped and slapped into the oven.

Inflated

After softly patting it into a boule, I rained an ungodly amount of parm down over the top of the bread and left it rest for a few more hours.  Once the dough had nearly tripled in size, I carefully eased it and the parchment paper it rested on into the secret weapon of the recipe, a preheated cast iron dutch oven.  All that was left was to cover it with the lid and wait for crusty, airy perfection.

Nearly 45 minutes later, the bread was richly burnished and auburn.  The parm gave it a heavenly aroma that was enticing me to eat, but I patiently held back until the loaf was cool enough to slice.

Home Slice

After trying a bite, I think we both agreed that 3 tablespoons of peppercorns was a bit much, even for spicy people like us.  True to its word, the bread did have a thick, chewy crust, but overall I didn’t find it to be any better than the loaves I’ve already been making.  The only snippet from the no knead technique that I will be trying again is to bake my next loaf in the dutch oven, to see if it works just as well at producing an envy-worthy crust from traditional bread.  To date all I’ve been baking on is a pre-heated pizza stone, so I’m intrigued by the inherent possibilities of an enclosed baking vessel.

For that I suppose I owe Jim Lahey a modicum of gratitude.

I’ll update as I experiment more.

Until next time…

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3 Responses to “The Resurgence Of No Knead Bread”

  1. foodwithlegs says:

    Hi Porsha,

    I too have avoided the no-knead fad. I think you are right on target by seeing that the comparison is confused by the introduction of an enclosed cooking vessel.

    Additionally, I note that almost all no-knead recipes call for an overnight ferment in the fridge and I think this step is what really improves the flavour of bread the most. Almost all of Peter Reinhardt’s (traditional, with kneading) recipes also call for doing this.

    The Lahey reference flew over my head. Does he bake bread in a dutch oven?

  2. mochapj says:

    David,
    I agree about the overnight ferment impacting flavour. Many of the breads I make usually contain a poolish or biga or other fermented starter which does definitely improve the flavour after sitting overnight.

    The Lahey reference is just that to my understanding, he is the architect responsible for popularizing the no knead trend – and all the recipes for no knead that I’ve read explicitly state to bake in a heavy bottomed covered vessel – dutch oven being the one that is typically mentioned first.

  3. murphyjenn says:

    i see the kneading as part of the whole joy of bread making! no knead would feel like a slap in my grandmothers’ faces!
    mmm….bread, time to make some!

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