The Third Time's the Charm, Sort Of

I have been chasing the dream of no-knead bread for almost two years. Yeasted breads have always been my achilles heel. The idea of my being able to make artisanal loaves at home was nothing short of delusional.

Then almost two years ago, Mark Bittman published an article in his New York Times Minimalist column on "No-Knead Bread," describing a method of making bread using a very small amount of yeast (only one-quarter teaspoon), a long rising time (24 hours), and no kneading whatsoever. Bittman declared it easy enough that a child could do it.

The recipe published with Bittman's article was absurd in its simplicity, and I put it on my backburner list of recipes to try at some unspecified time in the future. Then my friend Patsy invited me over to dinner and I saw and tasted a loaf that she had baked using the Bittman recipe. It was unbelievable. Perfectly round and high with a golden chewy crust and a wonderful crumb like you might purchase from your favorite bakery. That weekend I tried Bittman's recipe. I ended up with a puddle of dough that baked up into a flat, ugly, undercooked, yeasty mess. I was sufficiently dejected to abandon the effort to make no-knead bread for over a year.

Last month at the Dinner for David, Patsy served two loaves of "Almost No-Knead Bread" that she made using a recipe from the January/February issue of Cook's Illustrated. I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but I liked it even more than her version of the Bittman bread. The Cook's Illustrated recipe includes vinegar and beer, and I thought the deep flavor and dense crumb of the bread were outstanding. So, inspired once again, I asked Patsy for a copy of the recipe. I tried it, and again ended up with a runny puddle of dough. This time I didn't even bother baking it.

I just resigned myself to the fact that clearly I can't make no-knead bread, even though everyone else on the planet seems to be able to make it with no problem... My blogging partner CluckyDucky posted about her experiences with no-knead bread a couple of weeks ago, and several friends have asked me with a combination of pity and bewilderment what I could possibly be doing wrong since they can all bake no-knead bread effortlessly on a regular basis.

Then last week I opened up the new King Arthur Flour catalog that I received in the mail, and right inside the front cover, there was a recipe for "No-Knead Harvest Bread." This recipe included raisins, walnuts, and dried cranberries. I thought hey, I'm a glutton for punishment... why not give it a try? So last night I mixed up the dough and let it rise overnight. This morning was a little like Christmas; I bounded out of bed eagerly awaiting to see what baking Santa had left me. I was overjoyed to see that it was something that looked like it might actually bake into a loaf of bread, and not just a runny puddle of flour.

The King Arthur Flour recipe differs significantly from the Bittman and Cook's Illustrated recipes when it comes to the baking instructions. Bittman and Cook's Illustrated instruct you to bake the bread in a enameled cast iron dutch oven that has been preheated in the oven. The King Arthur Flour recipe instructs you to bake the bread in a baking cloche, which starts out in a cold oven. I don't have a cloche, so I used a Le Creuset dutch oven. As directed, I put the bread in the dutch oven into a cold oven, and then turned on the oven to 450 degrees. After 45 minutes, I took off the lid, and I was happy to see a bunch of steam escape. I was a little less happy to see that the bread had not risen very much and the loaf was fairly flat. I let the bread bake for another 5 minutes uncovered and took the temperature of the loaf with an instant read thermometer. It was only 185 degrees, and the recipe said it should be 205. I gave it another 10 minutes, at which point the thermometer read 208 degrees. At that point, the loaf was very brown (see picture at the beginning of this post) and I was pretty sure it was ruined, but I thought I would let it cool and see what it looked like inside.

A few hours later, I sawed into the loaf and gingerly took a bite. To my tremendous relief, it was tasty and moist! And the crust, although chewy, was quite fine and didn't taste burnt at all. Certainly I don't think this loaf was perfect by any means, but it was perfectly edible, and in light of my colossal past failures, I'm happy to start out with some baby steps! So I'm going to chalk this one up in the win column. I think the bread will be especially good toasted, and topped with the brie I bought earlier today. And it's certainly enough to renew my spirit and enthusiasm for no-knead bread, which I was about ready to abandon forever.



Anonymous said…
Congratulations -- it certainly does look like the third time was the charm! I can't wait to try a piece -- it looks delicious!!
PJH said…
Hey, never give up, right? Even "failures" can be quite delicious. Glad our recipe worked for you. PJ Hamel, King Arthur flour blogger/baker
R. Mansfield said…
I've created a link to this post in the "Experiences" section of our newest "Cast Iron Around the Web" entry at