If it weren’t for Smitten Kitchen, I wouldn’t have known what Cooks Illustrated was referring to in their article about Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread recipe that “instantly won over legions of followers”, including Deb. I’ve never made the original recipe, so I can’t attest to Cooks Illustrated’s claim that it sometimes produces “flat, irregular blobs” with a flat-tasting crumb. Their Almost No-Knead Bread recipe aims to solve any problems that were encountered with the original.
I made Cooks Illustrated’s updated version, and I thought it was great. This might be the most attractive loaf of bread I have ever baked. I loved the flavor as well. I thought it had a bit of a sourdough flavor to it, but without the work involved with real sourdough. I also like the open structure of the crumb – I love breads with lots of air bubbles. Another great thing – I estimate that all of the work for the recipe, from getting out ingredients to cleaning up, took a total of about 20 minutes.
One thing I don’t understand about both recipes is why we need a no-knead bread recipe? I don’t know anyone who kneads bread by hand. Most people who are interested enough in food to know about this recipe own Kitchenaid mixers or bread machines that do their bread-kneading for them. I actually mixed up this dough in my Kitchenaid’s mixer bowl and considered letting the mixer stir the dough for me. Leaving the machine on for another 8 minutes while it kneads wouldn’t have been any more work. The No-Knead bread fad would make more sense to me if the bread could be mixed the night before and immediately baked upon getting home from work the next day, but both the original and CI’s revised recipe require about the same amount of babysitting on the day they’re baked as a traditional bread recipe.
On the other hand, if this recipe is popular not for its lack of kneading, but simply because it produces a lovely and tasty loaf of bread, well then I can understand.
Almost No-Knead Bread (from Cooks Illustrated January 2008)
Makes 1 large round loaf
CI note: An enameled cast-iron Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid yields best results, but the recipe also works in a regular cast-iron Dutch oven or heavy stockpot. (See the related information in “Making Your Dutch Oven Safe for High-Heat Baking” for information on converting Dutch oven handles to work safely in a hot oven.) Use a mild-flavored lager, such as Budweiser (mild non-alcoholic lager also works). The bread is best eaten the day it is baked but can be wrapped in aluminum foil and stored in a cool, dry place for up to 2 days.
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (15 ounces), plus additional for dusting work surface
¼ teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
1½ teaspoons table salt
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons water (7 ounces), at room temperature
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons mild-flavored lager (3 ounces)
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1. Whisk flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Add water, beer, and vinegar. Using rubber spatula, fold mixture, scraping up dry flour from bottom of bowl until shaggy ball forms. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 8 to 18 hours.
2. Lay 12- by 18-inch sheet of parchment paper inside 10-inch skillet and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to lightly floured work surface and knead 10 to 15 times. Shape dough into ball by pulling edges into middle. Transfer dough, seam-side down, to parchment-lined skillet and spray surface of dough with nonstick cooking spray. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until dough has doubled in size and does not readily spring back when poked with finger, about 2 hours.
3. About 30 minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place 6- to 8-quart heavy-bottomed Dutch oven (with lid) on rack, and heat oven to 500 degrees. Lightly flour top of dough and, using razor blade or sharp knife, make one 6-inch-long, ½-inch-deep slit along top of dough. Carefully remove pot from oven and remove lid. Pick up dough by lifting parchment overhang and lower into pot (let any excess parchment hang over pot edge). Cover pot and place in oven. Reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees and bake covered for 30 minutes. Remove lid and continue to bake until loaf is deep brown and instant-read thermometer inserted into center registers 210 degrees, 20 to 30 minutes longer. Carefully remove bread from pot; transfer to wire rack and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.