No-knead bread! In five minutes a day! I’ve been hearing about this technique for a while, but just the term “no-knead” was a turn-off to me. I love to knead bread. It’s easy, takes a mere few minutes, and is one of the most primal things you can do in the kitchen. Still, I took some time recently to dig into this popular trend, test it out, and analyze it out of intellectual curiosity. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need to buy a book. You don’t even need a new recipe. No-knead bread is a method. You might even say it’s a brilliant marketing gimmick. (Hey, it sold somebody a lot of books!) What it’s not is anything different than bread. And you can make it with Grandmother Bread. In fact, you can make it with any bread recipe, but I’m going to show you how to make it with mine.
If you want to. Remember, to some extent, it’s just a gimmick, and one that may or may not suit you and your bakestyle.
What is the same about a no-knead recipe and any other standard bread recipe? Almost everything. In other words, you make it with water, yeast, flour, and other ingredients as directed, depending on the specific type of bread you’re making. The dough goes through two rises and is baked. (The attention-grabbing five-minute claim refers to the time per day you actually spend working with the dough, not the total time it takes to create a loaf of bread. The only real five-minute bread is the bread you pick up from a shelf at a store and take to the cash register.)
What is different about a no-knead recipe from any other standard bread recipe? It’s a wet dough. That’s why you don’t (can’t) knead it. It’s comparable to the difference between drop biscuits and regular cut-out biscuits. It’s all about the extra liquid.
Most no-knead bread recipes call for 7-8 cups of flour (because, seriously, this is about as big of a batch of dough as you can handle using a large bowl or pot unless you want to use an extremely large container and take up an excessive amount of refrigerator space). This size dough is comparable to the two-loaf Grandmother Bread recipe, only the “no-kneaders” suggest this makes four loaves. Four small loaves. If you’re looking to make a small loaf for one evening’s dinner bread, this is fine. If you’re looking for a big, beautiful loaf for sandwiches, it’s not.
What I’m saying here is that this is why no-knead bread is not for everyone. Those of us with families who go through bread quickly would find less benefit from this method. Might as well go ahead and bake yourself up two solid-size loaves and get on with your day. However, if smaller loaves appeal to you, if you don’t have a tableful of mouths to feed, this might be for you, after all. It also may appeal to you if you have trouble with kneading from a physical standpoint, or if you are just scared of kneading. You also might want to try this method if you need bread on a specific day and think you won’t have time that day for the first stage of the process. You can prepare the dough in advance then take it out to bake when it’s time.
You can also make a “cheater” sourdough by not using the entire bowl before making the dough again. Leave a small amount, about a cup, of dough in the bowl and start the recipe all over again, mixing in that bit of “aged” dough. In a few weeks of continuing the process of remaking the dough with a bit of old dough every time, your dough will develop a sourdough flavor.
You can actually divide this dough however you like, making either three or four smallish dinner-sized shaped loaves, or two regular sandwich loaves (loaf pan size). You could make dinner rolls, hamburger and hot dog buns, cinnamon rolls, etc. If you want to use egg and oil in no-knead dough, add two eggs and 2/3 cup oil and only three cups of water instead of four. (The egg and oil make up the additional cup of liquid. Still use only 7 cups of flour.)
Note: There is a five-hour “wait time” before you can even get close to baking this bread. If you want bread in the same day and faster, make Grandmother bread following the standard recipe and directions. See the original Grandmother Bread recipe here. Scared of kneading? Learn how to make bread with a nine-year-old.
Other techniques for setting bread dough aside to bake another day using the standard Grandmother Bread recipe:
Use a very large bowl! (You might even use a big pot.)
How to make No-Knead Grandmother Bread:
4 cups warm water
1 tablespoon yeast (1 packet)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
7 cups all-purpose flour
In a large bowl, combine water, yeast, sugar, and salt. Let sit five minutes. Stir in first three cups of flour with a heavy spoon.
Mix in the rest of the flour, with the spoon, a cup or two at a time.
Lightly grease a sheet of aluminum foil and cover loosely.
Let the dough rest for two hours at room temperature. It will rise, and slightly collapse.
Place the bowl of dough in the refrigerator at least three hours or overnight. (Or as long as you want! You can let this dough sit in your refrigerator for weeks.) Pinch down the aluminum foil over the bowl to cover tightly while in the fridge or cover with a lid if you made the dough in a big pot. (Don’t transfer the dough at this point–make it in whatever you intend to keep it in.) The dough will be easier to work with (less sticky) if you refrigerate at least overnight before using the first time.
Edit to add: I’m using aluminum foil to cover the bowl here because when I put the bowl in the fridge, I can tighten the foil down on the bowl. You can loosely cover a bowl of rising bread with a damp dishtowel, greased waxed paper, etc, anything you like, but when you store dough in the fridge for possibly an extended period, you want to have it covered tightly to avoid off-flavors creeping into the dough. You can use a pot with a lid or pinched-down aluminum foil or any covered container, etc.
When you’re ready to bake some bread, take out the bowl or pot and sprinkle a little flour on top of the dough. DO NOT PUNCH THE DOUGH DOWN. Using a spoon, cut away the portion of dough you want–half, a third, a fourth, depending on what type and size of loaf you want to make.
The chilled dough actually will cut away fairly easily with a spoon, especially if you have refrigerated at least overnight.
You can take one portion at a time and put the bowl with the rest of the dough back in the fridge for another day, or use it all to make several loaves at once. Remember that if you want to continue this process to develop a sourdough flavor, leave about a cup of dough in the bowl and remake the recipe.
With floured hands, shape dough into loaves. DO NOT KNEAD. Just shape. Grasp the dough in both hands, pulling it out and tucking edges under as you shape.
You can make round loaves, long French- or Italian-style loaves, or (if using half of the dough) place it in a loaf pan. Lightly grease whatever pan you’re using and let the shaped dough rest for at least 30 minutes and no longer than 90. The dough won’t rise much during this time (the dough is cold) and that’s all right–it will rise in the oven. (Time the rest period to suit yourself and your schedule that day. Don’t go over 90 minutes because the dough will get too warm, flatten out, and free-form loaves will lose their shape before baking.)
Make slits with a knife across the tops if you like. Cold dough works really well for slashing.
Your bake time will vary depending on the size and type of loaf, anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. (Keep an eye on it!) Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven.
You can use variations on the dough, such as making Raisin Bread, but remember all your dough from that batch will be raisin bread. You can also use all or partial whole grains–remember to add homemade dough enhancer.
Will I take to using the no-knead method? Sometimes! I don’t always want to make space in my refrigerator for a big bowl of dough, so that is a real downside for me. I have a big fridge–and it’s almost always full. Making bread is simple and quick enough as it is (to me), and I like kneading dough. But. It’s just another bread-making technique to have in your bag of baking tricks. And for those of you who are afraid to make homemade bread–now you’re out of excuses. You don’t even have to knead! If you can stir a spoon in a bowl, you can make bread.
Make this your Year of the Bread. Get baking!
See this recipe at Farm Bell Recipes and save it to your recipe box.