new york times no-knead bread: is actually terrific

A few weeks ago the Mark Bittman published an article in the New York Times extolling the virtues of what he called no-knead bread. He got the technique from baker Jim Lahey, and described the bread as completely revolutionary — the sort of bread that was so easy and so good that it would enable a four-year old to make bread better than the vast majority of artisanal bakeries in the country. The article itself (with accompanying video) is now behind the NYT select pay wall but here you can find the actual recipe here.

The Internet went completely bonkers over this recipe. On the Well, the ancient BBS where I often hang out, practically everyone in foodie conferences tried it and with reasonably good results.

I was hugely skeptical and was all set to rant about the recipe without even having the benefit of trying it. My long no-knead bread story in the extended part of this post.


There are three concepts behind the supposed radical wonderfulness of the no-knead bread: a long slow rise with very little yeast, which produces a great taste in the dough; a very wet dough, which can’t be kneaded but produces a artisanal-like crumb with lots of big holes in it, and baking the dough in a heavy preheated pot, which gives you a really great crust.

None of these concepts is new in breadbaking. Anyone who has worked with sourdough knows the value of the long slow rise in producing great taste. Wet doughs such as those in ciabatta will produce a great rustic holey bread without any kneading (you often can’t knead them, they’re too wet). And since we home bakers do not have the benefit of steam-injected ovens there have always been all kinds of tricks for producing crusty breads — with clay baking cloches one of the more expensive techniques and pans of hot water in the oven one of the easier.

That said I figured before I wrote my rant I should actually try the recipe. I cheerfully admit I was trying it to disprove it. I wanted it to turn out bad so I could make lots of sarcastic comments and pish-toshedness.

Except then the bread wasn’t bad. It turned out great. Darn it.

I did have a few problems with the recipe — the measurements and temperatures in the recipe were different from those in the video, which was kind of confusing. When I mixed up my dough it was really dry so I added more water than was called for, and then the resulting bread was kind of wet and sticky. Good, but could be better. When friends had tried it some people had ended up with results that were too wet, or too dry, or too gummy, or just hard to work with. Results seemed to be just all over the map. I think a lot of the problem was with the imprecision in the recipe, and it seemed to me as if this bread was very particular in terms of measurements and how long it was cooked. Hardly the sort of thing that was supposed to be so easy a four year old could make. I wanted to try the recipe again and this time to get all geeky and obsessive on it to see if it could be made more consistent and thus improved. I got my chance yesterday on Thanksgiving.

First step was to standardize the ingredients. American recipes use volume for dry measurements (eg, two cups of flour), which is just plain dumb. I played around in the flour for a bit last week and discovered that you can get from 140 to 160 grams of flour in a cup depending on how much you fluff it up or pack it down. That’s a big difference. For this recipe I split the difference and went with 150g per cup which is 450g total. I use bread flour but the recipe says all-purpose will work fine or you can experiment with rye or whole wheat.

The recipe calls for 1 5/8s cup water, 1 1/2 cup in the video. That was roughly 400g of water but I erred on the light side and went with 380g.

Yeast and salt stayed the same — 1/4 teaspoon yeast, 1 1/4 teaspoons salt. (it could have used a little more salt).

All the ingredients are mixed just enough to come together. There’s no kneading (hence the name). You cover the bowl and let it rise 12-18 hours in a warm spot. Then it’ll be wet and sticky and difficult to work with.

bread 1 mmm, squishy. better when folded

Fold it over a few times (I use a floured bench scraper) and let it rise some more. Then heat up the oven with a big heavy pot inside it for half an hour, drop the dough into the pot, cover it, and bake.

The first time I made this bread it was kind of wet inside which I attributed to either the dough being too wet or the temperature being too high. But I wanted to rule out just not baking it long enough. So I stuck an instant thermometer into the bread and baked it until 210 degrees F — a good fifteen minutes longer than I had cooked it the first time — and the bread came out significantly darker than before but MUCH better inside, with big holes and a good texture. The crust was INSANELY good, thick and crusty, and shattered to bits when I bit into it.

the bread is out cut the bread

In short: 450g flour, 380g water and baked to 210 F internal temperature works for me as modifications to the original recipe. There’s little I’d improve from here (perhaps a little more salt). I so didn’t want to be but I’m really, really impressed with this recipe. Its super-easy and really great once you get it right. Two thumbs up.

Update: This post has turned out to be by far the most popular on my site, and has brought in a variety of folks who are not my normal readers. Welcome, new readers! I apologize for not replying to comments individually until now. I’ll try to keep up better in the future.

19 thoughts on “new york times no-knead bread: is actually terrific

  1. Hmm. No kneading, but you have to let it rise 12-18 hours? That doesn’t sound like a very good tradeoff. This recipe sounds like lots more work than any other bread I’ve ever made.

  2. Nah, its way easy. I’ve made a lot of bread in my time and this is by far the easiest recipe I’ve ever tried. Its 12-18 hours plus baking time, sure, but you’re not sitting there watching it for any of that time. I start it at about 8pm, come back to it just before lunch the next day, and then finish up after lunch. The total time actually touching the dough is less than twenty minutes. If I rushed it would be less than ten. Really way easy. I’ve made plenty of loaves of bread that required LOTS more fussing (I have a sourdough recipe that takes five days start to finish, and you have to get up in the middle of the night in one of them) and that didn’t come out as good.

  3. Yesterday, before discovering your blog this morning, I baked the bread following the NYT’s recipe. The only variation was that about 1/2 cup of the flour was whole wheat. It was fun to do and for a first time it came out fine, but a bit too moist inside. I’m a total newbie at this and for my next try I thought about increasing the temperature to 500 (as in the video, instead of the 450 in the recipe), but you seem to suggest that a better bet would be to bake it for a few more minutes. Am I interpreting you correctly? And yes, I agree with you about the salt. Thanks!

    Reply from Laura: I’ve heard from friends that baking at 500 tends to burn the bread on the bottom. I’ve made this bread a bunch of times now nd 450 seems to work just fine — as long as its baked long enough.

  4. I tried it last weekend and used the temp in the video – 500. When I uncovered it after the first 30 minutes the crust was as dark as I’d want it. I left it in in because it wasn’t supposed because it wasn’t supposed to be done cooking, but after 5 more min. it started getting dangerously dark, so I took it out. Crust was AMAZING tasting, but

    the inside was gluey. I think I’ll try again at the 450 temp. and uncover earlier (I baked it in one of the clay cloches).

    NYT posted an update to the article in their Dining section yesterday (I think) – you can still get it for free I think, where he goes over weights, temp

    and a few other things people have been talking about regarding the recipe.

    Reply from Laura: Try 450 — I think you’ll find the crust won’t get as dark and you can bake it longer so that it won’t end up as gluey on the inside. I’ve definitely found with this recipe that if you undercook it the texture is kind of ick.

  5. but how was the taste? sourdough or like a ciabatta or ….?

    Reply from Laura: Very much like a ciabatta; not really sour but with a rustic taste. Its nice.

  6. Did you really need to use athe 6 to 8 quart pan? Thanks.

    Reply from Laura: The pan is what creates the fabulous crust. You could use a smaller pan — I use a 5 qt — but you might run out of room. A larger one and it’ll just flatten out and not rise quite as much. But you need the pot to get the crust. Definitely.

  7. I found a Club aluminum pot at an antique mall for $15 and it is perfect for baking this bread. My son made four batches of this bread over the Christmas holiday and all were delicious. He did add more salt but otherwise followed the recipe exactly. Club aluminum ware was sold in the 40’s and 50’s by traveling salesmen. It is heavy and just right for baking this bread.

  8. I just finished my 12th loaf of this bread! I have my technique down perfect – mix up the dough around 11 PM, then bake the next evening – so easy! I created a web page to document my process – http://www.aresrocket.com/bread. I use between 1 1/4 and 1 1/2 cups of water – if the dough is too wet you will have a mess. Its tricky and depends on the humidity in your house and the moisture in the flour.

  9. Help! I’ve tried this recipe a half dozen times and it always comes out flat and dense. I’m following the recipe carefully and even adding more instant yeast. The crust is great
    but it’s just so flat (1.5 inches high). At first I let it rise at the same temp they specify for the 18 hours (70 degrees) and it rose a little but when you plop it into the pan it
    deflates. I then put it on a rack over steaming water for 2 hours and the same thing happened (perhaps it was too hot?). i bought an old cast-iron pot that is 8″ in diameter at the
    base. Any suggestions are appreciated!!

  10. This happened to me the first time and my friend said I had bad/old yeast. I tried it with a new pack of fresh yeast and it totally puffed up and came out at least doubly high. You don’t need more yeast, just fresh yeast. Good luck!

    Reply from Laura: I agree with Jill — if your dough isn’t rising it sounds like bad yeast. Also make sure you’re using instant yeast (its often called “bread machine yeast”) and not active dry yeast or rapid rise yeast.

  11. The NYT recipe is similar to an old South African Boer recipe for the bread
    they baked before and during the South African war where this type of
    bread was baked in cast iron pots (3 legged) in the embers of a camp fires
    and in the Boer War this bread and Biltong (Hard Tack) was the staple diet
    of the Boer soldiers. If you see pictures from that time you will see that
    every soldier wore a flour sack over his shoulder and he would have a tin
    of yeast/sourdough in his kit. More effective than having a quartermaster
    setup i’d say! Your frontiersmen would also bake bread the same way and
    this bread and hard tack was the staple of the West. There is nothing really
    new in this world and I don’t know what all the fuss is about. This is old hat.
    Reg Arkner, Johannesburg, South Africa

  12. It is pathetic to read some of the comments on this site about the NYT

    wonder bread. Why Amaricans insist on usin cup and teaspoon measures

    is just amasing and when they try to convert they get it all wrong – one

    would think that they never went to school. The calculations are totally

    inaccurate. The recipe was given by the NYT in US volumes so the first

    ting to do is to convert to metric volumes and from there to convert to

    weight/mass. I give you the recipe here in metric in both volume measures

    and weight measures and theese measures are accurate:

    Recipe in volume:

    Flour 3 cups 711ml pro rata rounded to 750ml

    Water 1.5 cups 356ml pro rata rounding to 375ml

    Yeast 1ml pro rata rounding to 1.1ml

    Salt 8ml por rata rounding to 8.4ml

    Ill send the gram recipe tomorrow as I am in the midst of a thunderstorm

    and am switching everything off

    Cherio Reg

    Reply from Laura: I did point out in my original post both that there isn’t anything in this recipe that is particularly new (from your previous comment) and that it seems to work better for me with metric measurements.

    Also please note this is a personal blog, and I would appreciate it if you would try to be a little more friendly when you comment.

  13. My son and I have enjoyed sharing comments about our respective efforts with this no-knead bread but both of us are wondering how much whole wheat flour can be used. I’ve tried up to one third whole wheat and been pleased with the results. Dave has experienced a clumping of the bran element near the bottom of his dough. Any suggestions?

  14. I have tried this recipe twice with great results.
    It is however, as others have pointed-out, not new. Elizabeth David in “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” (a must for all bread-making fanatics) devotes eight pages to pot baking. She assumes it is the closed environment which generates moist heat which gives the high rising and good crust, not necessarily the high liquid content of the dough. It would be interesting to try to isolate any unique factors in the NY Times technique, i.e. what would be the result if you used a regular kneaded dough baked in a covered pot., with the same amount of yeast, rising time etc. etc. It is a time-saver not to knead the dough but it may not result in the best possible result. I am going to experiment with covered baking. Perhaps others here will also and tell us their results.
    Eric

  15. i’m a bit late to this no-knead phenomenon, so i do apologize for the delayed review. i baked my first loaf early this morning, and it came out beautifully. there is something so magical about the transformation of uneven, loose dough, into an almost-perfectly-spherical work of art that is the pot-based rustic loaf. the novice bread baker i am, this process gives me much hope for the development of my skills.

    i did use 100% whole wheat flour (king arthur’s traditional) with excellent results. i added a bit more water to compensate for the density of the wheat. i actually liked that the inside of the bread was a bit denser than it might have been with white flour; it had a ciabatta-like texture. the bread also had a bit of a sour-doughy tang. i topped it with a drizzle of herb-flavored butter. just lovely!

  16. I’ve been baking this non stop for a few months now… as a white loaf and a whole wheat loaf. My loaves are a little flat, but with a great crust and an open rustic crumb. Lovely! I am cooking in a huge Lodge Cast Iron Dutch Oven. Another reason I love that pot more than any I have ever used before.

    Tonight I begin trying the loaf with sourdough starter – adapting recipes from Laurel’s Bread Book. Has anyone else done this with sourdough. If so, can you fill me in on how it worked, or any problems you might have encountered?

  17. I’ve used this recipe in a plain 6 qt. black cast iron pot, cooking the bread at temperatures higher than 450 degrees with excellent results. I usually let the bread bake in the pot for about 30-35 minutes at 525. Then, I remove the lid and reduce the temperature to 475. The internal temp. of the bread using this method ends up at about 210. I believe the higher temperatures result in a better quality crust. The black cast iron pot gives the bread a nice brown top crust during the first 30 minutes. Since the primary reason for removing the top is to allow the crust to brown, I could probably cook the bread in a covered pot for the entire 40-45 minutes cooking time. I’m convinced that a plain cast iron pot works better for this recipe than the more expensive designer enameled pots. In addition, you don’t have to worry about damaging the handles.

  18. I can’t understand why some are making such a big deal out of this recipe. So it’s a bit wet, too dry, too this and that. Just make the bread and enjoy -Why make life so complicated!!

  19. Hello. Way back in January I made some comment on the NKB. I
    erroneously equated NKB with batter bread but, after having
    gained a lot of baking experience, I have come to realise that I
    was talking through my hat. It is not a batter bread but indeed a
    very clever technique. Mr Lahey is to be congratulated on a very
    fine technique and I eat any derogative word I ever uttered in
    the past on the subject. The Lahey technique is clever and
    smart and it deserves the highest praise. I am disabled from a
    stroke that I had 9th August 1997 so not having to knead a
    a dough is an absolute godsend to me. That is why I used batter
    bread before. I now use this technique and I bake the bread in a
    Pyrex dish in a combination convection / microwave oven set to
    230*C convection and medium-low microwave for 23 minutes
    exactly. The crust is fine althoug the crust takes second place
    to the actua crumb structure of the bread. Bread that is not eaten
    immediately is stored in a bin and we all know what that does to
    a crust but the advantage is that the bread will keep.

    One of my problems was those awkward volume measurements
    you Americans tend to use in preference to using weights.

    I have developed a spread sheet (fully workable) that works out
    the formula in metric weights, the baker’s percentages and the
    wastage factor that one must conssider.

    The spreadsheet is available for free to anyone who asks for it as
    long as I am promised some comments and feedback in return.

    Just ask for it and download it. The apreadsheet is proctected so
    it can’t be damaged and the formulas can’t be ruined but you can
    addjust the hydration to whatever is suitable for your flour and
    area.

    Happy baking.

    Reg, South Africa (treegro@telkomsa.net)

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