White Bread, Three Ways: Part II

Last week’s bread menu featured Betty Crocker’s version of a white sandwich loaf, a straightforward recipe using an old-school (and familiar) methodology of kneading and proofing.

On tap this week are two recipes from the School of No-Knead, a decidedly different approach to getting a decent crumb. And within the no-knead world, there are variations on the theme, as we’ll learn in the coming days.

I’m a newbie when it comes to no-knead bread, which means at this point, I am unable to authoritatively determine if I baked a good loaf (or not). It sure does taste good, which I suppose says a lot, and it’s got more developed flavor characteristics than my Betty Crocker loaf. It’s got a darker crust and has a denser mouth feel, but where does that leave us with an overall grade or assessment? The jury is still out.

I like kneading; in fact, I’m “kneady,” as described by my friend (and Culinate editor) Kim Carlson, so being told I will not be kneading my dough is kind of like tying my hands behind my back. Despite my fetish, I’m game to keep at the no-knead thing until I begin to see consistent patterns and can make a fair determination. One thing I already know for sure: I’m not crazy about the delayed gratification that comes with this method; it was 24 hours before I had my first slice of bread.

Bread makers, do you have a preference? What’s your fancy: knead or no-knead? Throw some crumbs into the comments area or weigh in today at 1 ET for this week’s What’s Cooking.

Easy White Loaves
From “Kneadlessly Simple” by Nancy Baggett


6 ½ cups (32.5 ounces) unbleached white bread flour, plus more as needed
3 ½ tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon instant, fast-rising or bread machine yeast
1/3 cup flavorless vegetable oil, such as corn or canola, plus extra for coating dough tops and baking pans
2 ¾ cups ice water, plus more if needed

In a very large bowl, thoroughly stir together flour, sugar, salt and yeast.

In a medium bowl or measuring cup, whisk oil into the water. Thoroughly stir oil-water mixture into flour mixture, scraping down sides until thoroughly blended. If mixture is too dry to incorporate all the flour, a bit at a time, stir in just enough more water to blend ingredients. Don’t over-moisten, as the dough should be stiff. If necessary, stir in more flour to stiffen it.

Brush or spray top of dough with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap.

Refrigerate dough, 3-10 hours. (Optional, but Baggett recommends this extra step, aka “delayed first fermentation,” for better flavor, claiming that the cold rise with cold water has “significant chemical benefits….With the yeast out of commission, some enzymes in the flour go to work breaking down damaged starch into sugars. Normally the yeast organisms would rev up activity in the presence of this banquet, but instead they remain available to significantly improve bread taste, crust color and appearance. Other enzymes are also busy softening and smoothing the crumb and strengthening the gluten.”)

Remove from refrigerator and let dough rise at cool room temperature (about 70 degrees), 15-20 hours. If convenient, stir the dough about halfway through the rise.

Second Rise
Vigorously stir the dough, adding more dough if necessary to yield a very stiff consistency. Use well-oiled kitchen shears or a serrated knife, cut dough in half, placing portions in two well-greased 8 ½ x 4 1/2 –inch loaf pans.

Smooth and press dough into pans using a well-oiled rubber spatula or your fingertips. Evenly brush or spray dough tops with oil. Make a ½-inch deep slash lengthwise down the center of each loaf. Tightly cover the pans with nonstick spray-coated plastic wrap.

For a regular rise (1 ½ -2 ½ hours), let stand at warm room temperature; for an accelerated rise (1-2 hours), let stand in a turned-off microwave, along with 1 cup of boiling-hot water. For an extended rise, refrigerate, covered, 4-24 hours, then set at room temperature.

Continue rise until dough nears the plastic. Remove plastic and allow dough to keep rising, until it reaches ½ inch above pan rims. Dust each loaf evenly with 1 tablespoon flour.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. When ready to bake, reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake for 35-45 minutes, until tops are nicely browned. Cover tops with foil if necessary. Bake an additional 15-25 minutes, or until the center of the loaf registers 208-210 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (This was a first for me.) Bake an additional 5-10 minutes to ensure centers are baked through. (Baggett insists that you cannot overbake no-knead bread.) Cool in pans on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then turn out loaves onto racks and cool thoroughly.

Store airtight in plastic bags or wrapped in foil Bread will keep at room temperature for 2-3 days, and may be frozen, airtight, for up to two months.

Makes 2 loaves.

By Kim ODonnel |  March 3, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Bread
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I have my doubts about this one mainly because it's supposed to be a stiff dough. I've never liked stiff doughs. The Sullivan St. Bakery no-knead is a very wet dough which can make it a little tricky to handle but gives it its nice open texture. It's also a lot less trouble than this one.

BTW, no-knead isn't a new technique. I have an old bread book, Uncle John's Bread Book, written by a German baker in the midwest. He called them "pot brots". I never tried them 'cause they sounded so heavy and large.

Rose Levy Beranbaum's blog has a lot about the original no-knead on her blog, realbakingwithrose.com. She developed a small loaf perfect for two or few. On her site, search for no-knead.

Posted by: fran426 | March 3, 2009 9:23 AM

I really like no-knead breads for the efficiency factor. Five minutes to throw the ingredients together, ignore overnight, shape and bake. I also like that the recipe I make most often only uses 1 gram of yeast. If I can get a flavorful loaf with little effort, I'm all in favor of it.

For sandwich bread I generally use a bread machine, loathe though I am to admit it here. I think I never got the hand of kneading and always added too much flour. I adapted an insipid recipe that came with my machine to meet my own standards and have never looked back - I haven't bought bread in years.

FYI - I made the salad from yesterday to rave reviews last night. Thanks again.

Posted by: esleigh | March 3, 2009 10:19 AM

Kim, I'd love to see pictures of your 2 white bread experiments. Any chance you could post them for us so we can see the differences in crusts, etc.? Thanks!

Also, a question on no-knead bread. I literally JUST tried a no-knead bread recipe from the New York Times over the weekend and adored it. My only problem is that it seems impossible to buy instant yeast in DC (none of my local stores had it). Does anyone out there know where it is readily available?

Posted by: UStreet | March 3, 2009 12:24 PM

Uncle John wasn't the only cookbook author to anticipate the NO Knead trend. A book called No Need to Knead has been kicking around for a while, with a mediterranean/Italian flavor to it. I tried a few recipes from it a while ago, and they did not work. The Kneadlessly Simple ones work for me, though so far not as well as some of the full-on-fuss recipes.

I like the convenience of the timing, which permits having good bread for dinner even if you work all day outside the home. But you still have to plan.

Posted by: jweissmn | March 3, 2009 1:50 PM

UStreet - I use Rapid Rise yeast in the NYT no-knead bread to great results. I don't know where to get it in DC but in California all the chain groceries carry it.

Posted by: esleigh | March 3, 2009 2:47 PM

I've never tried this, but I'm tempted if for no other reason I could set my Facebook status to "...is making bread" and not have to update it for a couple days.

Posted by: ArlingtonGay | March 3, 2009 3:38 PM

kim, i just have to bake bread soon, and while these posts are inspiring, your love of kneading is more so - going through a rough patch, and i'm thinking that kneading might just be a lot cheaper than a therapist.

Posted by: alisoncsmith | March 6, 2009 7:58 PM

I recently tried the famous NYT no-knead recipe, and was disappointed that it didn't rise very much and produced a pretty flat and dense loaf -- although it tasted good, especially used as garlic bread. The original recipe calls for a very small amount (1/4 tsp.) of "instant yeast." Not sure what that is -- I used Fleischmann's Rapid Rise yeast. I'm wondering, with this type of yeast perhaps I should use a larger amount of yeast next time? Does anyone with more experience have suggestions?

Posted by: Unionfarm | March 7, 2009 2:26 PM

kim, update. kneaded bread this weekend, and despite a kitchen possession hullaballoo (i share w/ another strong minded woman - part of the rough patch), it was a wonderful first attempt - and i'm hooked, no question.

now...does buying yeast count against the EDF challenge?

Posted by: alisoncsmith | March 9, 2009 10:30 AM

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