When the New York Times published Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread recipe in 2006, it became the Internet’s first viral recipe. Lahey’s “revolutionary” method promised a reward—crusty, deeply browned, bakery-quality loaves with minimal labor—that proved irresistible to home cooks, and soon blogs and forums (remember those?) were abuzz with this nearly foolproof technique.
In the years since we were introduced to no-knead bread, a new generation of bakers has grown up around the method, and countless professional and amateur bakers have tweaked and adapted the recipe—including the New York Times itself, which amended the original to include ingredient weights and more salt. And when we made our first cast iron Dutch oven, we couldn’t resist developing a no-knead bread recipe specifically for our Field No.8 Dutch Oven.
The Science of No-Knead
Before we get to our recipe, it helps to understand what makes no-knead bread work. The dough itself is as simple as it gets—flour, salt, yeast, and water—but what’s different about no-knead dough is its hydration level (that is, the ratio of water to flour), which is higher than your standard bread recipe. This extra liquid makes it easier for gluten to form without having to do any manual labor. Time does all the work: after you mix the wet, sticky dough, you let it rest for at least 12 hours at room temperature. Meanwhile, enzymes in the flour break down long strands of proteins into shorter pieces, while the yeast gobble up sugars in the flour and release carbon dioxide. The bubbles created by the gas simultaneously leaven the dough and develop a strong, elastic network of gluten, eliminating the need to knead.
But there’s an even more important innovation that gives no-knead bread its crackling, deeply browned crust: the cooking vessel. Steam is essential to crust development, and professional bakers use steam-injected ovens to give their loves that desirable crunch. A covered Dutch oven delivers the same result: the enclosed environment is sauna-like, which yields a thicker, darker crust. And because cast iron is so good at holding and transferring heat, a preheated pot will help the dough spring up and take shape as its carbon dioxide bubbles and water vapor expands in the hot, humid setting—much faster than a dough baked on a baking sheet or stone. In short, a cast iron Dutch oven is the best tool for making great bread at home.
Our Dutch Oven
Many bakers use enameled Dutch ovens for their no-knead endeavors, and have achieved great results. However, many enamel- or ceramic-coated Dutch ovens are only rated for use at 400°F or below, and no-knead bread requires a 450°F or higher oven. Using an enameled or ceramic-coated pot outside of its recommended heat range could cause its coating to flake off, and nobody wants flaky bread. Our Field Dutch Oven is naturally non-stick—as much so as any coated pot—and is also significantly lighter than coated Dutch ovens, which makes transferring in and out of the oven a safer, easier task.
There are as many differences as similarities between our No.8 No-Knead Bread recipe and the original. For starters, we scaled the recipe to make the optimally sized dough—about 1000 grams—for our No.8 (4.5-quart) Dutch oven, and adjusted the hydration level down a bit (70% vs 90%) to make the dough easier to work with.
We also add a step—cold fermentation—that requires extra time, but no extra work. By chilling the dough in the refrigerator for 1 to 5 days after its first proof, the flavor of the bread not only improves dramatically: it goes from tasting like plain white bread to something more akin to a great sourdough. The longer you let your dough ferment in the refrigerator, the more complex it will taste.
The cold dough is also much easier to work during the final shaping and scoring stage. These final quick steps are also an add-on to the New York Times recipe (which is simply dumped into the Dutch oven), but they will give your bread a higher, rounder shape—one that will be impossible to distinguish from a professionally baked loaf.
Yes, our recipe takes more time—and a minute or two more work—than the original no-knead recipe, but the results will be worth your patience, and start you on the path to making more, and better, bread at home.
There are myriad ways to play around with no-knead bread. Once you’re comfortable with our basic method and recipe, try working other flours into your dough. We recommend swapping up to 50 percent whole-wheat flour, up to 30 percent whole-grain flour, or up to 20 percent rye flour.
You can add any mixins and flavorings while you mix the dough. Nuts, seeds, dried fruit, grated cheese, and chopped olives all work great.
If you’re in a hurry—and don’t want your bread to taste or look as good as possible—you can skip the cold-fermentation step. After the dough’s initial 12- to 24-hour proof, turn it out onto a floured surface, stretch and fold it twice, then cover it with a towel for 15 minutes. Repeat the stretch and fold, then shape it into a ball, cover with the towel, and let rise for 2 hours. Then score the dough and bake, following the rest of the recipe.
No.8 No-Knead Bread
600 grams (4¾ cups) all-purpose or bread flour
6 grams (1½ teaspoons) instant yeast
9 grams salt (1½ teaspoons fine sea salt or 1 tablespoon plus ¼ teaspoon kosher salt)
420 grams (1¾ cups) water
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, yeast, and salt. Add the water and stir with a wooden spoon or nonstick spatula until you can’t see any dry flour; the dough will be sticky and somewhat lumpy. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic and let rest at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. During this time, the dough will rise and bubbles will form on the surface and you might see long strands of glutinous dough clinging to the side of the bowl as it rises.
Transfer the bowl to the refrigerator and let sit until you’re ready to bake, 1 to 5 days. During this time, the dough is undergoing cold fermentation, which both strengthens the network of gluten (making the dough easier to shape and transfer later) and develops its flavor (to taste more like a sourdough bread).
When you’re ready to bake, remove the dough and place it on a well-floured surface. Stretch and fold one side of the dough over the middle, then repeat with the opposite side (like you’re folding a letter). Rotate the dough one-quarter turn and repeat. Sprinkle the dough and your hands with flour, then fold the sides under to form the dough into a ball (the top of the ball will be stretched and tight, with the seam underneath). Generously flour a clean kitchen towel and drape it over the dough ball. Let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours.
About 1 hour before you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 450°F and position a rack in the lower third of the oven (usually the second rung from the bottom) and place a No.8 Dutch Oven (with its lid) on the rack. If you have a baking stone or steel, place it on the lowest oven rack.
Place a square of parchment paper next to the dough and transfer the dough on top. Cut the parchment into a circle around the dough, leaving about 3 inches of space on all sides. Using a bread lame, razor blade or very sharp knife, score the top of the dough with ½-inch-deep slashes; you can either make a criss-cross or square pattern.
Place the preheated Dutch oven next to the dough, grab two sides of the parchment paper with kitchen towels or potholders (to protect your hands!), and gently drop the dough into the Dutch oven. If the dough looks off center, give the pot a wiggle.
Cover the Dutch oven and transfer to the oven. Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the lid and continue baking until the crust is deeply browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 200°F to 210°F, 35 to 45 minutes longer.
Remove the loaf from the Dutch oven and transfer to a wire rack. Let the bread cool for at least 30 minutes, and ideally a couple of hours or longer, before serving.