Easy no-knead bread recipe that makes stunningly beautiful artisan loaves. Just four simple ingredients and a dutch oven are all you need to create a rustic bread with tender slices and a crunchy outer crust.
What’s the simplest baked good to tackle that elicits oohs and aahs? Hands down, it’s no-knead bread! Each loaf has a crisp hard crust that contrasts perfectly with the soft chewy inside. The texture sounds too good to be true, but here’s truly the astonishing part, this yeast-leavened bread requires no muscle fatigue or even a mixer. Just stir, sit, and bake.
After numerous tests and tweaks, here’s the best recipe for no-knead bread, along with a step-by-step guide to mastering the technique. This experiment is a great starting place for those getting into yeast baking or for busy people who want a mix and move-on option. Just a handful of ingredients and a little patience yields a bread you can be proud to share.
The popularity of this magical loaf
The art of breadmaking has evolved over thousands of years when people first realized that agitation encouraged quicker gluten development, and how that affected flavors and texture. Well, speed up the clock and no-knead bread has become a baking sensation that home cooks everywhere want to create.
No-knead bread gained popularity when Mark Bittman of the New York Times shared Jim Lahey’s formula from Sullivan Street Bakery. Since then it’s become the standard recipe which people have used as a guide to experiment from. And now I’m delighted to share my version with you, along with helpful tips and substitutions to make the process approachable and seamless.
How does bread knead itself?
It starts when two of the natural enzymes in wheat flour become active in the dough. Protease breaks down the proteins into smaller fragments making it easier to form gluten networks. Amylase breaks down the starches into sugars for the yeast to eat.
The high moisture formula allows the yeast organisms to easily produce gas bubbles that create micro agitation. As the dough sits for hours on the countertop, the proteins in the flour and water molecules are being moved around and develop gluten networks, just like if you were kneading by hand or with a machine.
Texture changes with flour selection
For this recipe, you can use either all-purpose flour or bread flour. The main difference is that all-purpose has a lower amount of protein, about 10 to 13% compared to around 15% for bread flour. Note that the true amounts vary depending on the brand. All-purpose gives a softer interior texture and crisp crust, whereas bread flour will have a chewier middle with a more rustic surface appearance.
The importance of salt
We all enjoy the flavor of salt when it enhances foods, and so there’s a generous amount in this lean dough. Flour is very bland, therefore the salt adds dimension to the taste. Salt also helps to control the activity of the yeast as it competes for available water in the dough. This is especially important for long fermentation times when you don’t want the yeast to produce too much gas and lose it’s rising power before baking.
Salt inhibits the activity of the protease enzymes in flour which helps break down gluten into small pieces that give elasticity to the dough. This recipe has much more flour than salt, so there’s still enough enzyme autolysis (break down of the proteins) happening, just a limited amount.
Moisture impacts loaf size and texture
I tested three different levels of water, keeping all of the ingredients the same and observed noticeable differences. Generally, more water in the recipe makes the interior crumb soft and bouncy when squeezed. It also has more holes of various sizes, similar to a French loaf. The downside was that the loaf spread in the pot and wasn’t as tall.
Reducing the water slightly gave a heartier texture, higher structure, a more rustic crust, with an interior crumb that was still tender and soft. Cutting back too much water made it tough and difficult to slice and chew. That’s why I recommend using 1 ⅓ cups of water to perfectly balance volume and texture, or 1 ½ cups of water if you want a softer loaf.
Can you shorten the rise time?
For the best tasting no-knead bread, let it ferment for 8 to 24 hours. Flavors are being created during the fermentation process, so limiting the time reduces byproducts from forming like organic acids that add a hint of tang. Shortening the rise time also reduces the amount of air pockets created from the gas bubbles and gluten formation that gives bread the enjoyable soft chewy texture.
I tested baking different loaves before the minimum and after the maximum rise time, I found the longer the fermentation the more complex and flavorful the results. If desired, you can ferment the dough in the refrigerator up to 5 days before baking for a deep malty flavor. So make the dough early in the morning to enjoy the same day, or make it in the evening and let it ferment overnight.
Use parchment paper
The dough has a high amount of water, which makes it a little tricky to move around when ready to bake. I find it easiest to shape the dough into a ball after the first rise, then transfer it to a piece of parchment paper. After the final fermentation step, simply lift up the paper and place it directly into the dutch oven. Don’t worry, the paper won’t burn in the oven, nor will it stick to the bread.
Baking bread in a dutch oven
Did you know that the dutch oven can turn out amazing baked goods? This sturdy vessel creates a super hot small enclosed environment that quickly cooks the bread in just 30 minutes. The cast iron material does a fantastic job at retaining heat, and I recommend preheating it to 450ºF (232ºC). Once you add the bread, it immediately starts transferring or radiating its energy to cook the dough while crisping the bottom for extra crunch.
Bring on the steam!
Without having to buy fancy steam injected ovens like professional bakeries, the heavy tight-fitting lid on the dutch oven performs a similar job. The small enclosure causes the moisture in the dough to turn into steam, which makes a humid environment inside the vessel. Hot and humid air transfers heat faster into the bread than dry heat.
The humidity causes the gas bubbles created by the yeast to expand quicker adding more volume to the loaf. Once the proteins cook, the crumb structure sets. The crust also benefits from the moisture as the starches in the flour swell and then gelatinize. This creates little bubble pockets on the surface that eventually harden as it dries and makes for extra snappy bites.
The final phase involves removing the lid and exposing the bread to the oven. In just a few minutes, the hot dry environment allows the Maillard reaction to take place which creates the attractive golden-brown crust. This also further removes any moisture on the surface and makes the bread extra crunchy, while also developing new flavors from the browning.
How to tell when the bread is ready
Measuring- inserting an instant-read thermometer in the center of the loaf is a quick way to check, and at 205 to 210ºF (96 to 99ºC) the interior is done. Visually- the crust will deepen in color, and when tapped on the bottom should sound hollow. Audibly- when cutting slices of bread it should sound like crushing a handful of potato chips.
Alternative baking method
If you don’t have a dutch oven, place the dough on a sheet pan. Create a humid environment by placing hot water in a metal baking dish and place that in the oven. This method takes a bit to bake since the radiating energy is not as close, but it still works. However, to achieve a crispy surface, you’ll need to remove the pan of water from the oven and then broil the bread until golden brown.
- 3 cups (426 g) all-purpose flour, or bread flour
- ½ teaspoon (1 g) instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons (12 g) kosher salt
- 1 ⅓ cup (315 ml) warm water
- In a medium bowl whisk together flour, yeast, and salt.
- Heat water in the microwave at 15-second intervals until warm to the touch, but not too hot. Between 120 to 130ºF (48 to 54ºC).
- Add warm water to the flour mixture. Use a spoon to mix until no flour remains and a sticky shaggy ball forms, about 1 minute.
- Immediately cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel. Let the dough rise on the counter at room temperature for at least 8 to 24 hours. The dough should have some bubbles that break through the surface.
- Transfer the dough to a well-floured workspace, the dough will feel very sticky. Flour the surface of the dough and knead two to four times, sprinkling with more flour as needed, it will deflate slightly. Gather the dough into a loose round shape, and then turn it over so it's smooth on top. Using cupped hands, gently form the dough into a ball.
- Place the dough in the center of a large piece of parchment paper (about 10x13-inch in size). Sprinkle some flour on top of the dough. Transfer parchment paper with dough on top into a large bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel and allow it to rise in a warm draft-free area until doubled in size, 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when poked it slowly springs back.
- About 30 to 45 minutes before the dough is done rising, set the oven rack to the middle position. Place a dutch oven with the lid on inside the oven to heat up. Preheat to 450ºF (232ºC).
- Right before baking, use a sharp knife to make 3 slashes across the top of the bread, about ½-inch deep and 3-inches long, 1-inch apart.
- Carefully remove the heavy pot from the oven. Use an oven mitt to remove the lid then carefully lower the dough into the center of the pot by holding the corners of the parchment paper. Immediately place the lid on and bake for 30 minutes.
- Remove the lid and bake until the surface is golden brown and the bread reaches an internal temperature of 205 to 210ºF (96 to 99ºC), about 5 to 15 minutes.
- Transfer the bread to a cooling rack, and allow it to cool to room temperature before slicing.
- Storing: Bread can be stored in a plastic bag at room temperature for up to 3 days. Slices of bread can be frozen for up to 30 days.
- Reheating: Toast the bread slices to refresh and make the texture softer.
- Active Dry Yeast substitute: Heat 1 ⅓ cup water to 100 to 110ºF (37 to 43ºC). Stir 2 teaspoons of active dry yeast into ¼ cup of water to dissolve. Add yeast mixture and remaining water to the flour and salt mixture. Stir to combine into a shaggy ball. Follow the rest of the recipe directions.
- Salt Substitute: If using table salt, use 1 ½ teaspoons (25% less) because there is more sodium in finer crystals.
- Baking without a Dutch Oven: Once the dough has completed the second rise, transfer it to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Add a metal baking dish (no glass), about 8 to 9-inches in size on the lower rack of the oven. Boil 1 cup of water, about 4 minutes in the microwave. Transfer the bread to the middle baking rack. Carefully pour the boiling water into the baking dish, it will bubble up. Immediately close the oven door. Bake until the bread reaches an internal temperature of 205 to 210ºF (96 to 99ºC) and the top is lightly golden in color. For a crispier, more golden crust, remove the water after the initial bake. Set the oven to broil and about 2 to 4 minutes the surface will brown, but don't burn it.