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.
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- 3 cups all-purpose flour, or bread flour
- ½ teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 ⅓ cup 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.
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20 Comments Leave a comment or review
Hi! This looks amazing. Is it possible to substitute the all purpose or bread flower for Gluten Free flour in this recipe?
Jessica Gavin says
Hi Diana- I haven’t tried using gluten-free flour in this recipe. The texture may be less chewy since there is no gluten, but I think it’s worth a try! Please let me know how it goes if you make the recipe.
Jessica, this bread looks so good! I’m not a baker, and my husband is … but I’d really like to try this recipe. Thanks for sharing!
Jessica Gavin says
I know you can make it too! It’s really easy and you’ll impress your husband.
I made it and I’m really proud of it. Looks good and tastes amazing.
Jessica Gavin says
Great job! Enjoy every slice, it reheats so well.
I made this today and it was super easy and turned out perfect. Great directions! I would send a picture but its already gone!
Jessica Gavin says
Great job! Time to make another loaf!
Hi Jessica, I love your recipes but this one is problematic. I followed the the instructions by the letter but the dough turned out very wet and hard to handle. Let alone form a ball after the first rising period (12 hours). Now it’s rising for the remaining 2 hours but I have been wondering can it be the climate? I live in an extremely humid climate. If that’s a possible reason should I add more flour or less water to the recipe? Please help! Thank you
Jessica Gavin says
Hi Dolly! This dough is generally a more wet dough so that the kneading can be more efficient by the yeast. However, if it is very humid, the flour could be more saturated. It’s totally okay to add in more flour to the dough and briefly mix it in so it’s a bit easier to handle when adding to the parchment paper. Is the dough that is on its second rise on the parchment paper at least holding an oval like shape?
Thank you for your quick answer. No after the second rise it was still not holding any shape. I baked it anyway and it turned out flat and hard. Anyway, I’m not giving up and will give it a second try by adding some more flour.
Jessica Gavin says
Great persistence Dolly! Please let me know how it goes. You can also knead it a few more times before the second rise to help hold it’s shape, and add more flour as needed.
Hi! Your recipe is the 4th variation of no knead bread that I have tried! I have found the keeper recipe! The texture of the dough to the finished product were spot on! Using weight as the measurement for the ingredients is key! Thanks so much!
Jessica Gavin says
Whoo-hoo, thank you for your feedback Tommi!
Thank you for the recipe. My dough is on its first rise now. I was wondering if I can use a large covered stock pot (6.5 quart) instead of a dutch oven? Does it have to be cast iron? I think my pot is aluminum/staineless steel combo. Would I be better off just using a sheet pan? I don’t have much experience making bread so I appreciate all of your tips!
Jake Woodward says
I have made this bread probably 10 times during quarantine. It’s awesome!!
Hi Jessica, I am going to try this recipe, I am wondering can I use light rye flour?
Jessica Gavin says
I think you could use the light rye flour. However, since it has less protein it will be softer in texture than regular all-purpose flour or bread flour. I would also start with using 1 cup of water instead of 1 1/3 since there will be less protein development. Let me know how it goes!
Sue Alcock says
I agree with Tommi above. I have been trying many many no knead recipes as an alternative to the sourdough loaves I usually make. Your recipe is by far the best I have found. It is so good that it is having the honour of being printed out and laminated for future baking sessions! Thank you very much.
Jessica Gavin says
Thank you so much, Sue! I’m thrilled to hear that you enjoyed the no-knead bread recipe. You could even cold ferment for a few days if you want a more developed taste.