When an article by Mark Bittman appeared in the NY Times in November 2006 about No Knead Bread, it created a frenzy amongst home bakers anxious to try this newly discovered recipe. “No Kneading!” people happily exclaimed. “Finally I can bake bread!” Indeed, Bittman was as highly lauded in home baking circles as the caveman was when he discovered fire. And don’t get me wrong, I really like Mark Bittman. He approaches food with good common sense, adds some thoughtful and simple analysis, and presents his articles very well. In his television presentations, which can be found on some PBS stations, he is humorous and even self deprecating at times.
So let’s get back to the No Knead stuff. It’s not so new. No Knead recipes have been around for ages, often listed as Casserole Breads or Dish Breads. Some recipes are better than others. In my own research, I found one in a cookbook dating back to 1886. As pointed out by Bittman in his original November 2006 article, the real key is that time does all the work. Bittman bases his article and recipe on work done by Jim Lehay of the Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. Jim was intuitive enough to take some time honored processes, apply bread baking science plus his own knowledge and experience, do some experiments, and then package up what was learned so that it could easily apply to bakers of any skill level. And almost as soon as the revelation of a No Kneed bread hit published media, would-be bakers, failed bakers, and even baking professionals took notice. And now it’s simply become immortalized as the No Knead Bread.
I have seen some comments around the web saying that the No Knead Bread is not a real bread, and that people who make it are not real bakers. What a load of crap that is, and people should be ashamed of themselves for writing such statements. Baking is what you make it, and good baked goods can be produced in accordance with your own skill levels no matter how minor they may seem. I have just as much respect for my kitchen challenged brother who doctors up a quick bread mix as I do for my friend Joshua, a true bread artist, who has been studying and baking breads since the young age of 14. If you’re proud of your creation and it tastes good, it really doesn’t matter too much about how you got there. What really counts is that you learn from your experience.
So if you go searching for some Casserole or Dish Bread recipes on the web, here are a couple of quick tips. Recipes for breads that prescribe on overnite rise generally will give you a better result. And when trying out your recipe selection, add your flour incrementally on the first trial. In general, a wetter dough will give a more satisfactory result because it will allow for a more hospitable environment for gluten formation during the long rise time. If your dough becomes very, very hard to mix with a big spoon, chances are the results may be less than stellar.
Right now I have a Dill Casserole Bread I’m playing around with, and when I get that right, I’ll post in the No Knead section.
For now, I’ll leave you with this 1917 recipe from a cookbook titled Helpful Recipes for War Time.
2 quarts bread flour sifted
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup of boiled barley (boiled for 1 hour or longer)
1 yeast cake dissolved in lukewarm water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp lard dissolved in hot water
2 Tbsp salt
1 cup milk
Add water enough to make a dough. Mix all together in bread pan or raising pan and let rise 5 hours or preferably overnite. Then turn out onto well floured board and cut into four loaves. Place in greased baking tins and let rise two hours. Bake in moderate oven one hour. This bread is very nutritious and will not dry or become stale.
Comments About the War Bread Recipe
I haven’t tried this one, so I’m not officially posting in the Recipes Section yet. I find the use of barley interesting as it will hold and express moisture in the final product. Add water enough to make a dough? Yes, that’s the way stuff was written back in those days. Two quarts of flour is equal to about 8 cups. The more I look at this little recipe, the more I’m liking it. Time to go to the store and pick up some barley I think.
Ironically, two years after Mark wrote the infamous No Knead article, he then wrote an article about “The Faster No Knead Bread”. Ironic and funny because time is a key factor in the original recipe. But the point of the Faster method is that Mark got a lot of people thing, experimenting, and doing more baking. Way to go, Mark
Well, I got my barley and today baked up a trial on the “War Bread” recipe I wrote about the other day. It was pretty dismal. No wonder people were so depressed back then.
But! There was some good learning that came along with it. While I was hoping to come out with a good No Knead recipe for you, it looks like the final version will most likely “need some kneading”. But the good thing is that I think it will be minimal, because most of the work will be done as the dough ferments in the bowl.
So why take the extra trouble? Well, we happen to like barley here, always have. And the cooked barley has some interesting characteristics. Plus I have a penchant for really old, old recipes. So it will be interesting to follow through someday with the little trial.