The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Another Brit saying hello and posing a question

supperstone's picture
supperstone

Another Brit saying hello and posing a question

Greetings TFL forum,

It is always amusing to me, here in the UK, when I see the abbreviation TFL on this site because to me it stands for "Transport for London", but I'm sure their forums are not nearly so interesting as The Fresh Loaf's!.

I am fairly new to baking. I started at the deep-end with a sourdough starter about a year ago but hadn't really learnt any of the basic techniques of bread baking so had little success and threw it all away. I had also tried a couple of basic white loaves by following the recipes on the back of the flour packet but I didn't know about the importance of shaping properly or how to tell it it was properly proofed so again, had limited success.

There is a TV series on in the UK at present called 'The Great British Bake Off' where amateur bakers are pitted against each other in various technical and creative challenges and it has really inspired me to start baking again. So after reading the "lessons" on TFL and the forums, I tried a simple white cob loaf and was really pleased how it turned out.

I got myself a couple of bread books, an oven thermometer and an instant read thermometer and am looking forward to working my way through the texts to perfect my baking skills.

However (you knew there was a 'but' coming) I have just today read about the 'no knead' technique on the internet. I had heard about this before but had dismissed it as some sort of lazy way to make bread that can't be that great and I'm a snob and want to do it properly. But now having spent the time reading about the process, I've decided the bread looks great and seems to be very popular and simple.

I sort of feel slightly deflated now. I haven't tried the bread yet but with my last loaf I really put the effort in to read about kneading and how proofing works and shaping your loaf etc but was that all in vain? Can I just do the easy no knead version, bung it in a dutch oven and hey presto, lovely soft crusty bread every time?

I'm guessing 'no knead' doesn't replace other bread recipes. There must be many breads that need kneading. But if I want a nice crusty loaf, why would I bother with anything other than 'no knead'? Time constraints I suppose.

One of my books encourages the reader to perfect their simple white loaf recipe before carrying on but is that necessary anymore if this super easy process now exists. And can I bake all my bread in a dutch oven, 'no knead' or otherwise?

I guess I'm after some experienced bakers to tell me of all the wonderful things I can learn and that 'no knead' is just one little method of baking but there is a whole lot more to learn.

Sorry for the ramble - any advice appreciated.

midwest baker's picture
midwest baker

I find no knead bread lacking the flavor of bread made with more labor. Looks aren't everything!

Mary

BellesAZ's picture
BellesAZ

Welcome! 

I haven't had much experience trying the no knead breads and frankly, they don't interest me.  Just as anything else in life, shortcuts don't generally give you a superior loaf or product.  With that said, there are nice breads that are no kneads and there is one here in particular, Jason's Ciabatta bread here, that is utterly fantastic, but I think that's the exception and not the general rule, although I could be mistaken.

Bevis almost got there on the reasons why we knead - but I'll tell you the reason I do, other than the surreal experience and zen-like connection I get from the bread (lol) - I learn about the character of my dough through touch.  I know if my dough is going to work out or if it's just not there for some reason.  I already know it's going to pass the window pane test without having to do a window pane test. 

I am of the belief that you can't ever be a decent baker if you never touch your dough. 

I would encourage you to explore the no knead bread world and try the formulas.  There are probably a few that are very good.  Just don't be surprised if you don't come back to the traditional methods.  It soothes the soul and is the reason we all bake in the first place.

proth5's picture
proth5

I haven't kneaded bread in years - and I usually don't use a mixer - and I don't bake "no knead."  See posts on this site referencing "fold in the bowl" or "stretch and fold" methods.

Kneading - as most of us know it - is simply a way of developing the gluten that is present in wheat flours so that it has enough elasticity to hold a shape and retains enough extensibility to expand when the CO2 by products from yeast fill little pockets in the dough. Some people find it satisfying - for others it hurts their hands - for others it makes too much of a mess - for others it is akin to a spiritual experience.

There are a number of ways to do this.  Time (and the actions of the yeast) will do this by itself.  Dough can be folded, mixed in a mixer, and yes, kneaded.  Or combinations of these methods.

Certainly very old methods of producing bread - when people lived a life where they needed to derive every possible calorie from their foods while expending as few calories as possible - would have de-emphasized what we currently think of as kneading.

Some breads - like brioche - will require more than hands to properly incorporate the high percentages of fats and we use mixers for those, but beautiful breads can be made with nary a knead.

Some speak of what is popularly called "no knead" as a shortcut, but in fact it is mixing and kneading that are the time savers.  A harried professional baker, up at 2AM - short of space and faced with turning out many loaves is grateful for the shortcut of the spiral (or planetary, or oblique, or diving arm) mixer since it will allow the production of bread on a shorter start to finish timeline.

But slower methods are no less valid and for a self professed "snob" may have a type of appeal.

But there are limits to the "bake in a dutch oven breads." You can't get the crust to crumb ratio of a baguette or a fougasse, for instance.  And if you want a fine crumbed pain de mie (no, no, not what so many call "artisan" - but the only bread to use for certain applications), you will  need to pay a bit more attention to de-gassing and shaping (although I still make mine without kneading - see "fold in bowl")  The very high hydrations of these "no knead" doughs will have an impact on flavor, but long, slow fermentation may have counterbalancing effects.

I guess what I am trying say is that this bread baking thing is a very old craft and in terms of "perfecting" it it can lead the baker down many paths.  Your "perfect" bread may not be mine, your favored technique similarly may not be mine (but if you want to make good brioche, you are going to need a mechanical mixer, trust me).  That's the craft in it. And the reason that the advice of "perfecting" a single formula is given so often is that it is a craft and can be learned with repetition. (However, if you don't want to make white loaf bread, why would you  bother to "perfect" that before moving on?) What you do and how you bake will depend on your goals and your tastes.

I think about this from time to time...

Happy Baking!

 

BellesAZ's picture
BellesAZ

I wonder how they made brioche dough before the mixer.  Or did they?  If so, it would have been very special because even with a mixer, a good brioche is not a simple task.

supperstone's picture
supperstone

I thank all of you for such well written, educating and enlightening replies. i appreciate that in your busy lives you have the time to sit in front of your computer and reply at length to little ol' me.

Baker Bevis: i am please you mention the River Cottage bread book as that is the one I have just purchased and intend to follow it!

As for the 'no knead' subject - I shall give it a try and see what happens but like you all, I too really enjoy the kneading process so I'll keep that up also.

There is something quite personal and soothing about baking bread and I love some of your comments about your own reasons for doing it.

Thanks again everyone. I have never had such useful replies to a forum post before. TFL is obviously a good community to be part of. I'll be in touch.

JeremyCherfas's picture
JeremyCherfas

Welcome to one of the best places on the web. I'm not in the UK at the moment, but in Italy, and TFL has been a great source of information and support, as you've discovered.

I was very taken with no-knead back when it first came out, but gave it up as I learned how to deal with wet doughs and natural leavens. Funnily enough, I gave it another go just this week, and will probably abandon it again. The one thing it has going for it is that you can leave it for 18 hours, but a little juggling with cool fermentation gives one the same freedom.

Good luck.

Jeremy

supperstone's picture
supperstone

So I thought I'd come back to you guys as you were all so kind to give me some help and advice.

I have started to read the River Cottage Bread book and will start with the basics very soon.

In the mean time I decided to try the "no knead" bread (the Lehey/Bittman recipe). I mixed the ingredients before I went to bed and then knocked it back/folded it the next day when I got back from work. I left it in a tea towel for about 2 1/2 hours and then baked it in my Le Creuset/Dutch oven.(it wasn't 100% proofed but it was getting really late so had no choice)

I have to say it was very nice bread. Lovely and crusty, a good flavour and wonderful texture - like a ciabatta. Took some to work the next day and they were all very impressed. It was very easy and I felt like I had cheated!

So I got to thinking, before the whole "no knead" explosion, how would I have gone about making a similar bread? Lets say I wanted to make the same style of bread but I wanted to knead and to put all the hard work in myself.

I realise the long fermentation time helps to develop flavour but I assume this was always an option and people did this before "no Knead" became popular?

I realise the dutch oven really helps with the crust but again I assume people were using dutch ovens before "no knead".

Did Lehey just bring various age old techniques together so create a "no labour" loaf of bread?

Sorry to get hung up on this. I am planning to try all sorts of breads and techniques but I am just interested that this was so easy and produced what I thought was really nice bread. I want to know about what hard work/learned techniques the "no knead" methods cuts out (apart from kneading obviously)!

Thanks again

 

BellesAZ's picture
BellesAZ

Glad it worked out for you!  I think we've all had excellent results with no knead breads.  They are out there to be sure.  As I've said, the Jason's ciabatta recipe here is stunning and I make it all the time.  There was never any doubt that you'd have success. 

I bake for different reasons than you or the next person.  I bake because I enjoy the process, the science, the feel of the dough.  To me, the slow, rythmic feel of the knead is sexy and beautiful.  A no knead dough is not fulfilling to me.  I don't have time constraints, but if I did I'd probably just visit my local bakery.  To me, there is no shortcut to good bread.  But that doesn't mean you must have that quality every time - if I felt that way, I wouldn't be in love with Jason's gloppy ciabatta!

Your blog pondered the no knead vs the kneaded bread styles and all of us responded with our input.  You had pro's and con's and alot in between.

Knead or no knead - you're still in the same boat as you were when your blog first started.  It's entirely your choice.  You will find several no knead formulas here on this site, which indicates that this community is open to all stylings of bread making.

Good luck! 

lumos's picture
lumos

I don't do No-Knead bread very much (have tried a few times, though) and more of a school of S&F crowd myself, but one of the reasons No-Knead bread works surprisingly well is precisely BECAUSE you don't knead it, on top of other reasons Dillbert mentioned, of course.

Kneading always causes oxidation of dough to some extent which can lead to loss of flavour. By not kneading, it considerably reduces its possibility. So not only it's an easy method for someone who're new to baking and feel a bit intimidated by the whole process (or lazy ones who wouldn't otherwise bother making bread), the whole process actually makes sense in the attempt to make good tasting bread.

I don't think we should dismiss No-Knead method too easily IMHO.

BellesAZ's picture
BellesAZ

Where no knead bread wins out is in how well it works, but it has it's drawbacks too and for me, flavor just lacks - at least in the ones I've made.  I still make them though and bread perfection is not always the goal.

Sometimes you just want something in a hurry that's good.  Nothing wrong with that and any one who says different is welcome to stick with their preferred method.  I for one am not dismissing it. 

midwest baker's picture
midwest baker

I wonder where bread making will be in 10 or 20 years.  Now that it is getting so much attention, wonderous improvements could be made to the process. Trial and error is what will get us there and there's certainly a lot of that going on! Good job, everyone!

Mary

supperstone's picture
supperstone

Thank you again for your wonderful answers.

Inspiring. I am sorry if I have repeated myself a bit with my questions.

I like to know the ins, outs and opinions of something before I feel I understand it!

Good baking to you all and thanks again.