I know there are people out there who look down at this genre as “not real bread,” which is a real shame. Because, well, it is. Whether you knead by mixer or by hand or let the dough do all the work, the same thing is happening: The proteins in the flour, when combined with water, bond and cross-link to form the gluten network that will give the bread structure and inflate as the dough proofs and bakes. The first two methods involve active mechanical or manual input, while no-knead recipes take a more passive approach. As Andrew Janjigian, author of the bread-centric Wordloaf newsletter, told me, “Bread dough wants to develop itself.” This is especially helpful for people who may not own a stand mixer or have the physical capability to knead by hand. No-knead breads — more like self-kneading, really — typically just require a quick mix in a bowl to bring the ingredients together.
In “BakeWise,” Shirley Corriher shares an explanation of how no-knead bread works from Carl Hosney, a starch and flour expert. She compares it to someone blowing up bubble gum with tiny puffs, with the yeast (and the liquid it releases) generating carbon dioxide and alcohol that inflate the air bubbles already there. “With every tiny rise of the dough, molecule by molecule, the dough ‘kneads’ itself.”
To encourage this process to happen, no-knead recipes tend to be wetter than doughs kneaded other ways. For most people, the difference between a no-knead bread and one mixed with the other methods will be imperceptible — and even if you can tell, the difference is not necessarily unwelcome. As with some of the recipes below, the higher hydration is perfect for airy boules, pillowy focaccia and nook-and-cranny-filled English muffins. Here are those ideas, and more, from our archives:
No-Knead Whole-Wheat Bread, above. This is a riff on the recipe from New York bread baker and cookbook author Jim Lahey that helped bring no-knead bread into the mainstream. A quarter of the flour is whole-wheat, though you can experiment with replacing more of the all-purpose as you play around with the recipe (keep in mind that more may reduce the loftiness of the loaf).
No-Knead Olive Oil Dough (Big Batch). I first fell in love with this dough to make Fast Focaccia, shown here, then realized it’s superb in pizza, calzones and even cinnamon rolls. Store the dough in the fridge for up to two weeks to give yourself a leg up next time the craving strikes. See also No-Knead Focaccia.
No-Knead English Muffins. Whole-wheat flour and honey add dimension to this breakfast staple. Mix the dough the night before and prepare to wow your family with a fresh batch in the morning.
No-Knead Icebox Rolls. Because they bake in a muffin tin, these rolls have an attractive popover appearance. It’s an especially forgiving dough, ideal for bread novices. Another option: Slow-Rise, No-Knead Soft White (or Soft Light Wheat) Rolls.
Slow-Rise, No-Knead Cinnamon-Raisin Bread. Talk about aromatherapy. You’ll enjoy smelling this one as it bakes. The bread is great spread with jam or nut butters, and would make a very special French toast.
Slow-Rise, No-Knead Light Wheat (or White) Bread. For an everyday sandwich loaf, check out this recipe that lets you choose whether to include some whole-wheat flour in the mix.