I've made no knead bread a good amount of times and I'm in love with the crispy crust and hole filled interior. But it did get me thinking, was it the 'no knead' or the baking it in a glowing hot dutch oven? So I set up a little experiment baking 4 little loaves; two kneaded, two not, two in the creuset pan and two regularly in the oven. I've always made my no knead bread with this recipe from serious eats, but I always find I don't quite have the patience to let it rest in the fridge for a couple of days.
- 500 grams of flour
- 1 heaped teaspoon of salt (one of those real measurement teaspoons, they are always larger than the teaspoon I use for my actual tea)
- tiny pinch of sugar
- 350 ml water
- 15 grams of fresh yeast (5 grams instant)
I made the normal kneaded dough with the same quantities but with a little bit of extra yeast 21 grams (7 instant). If you think the dough is too wet, don't worry, dusting your kneading area with flour if the dough is sticky will mean it quickly balances out.
Activate the yeast by mixing it up with a little bit of warm water and feed it with a pinch of sugar. In ten minutes or so it becomes a lively bubbly goo.
Add the salt to the flour and mix. This is crucial because if you living yeast gets a full face of salt it might die. Now mix everything together. It is quite a sticky so if you are going to knead it you can hold back a little water. You still want the dough to be tacky though.
For no knead bread you just cover the bowl with clingfilm and put it in a cozy place. Do make sure the bowl is large enough because it will bubble up quite high. Leave the yeast to do all the work for you for at least 10 hours.
For kneaded bread you well...knead. It always takes me much longer than the 4/8 minutes some bakers prescribe, I kneaded for at least 15 minutes. During the kneading you can feel if the dough needs either more water or more flour. If it feels too dry just wet you hands and continue kneading, is it too sticky dust with a bit of flour. You want your dough to become silky smooth and springy. A light tough of the finger should leave an indent that springs back up readily (insert baby's bottom joke here). Now proof the dough in a warm spot (bowl once again covered with clingfilm) for 30/45 minutes, or until it has doubled in size.
Pour the no knead dough onto a lightly floured surface. It will be quite sticky, don't be afraid to add a little flour to make it easier to handle. Now fold it over a couple of times. I find no matter what I do the dough stays very slack and basically impossible to shape. What I do is I take a small bowl and line it with parchment paper and just drop the dough in as you can see in the photo on top. Now let it rise again under clingfilm or a damp towel for about an hour.
The risen kneaded dough will have doubled in size and now you get the absolute pleasure of knocking the air right out of it. Smack it down and shape, leave it to proof a second time for an hour (again hopefully doubling it in size)
Score the loaves in whichever way you prefer. This is much easier with the kneaded dough.
Put your dutch oven (I'm dutch and I never heard of the term but ok) into the oven and heat it to 250 c. Once it is hot gently place your dough into it while doing you best not to burn yourself (once again I failed). Don't whack it down, be gentle, I always keep the dough on the parchment paper. Put on the lid and leave it alone for 15 minutes. Now remove the lid and turn your oven down a bit (200). These small loaves only took another 20-30 minutes (after the initial 15). You can check with a thermometer. If the inside is 95 or higher your loaf is done. Do tap the bottom, if it sounds hollow you are good. Now leave it to cool on a rack for at least 5 minutes
The normal oven way seems to be done at a lower temperature, 180 or so. I do add a generous splash of water on the bottom of the oven to create steam. If it is golden brown in 30 minutes do the thermometer test again.
No Knead / Creuset
It isn't necessarily the prettiest of breads. It is quite flat but the crust is shiny and blistery.
The inside is really nice, big cavernous holes. Both its flat shape and the holes make it more suitable as a dipping bread and not great for sandwiches. The crust is brilliant, crunchy and snappy without being a tooth breaker. The taste is nice though I get the point made in the serious eats article. There is a certain acidic yeasty flavour to it but I don't mind it to be honest. Once again the crust is really good, both the taste and the texture.
Knead / Creuset
Hands down the best looking loaf of the four. It has great colour and shape (even if I dented it a tiny bit). I had expected it to rise a tiny bit more but it still looks good. It feels like you could kill a man though, the crust feels extremely solid.
The crumb texture is completely different from the no knead bread. This is much more like a traditional store bought loaf with a close structured crumb. It is however a great crumb, springy and neither doughy nor dry. This would be perfect as a sandwich bread. The taste is less yeasty and quite neutral. The crust turns out to be quite good too. I feared it would be way to hard but it is nice and crunchy, though a smidge chewier compared to the no knead.
No knead / Oven
The crust is shiny and has blisters which I didn't expect. I thought those were the effect of the high heat but this doesn't seem to be the case. The loaf didn't rise as much as the creuset version.
Still some nice holes but nowhere near as much as the Creuset version. The crust is not quite as crunchy either. All in all it is a very toned down version of the traditional no knead bread but it actually turned out better than I expected.
Knead / Oven
This is the traditional way I guess but this loaf just looks sad. It doesn't seem to have risen at all and the colour is rather pale.
The structure looks nice in the photo but compared with the other kneaded loaf this has a much more doughy crumb. All in all this had the least pleasant texture of all four loaves. The crust also ended up unpleasantly chewy. Might as well let this one dry out and use the breadcrumbs.
Both the breads baked in the Creuset pan ended up very nice to eat. Even though the ingredients are just about the same they made for very different breads. I think the winner is the no knead bread for the simple reason that the crust is very very nice (and can be even nicer with some sesame or sunflower seeds).
Even though it is rather dangerous (seriously ouch) and heavy it seems to be very much worth it to bake bread, any bread, in the Creuset pan.
If anyone has any tips on how to get the no knead bread in a more pleasing shape do leave them in the comment section.