The Globe and Mail published an article on Tuesday more or less panning the amazing no-knead breads popularized by Jim Lahey and by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois in their Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day books (which, if you read here often, if my easy-bread bible, though I sadly don’t yet own it).
You can read the full article here, but basically, some home baker who is midway through one baking class and is likely just a friend of the writer tried one recipe from Artisan Bread in Five, and hated the bread.
She found the loaves very dense – the opposite of what I’ve experience with my no-knead breads, which tend to be gorgeously holey and light – and calls the no-knead phenomenon “more a marketing gimmick than a better way to do things.”
Legitimately, however, she criticizes Hertzberg and Francois for not including weight measurements. It’s true. That’s a real failing of the book, and it makes me sad every time I see the recipes. I know why they did it: Americans fear anything European, and measuring baking formulas the proper way is just too much for them to take in. As a Canadian, I feel I can handle it, and measure everything in grams in my happy-birthday scale (thanks to my baker sister Sara who no doubt has a heart attack every time she attempts anything in my shambles of a home kitchen).
Nevertheless, the Artisan Bread in Five website does fill in the gap, offering many suggestions for measuring ingredients properly by weight.
Legitimately ALSO, the no-knead bread critic points out the joy of kneading bread. Me, too. I love kneading bread! Just that sometimes, I love not having to. Isn’t it all about having choices?
Anyhow… here’s what I wrote in response to the article in the comments section on the Globe and Mail website:
We love bread! I have crafted all kinds of bread - started with poolish, sourdough, challah, slow-rise, quick-rise, long-knead and - more importantly - no-knead.
I have followed the no-knead recipes in Hertzberg's book (Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day) to the letter and they produce GORGEOUS bread.
It is a strike against the authors that they failed to include weight-based measurements and stuck to the horrid US "standard" of measuring cups and spoons. They do fill in directions on their website on how to create breads more precisely using grams and ounce measurements, and I always use a digital scale. (I use 135g of Canadian all-purpose flour for every cup they call for in their recipes; I also use bread flour if I want a slightly "stronger" dough)
Baker Jim Wills mentions that bread will inevitably deteriorate in the fridge. This is not necessarily the case, though I have never used a no-knead recipe after more than seven days in the fridge. Ten days might be pushing it, but certainly a day or two - or more - can age the dough and give it more of a "sourdough" tang that every single guest at my table has really enjoyed.
Finally, if the bread is too sloppy, which is a charge of no-knead baking, its gluten can be strengthened, not by kneading, but by tipping it out onto a well-floured surface and giving it a few gentle folds with a bench scraper before letting it rest once again. Far less work - for delicious bread!
No-knead baking is not my ONLY home-baking technique, but I can say it is a very good option. I am excited to have discovered it, and blogged many of my discoveries at my bread blog: http://breadland.blogspot.com
p.s. True confessions: the photo above is indeed of a bread rising in my no-knead bread bucket, but it is NOT a no-knead bread. I made it last Friday morning and it rose crazy-big because the weather was so warm and damp. Amazing!