See the No-Touch Video at the bottom of this post.
The popularity of no-knead bread starts with Jim Lahey, of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York City. His no-knead methodology was popularized in a New York Times article in 2006. The bread is noted for it's fantastic crust. I strongly suggest reading the NYT article and recipe (links below), the Cooks Illustrated Recipe, and either the Cooks Illustrated video or magazine article.
Sullivan Street Bakery /New York Times No-Knead Technique
The technique uses a tiny amount of yeast, extra water, and a long rising time (18 hours or more), then baking in a covered container.
Jim Lahey's book, My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method, describes his technique with two basic dough recipes and lots of interesting variations.
The no-knead technique doesn't always yield an acceptable product for first time bakers. Cook's Illustrated developed an almost-no-knead recipe in January of 2008 that yields more consistent results. It uses vinegar and beer to improve the flavor, kneads the bread 10 to 15 times, and uses parchment paper for the final rise and the baking. Baking takes place inside an enameled cast iron Dutch oven with lid. Cooks Illustrated Almost No-Knead Recipe
Cooks Illustrated Almost No-Knead Technique
Cook's Illustrated has a web-video of the process on their Web site but it is limited to their members. (A free trial will let you access it.) Cooks Illustrated Almost No-Knead Video
The Jan-Feb 2008 issue of Cook's Illustrated magazine has a three page magazine article that is much better than the web-video.
There are many no-knead variations to be found on the Web: Sourdough starter instead of yeast, whole grain flours, fruit and nuts, dinner rolls, french loaves, starting with a cool baking container, etc.
A Long Slow Bread Rise is an Old Idea--from the early days of yeast bread in the 19th Century
"If the characteristics of 'homemade' bread are desired, it is found to be better to use a small amount of yeast and to keep the dough at a temperature from 55 degrees to 60 degrees for twelve to fifteen hours, than to use a larger quantitv of yeast and to cause its rapid growth. The changes which produce the desired effect are not fullv understood." --Page 37 The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning by Ellen Richards and S. Maria Elliot Second Edition, Revised and Rewritten 1897
My No-Touch Technique
I generally follow the Cooks Illustrated Technique but found it difficult to knead the wet dough 10-15 times. It's a sticky proposition. After experimentation with dough scrapers, etc. to help manipulate the dough, I found that I got great results using a Zyliss Silicon Spreader and a Silpat Silicone Baking Mat. Using them, my hands never touch the dough and it's easy! The Zyliss spreader works better than spatulas because it is much stiffer and doesn't bend when mixing the dough.
I've had a Silpat 11-5/8 x 16-1/2 inch silicon baking mat for several years. The dough doesn't stick to it but it's a little small. I now use a Silpat Commercial Size Baking Liner which is approximately 24 3/8 x 16 3/8. This photo shows the small amount of dough that sticks to the Silpat after kneading the dough and dumping it off. I didn't do any scraping!
This video shows how quick and easy it is to do a one minute No-Touch Knead. There's nothing magical about one minute--30 seconds is often enough to punch out large air bubbles and shape the dough.
An Extra No-Touch KneadBoth the original and the Cooks Illustrated techniques tend to yield bread with large holes which some people like and some don't. I sometimes add a no-touch knead 12 hours into the 18 hour rise to help get a more consistent crumb structure with smaller holes. It depends on how I'm going to use the bread. I don't want large holes in a loaf that I plan to use for tuna salad sandwiches. This additional knead tends to increase the height of the final loaf. The No-Touch technique is so easy that the extra knead only takes a minute plus another minute to rinse off the spreader and baking mat.
Note: The extra knead to knock down air-holes is much more important in the summer. I keep the house at 66° in the winter and 76° in the summer. This makes a huge difference in how fast the bread rises, the texture of the bread, and the size of the holes. The winter bread is better. Adding 25% to 50% whole wheat flour also helps with the summer texture issue.
For more details see: