The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Kneading evil?

Anonymous baker's picture
Anonymous baker (not verified)

Kneading evil?


Let's hear your thoughts...
Why all the Internet chatter about no-Knead bread?

My personal thoughts are that it is related to everything else we sacrifice for convenience.

For example, look at this thread on LifeHacker:
(Read the comments)


I love kneading, it's better than Therapy, one of the best Stress reliefs.

Note: I'm not picking on LifeHacker, that's a great site for tips, DIY, self help, etc.

arzajac's picture

Use the right tool for the job.  "No-knead" results in different bread than "stretch-and-fold".  "Stretch-and-fold" results in different bread than kneaded bread.


It all depends on what you want to accomplish.  I don't like "no knead" bread - it doesn't hold a shape.  I prefer stretch-and-fold over kneading for most breads because it results in a much more open crumb and chewy texture.  But some breads just can't be made with stretch-and-fold.


It just depends.  There is no sacrifice - just preference.  I'm not too lazy to knead, I just don't like the end result as much as if I do something different in many cases.

agordo's picture

For many of us, the no knead method was a good introduction to bread making.  I have gone on to making French sourghdough and other breads using Daniel's methods and recipes.  I still bake no knead once in awhile.  Why? Because the taste is just darn good.

No knead isn't just about convenience.  It's about building flavor through fermentation.  I don't know much about the breads Jim Lahey bakes at his bakery, but I think they are based on no knead and long fermentation.  I understand he's coming out with a book, but until then, you should listen to the very interesting Podcast interview with him.  He's a bread historian.  Hopefully, this link works.


LindyD's picture

I think the NK and artisan-bread-in-five-minute methods are a good introduction to bread baking, especially for people who have full schedules of working, running households, raising families, maintaining their homes, etc., who don't have the luxury of plentiful spare time.

While I don't think either method produces great bread (and I've baked both), it sure is a heck of a lot better than what's on the supermarket shelves.

If the baker is happy, that's all that matters.


davec's picture

I don't know where to start, because I have a lot of thoughts on this subject. Maybe I should start by saying that without Jim Lahey's no-knead method, I would never have had enough interest in baking to find this forum. I suspect I am not alone.

There has been so much buzz over the last two-plus years about no-knead bread, that many people are shamelessly appropriating the term for their own purposes. Others are misapplying the term. They mostly miss the point, in my opinion. Jim Lahey took several basic techniques from the world of artisanal baking: high-hydration dough, long, slow fermentation, autolyze, soaking, minimal handling, and gentle folding, and combined them into a simple regimen that an eight-year-old could follow. He also borrowed the concept of using a heavy Dutch oven, instead of pizza stones, quarry tiles, spritz bottles, and water or ice cubes.

I know this is hard for those of you who have been baking for years to understand, but the recipes for bread in practically any cookbook are absolutely daunting to the novice baker. You have to proof your yeast, which must be absolutely fresh; your water must be at just the right temperature; you have to add sugar for the dough to feed on; you have to adjust the flour and water until the dough is just right; you have to knead and knead, until the dough reaches a magical point that only experience will let you detect. And so on.

With Lahey's method, I simply threw 3 cups of flour, 1 ¼ tsp of salt, ¼ tsp of yeast, and 1 ½ cups of water into a bowl, mixed it up, covered with plastic wrap, and let it ferment for 12-24 hours. Not until the dough was just right, but until my schedule allowed. Water too cold? Dough insufficiently mixed? Wrong kind of yeast? Time heals most wounds. I'd then fold it over a few times in the bowl, let it rest awhile, then plop it into another bowl to rise. After 2 hours, I'd plop the dough into a searingly hot Dutch oven, and bake. The results? Crackly crust, great, chewy crumb with big holes, like the bread I'd sometimes find in a good restaurant. Much better flavor than I could ever get from my bread machine, or from the local bakery.

Let's face it: you don't knead because it is required to develop gluten; you knead because you enjoy it, and/or because you are impatient. You don't shape because it is necessary; you shape because the results please you. You slash because you shaped, and in so doing, created a tight skin and weak points in the dough which might blow out during baking. You also slash because the results please you.

Now that I have gotten into sourdough, and begun to learn more about bread and baking, I have learned about various techniques, and tried some different breads. Most of them are prettier than the basic no-knead. But, when I want bread for me to eat, I go back to a sourdough version of no-knead, with 1/3 whole wheat or whole rye. I know many of you can bake much better breads than that, and my hat is off to you. But, my own skill level isn't there, yet.



niagaragirl's picture

I think that a lot of the popularity stems from the group of people who have always failed at bread because they don't really understand the kneading process, why it's done, and the proper tactics for approach. So the "no knead" is very attractive to them. Personally I find the kneading process one of the most pleasurable things I do.

I once went to a friend's house and she was trying to do a rye bread. There was just dough everywhere. She was digging her fingers into the dough and had what looked like a wet concrete mess that went all the way up to her wrists. It was truly disastrous. I took over as she battled to scrape all the dough off her hands and showed her really how easy it was, and after that she had no more "fear of Kneading".Her error was also in selecting a rye for the first loaf because the gluten structure is much different there.

I have a blog startup geared for yeast beginners, and one of the sections is Mystery and Fear. It's not really ready yet for public release because there are only a few posts so far, but I'll post it here once things get going with it. JUst want to get more content on it first.

I really don't have anythng against the no knead. It does take a lot of the fun out of things for me though.

gaaarp's picture

Dave, I'm glad someone who makes NKB spoke up.  I am admittedly not a fan of it, having tried it myself, but I do know that a lot of people get into artisan baking by starting with the NKB or ABI5MAD method.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  As you state, it results in "much better flavor than I could ever get from my bread machine, or from the local bakery." 

And isn't that what we're all really after?


Wisecarver's picture
Wisecarver (not verified)

...Good points. ;-)
I like the idea of Mark's flip-the-edges-in-a-bowl method too. Its fun.

maawallace's picture

Here, here, Dave.


I, like you, would never have found this website without the no-knead method from Jim Lahey. It was very simple and easy to follow. 


Essentially, the NK method made me realize that bread baking was something I could do. I was not scared of kneading, but rather did not think other loaves I had made were worth the effort. 


Not to repeat all of Dave's points, but the method does a lot of the steps that are involved in some more complex artisanal breads. Slow fermentation using the least amount of yeast possible, high water content, and folding. 


It is not my favorite loaf of bread in the world, but I still make it with some of my own modifications that make it more of a classic artisanal loaf. 


Overall, though, NKB caught on, not because it is the best loaf ever, but for two reasons. First, it is extraordinarly easy and flexible. Second, this is not France. We cannot walk a block and find world class bread. NKB is much better than anything you can find in most places in the US. 


I am truly happy that Bittman posted that video from Jim Lahey. It introduced me to the wonderful world of artisanal bread. 



jembola's picture

I came back to bread after getting out of the habit for a good 15 years.  I always wanted to get back to it and try the recipes in Peter Reinhart's Brother Juniper's Bread Book.  I loved the idea of "low rise."  For me it's about the miracle of turning simple ingredients into something great.  I was totally intrigued by Jim Lehey's method (NYT) and the crazy idea of not kneading dough.  Seemed sacriligious to me.  But what a fantastic loaf of bread!  In the process I learned a lot about gluten, flavour development, crumb and why I like some homemade breads and not others.  I set a standard for myself, which I hope to match and surpass as I continue to learn everything I can about bread.  As a matter of fact, I have a loaf of whole wheat made from a no-knead hunk of dough (artisanal bread in 5 minutes a day) that I anticipate I won't like.  First try, worth the experiment.  (The rest of the dough will likely end up as a pizza).  My next phase will be stretch-and-fold adaptations of some old tried and true recipes.  Why no knead dough?  What the heck, why not?

jembola's picture

Oops, that's "slow rise" not "low rise".

Floydm's picture

I enjoy kneading too, but I disagree that no-knead bread necessarily means sacrificing anything for convenience.  The best bread I make reliably is a high hydration, low-knead bread.  It isn't the famous Leahy No-Knead recipe, exactly, but it is similar.  I fold the dough a couple of times to tighten it up, but I certainly don't go through a prolonged kneading period.

Some types of bread require heavy kneading, but traditional rustic breads do not.  As is made clear in Good Bread is Back, most of the great European breads were perfected in the days before mechanization, mixed by hand in a large dough trough.  It was only post World War II that people decided that flavorless, pillowy, machine-kneaded bread was the way to go.  In the last 20 years or so bakers realized they could get better flavor with less yeast, less mixing, and longer rises.

I think the internet chatter was that most non-bakers simply had no idea that you could make something so good with so little work.  It has brought a ton of new people to this site who've wanted to learn more and expand out from that one basic recipe. To me that is a good thing.

arzajac's picture

May I point out that the baguette voted to be the best in Paris in 2008 is made without kneading (or hardly kneaded).

Sourdough version that is not kneaded:

Susan's picture

For me, that is overblown sourdough using no commercial yeast.  My bread is mixed, rested, folded, shaped and baked.  If kneading was required, I'd do it.  And then I'd go jump in the hammock and take a nap.

Life is good.

Susan from San Diego


ehanner's picture


There you go, another great looking boule of delicious SD.

Drooling here.


Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

I'm an amateur photographer as well as a bread maker. I'm building  a darkroom in my basement and shooting cameras from 35mm to 4x5".  I've learned from that work that using the right tool for the job is important. You don't want to try to take baby photos with a Speed Graphic.  Some portraits just look better in square format.  I even begrudgingly agree that having a digital P&S is good for the bread photos I take for this site.  Let's just say that my feelings on bread pretty much mirror my feelings on photography: I'm a traditional person for the most part.

My bread is developed by hand.  I don't have a stand mixer.  My food processor is too small.  I get great results from almost every bread I make, from 65% hydration sandwich breads to 80% hydration pizza dough, it's all in my wrists and my fingers.  What technique I use, be it traditional kneading or the stretch and fold method, depends on what type of bread I'm baking.  Sometimes I use a combination of both to really develop the gluten if I feel a certain bread needs more work.  I'd like to try some of the wetter ciabattas next, and I KNOW that's going to be a lot of work for me. I enjoy it, though, and wouldn't have it any other way.

jembola's picture

Dabigo, I'm curious about your hybrid method.  What aspects do you borrow from 5-minutes-a-day and what from NYT?  Do you bake in a blazing hot pot or just in the oven? I haven't been thrilled with the basic 5-minutes-a-day recipe, especially the whole wheat version, but I liked being a couple of hours from decent bread any time, and I love my cast iron pot for great crust. Please share more of your tweaking secrets.

jembola's picture

Dabigo, I love your creativity. Me, I'm still nervous about what I can do and not do, but I'm inspired by your combinations.  Tonight I mixed up an NYT dough and added half a cup of mixed grain cereal and a little extra water.  I wasn't sure if I should have replaced some of the 3 cups of AP flour instead.  I'll find out.

Here are my questions: Do you put your dough straight into the fridge for 18 hours without allowing to rise for 2-3 hours at room temp as in the original recipe? I'm not familiar with "glutton cloak" -- do you just let the dough rest for 20 minutes on the counter, straight out of the fridge, while the oven heats up? Rather than 2 hours as in the NYT or 5-minutes recipe? When you add buttermilk, yogurt or oil I assume your are substituting these for some of the water, correct?

Yeasted cornmeal and onion sounds great! How did it turn out?

bassopotamus's picture

And I thought it was pretty good, and very easy. Not the best bread ever, but a nice crust, decent crumb, and pretty darn easy (mix for two minutes, throw it in the fride for a day, warm up/shape and bake). Works great if you want fresh bread on a week night

jembola's picture

Thanks for answering all my questions Dabigo. So it's "gluten cloak" not "glutton cloak". I kind of suspected it might have been a typo but figured if crust could "sing" there might be some sort of gluttony involved with bread dough.  Under a cloak, no less.  Anyway, I missed that bit of nomenclature because I followed the Mother Jones 5-minutes-a-day article I found somewhere online and never bought the book.

My NYT recipe+.5 cup multigrain cereal+a little water turned out great tonight!  (Enjoyed with curried carrot soup). I think I might add even more multigrain next time and/or substitute some other flour as you do.  I think you're right: the process is very forgiving and I can both enjoy the bread at hand and plot my next improvement/variation.  What's not to like?

One more question: If you use 13 cups of flour, and you make 2 lb loaves, approximately how many loaves are you getting for that quantity? I like your tupperware portion system but since I don't have a weigh scale I don't know how much to form into a loaf.  Since the size changes as you pick the dough up, I don't find the "canteloupe size" or grapefruit size" description in the recipe to be helpful.  I'd rather know that I can get x number of loaves (1.5 - 2 pounders) out of a certain batch.

kumitedad's picture

I like the no-knead approach to show others how to bake bread.  I showed my niece from Hong Kong using this method.  She mixed one day, and came back the next for the bake.

Also, I was fiddling around with the recipe, using my starter instead of yeast and playing with the fermentation times and came up with a lovely sourdough taste.  My wife loves it for toasting and the kids love it for sandwiches.

jembola's picture

Yes, I think the 6.5 cup version suits me better too (it's what I've been doing so far), especially since it's so easy to mix up a new batch, especially skipping the 2-hour room temperature start and putting the dough directly into the fridge.

I'm singing the praises of no-knead after what I thought should have been a waste of flour on the weekend: our family was away for our once-a-year local ski weekend with friends and I thought I'd make homemade bread since there would be an oven available. I mixed up the flour/yeast/salt ahead and then mixed up the dough while there and shoved it into the fridge in two portions, a la dabigo. On day 2, I plopped one portion onto the available broiler pan and intended to bake it two hours later thinking I'd be back for lunch, but various signals got crossed and that dough sat there in a fairly warm room for about 8 hours until I finally returned. At that point the broiler pan and the oven were needed for dinner prep, so I wrestled the dough off the broiler pan (it had stuck since I hadn't brought cornmeal) and returned the poor, now ugly, lump to the fridge.  After supper I felt I should put it out of its misery and just slashed it and baked it (straight out of the fridge) with some steam in the oven.  Hey, it wasn't pretty, but it still managed some oven spring and turned out to be a very tasty loaf (better than any bread machine loaf I've ever made), devoured pretty quickly apres night-ski.  This method is so forgiving and delicious, and that's the real beauty of it.

Rosalie's picture

So, Dabigo, basically, you just keep a few baking sessions' worth of dough in the refrigerator, portioned into loaves, is that right?  Every couple of days you pull out a loaf or two and shape/rise and bake?