No-knead for flavor?
February 11, 2016 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I've made several different variations on no-knead bread over the years, most recently this multigrain version. I've made them in a Dutch oven, cast iron skillet, loaf pan, and free form, after short, overnight and multi-day rises. No matter the recipe or the baking setup, my no-knead loaves are incredibly bland. Parbaked loaf from the freezer aisle bland. Bakers of Metafilter, what am I missing?

I've been baking since I was a teenager, and my traditional loaves come out just fine. When I bake bread I usually make crusty multigrain loaves using a stand mixer, with long slow rises for convenient timing. I may be expecting too much of a no-knead loaf.

But so many people seem to find them a revelation and not just a meh loaf that leaves a lot of sticky cleanup. I feel like I'm missing something about the process or the recipe.(Add-ins? Shaping?) What turns these into great bread?
posted by sputzie to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
You could try throwing some caraway in there.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:32 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

My only experience with "no-knead" style breads has been the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day method. I found with them, that the flavour was much better when the bread was baked at least a couple of days after the dough was mixed.

So, I know that you've tried overnight and multi-day rises, but my advice would still be: less yeast, longer rise.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:36 PM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

The only thing I can think of is that there's something wrong with your proving, unless you're somehow using some kind of super low-quality flour that I've never heard of existing.

Maybe compare your method to (or adopt) the Tartine method. That recipe is for a wheat bread, but the method applies with some variation no matter your flour blend. It's also a sourdough method, but if you bake bread regularly and like flavor then you may find it worth switching.
posted by cmoj at 1:40 PM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: Cook's Illustrated has some advice on this matter, which amounts to: add a small amount of cheap beer (bitterness) and some vinegar (acidity) to your dough to bring the flavor profile closer to artisan style. If you search online, you should be able to find the correct proportions, which I do not have in front of me...
posted by Chrischris at 1:43 PM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Culture a starter/leaven in your fridge and use that. Also, are you using enough salt?
posted by Mr.Me at 2:26 PM on February 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

I live in Germany. For reasons I have yet to ascertain, the flour is crap. In the US, I get 'King Arthur' multi flour and we're off to the races with the no-knead bread. It comes out of the oven flavorful and soft - just really damn good. Here? It comes out very good looking but tasting like cardboard.
So that's my offer, try different flour.
(I buy French or Italian flour when I want bread.)
posted by From Bklyn at 2:35 PM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: Contrary to a suggestion above, we tend to use more yeast than is called for (18+ hour rise). Using the NYT no-knead recipe, we recently tried using a wet-cake yeast instead of the instant dry pellet stuff, and it was pretty wonderful. The difference was subtle, but detectable. I suspect that a fair amount of the mass-market instant dry yeast hasn't been transported or stored at appropriate temperatures, and that ends up knocking down its viability.

Our One Weird Trick is to mix a tablespoon of miso paste into the water used to make the dough, but I don't always do it. I love bread and the NYT no-knead recipe has done us good in spite of the occasional F- loaf.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:45 PM on February 11, 2016

no-knead French Baguette

are you using a pan of water at the bottom of the oven and spritzing the loaves every so often? Doesn't solve your flavor but man what a crust!
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:47 PM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: Did you up the salt? The original recipe didn't have enough and many people use a lot more. Also King Arthur flour. Mine is always delicious--but only with the extra salt.
posted by HotToddy at 2:51 PM on February 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: If you enjoy baking as much as it sounds like you do, I'd suggest buying the Tartine book or another artisan bread baking cookbook and making your own starter (or finding a source for one). The only drawback -- it will spoil you and make every other kind of bread seem like inedible insulation foam.
posted by incessant at 3:10 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I do the Cook's Illustrated version of no-knead and use white balsamic vinegar instead of plain.
posted by Dashy at 3:21 PM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: I think you get really nice flavour from a proper, artisanal slow rise (even slow and cold rise in the fridge), but if you want an easier process, I think you can get at least 80-90% there re flavour and crumb with a No Knead variation.

I also use the Cook's Illustrated version of No-Knead (FYI: developed by Kenji of Serious Eats when he worked for CI). I make the partial whole-wheat version, but instead of adding water + beer + vinegar + honey to the dry ingredients, I use a full 1.25 cups (humid summer) to 1.5 cups (dry winter) of whey drained from my full-fat yogurt instead of the 10 ounce lager + water combo. (The vinegar and honey still get added as well.) I let it rise for the maximum time, knead it as directed and let rise again for 2 hours, and get something quite tasty with a very nice crumb.

I've dropped the salt from 1.5 teaspoons (tasted just a bit too salty) to 1 teaspoon and it's still very nice.

In my oven and enameled cast iron pot, I have to preheat to 425F instead of 500F, and bake at 400 instead of 425, just to avoid a scorched bottom crust. Sadly, this softens and thins the crust to some degree, but I still got great flavour and crumb when I used the written temperatures, so try those to start and only adjust if necessary.

Additional note: I'm in Canada, so my all-purpose flour is relatively hard. Americans may need to use part or all bread flour for similar results.
posted by maudlin at 3:47 PM on February 11, 2016 [4 favorites]

Salt would be my first guess.
posted by kjs4 at 4:27 PM on February 11, 2016

Response by poster: I've marked a number of best answers but I think it's a little of each. I'm probably a little spoiled by the results of more traditional methods (including starters and slow/cold rising), especially with a machine to do the kneading.

I think it probably needs more salt than the recipes I've used. I was worried it would retard the rise too much, but it sounds like it needs it for flavor. Also that it will generally be bland without a lot of help from some enrichment agent.
posted by sputzie at 5:26 PM on February 11, 2016

If you like making bread the "normal" way then there's nothing particularly special about no-knead. It's just so easy and nearly fool-proof. The Dutch oven technique is genius regardless of how you make the initial dough.

I disagree with adding beer and vinegar. Those are tricks to make up for not doing an additional cold ferment. Kenji addresses that in this comment on his revised no-knead recipe. His technique is to do the normal room-temperature rise and then do a cold ferment. He also talks about the lack of salt in Lahey's original recipe.
posted by O9scar at 5:40 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh -- forgot to add that I also add more yeast - 1/2 teaspoon instead of 1/4 teaspoon. It seems to make a difference to the texture and even a little to the flavour.
posted by maudlin at 7:53 PM on February 11, 2016

I think Ken Forkish's Flour, Water, Salt, and Yeast is phenomenal. I went from not making bread to making amazing bread pretty much immediately.
posted by persona au gratin at 12:59 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

A longer rise with more yeast lets the little beasties work more, which I think makes it more flavorful.

Could you mix different varieties of flour for a more-complex flavor?
posted by wenestvedt at 5:18 AM on February 12, 2016

Have you tried more salt? The problem with bread recipes that use teaspoons to measure salt is that we are very sensitive to the salt level of our bread, but salt crystal size varies so much that one person's teaspoon of salt may contain only half as much salt as another person's.

The solution is to use a scale and add salt at 2% of the flour weight (or 2.25-2.5% if you like your bread saltier). There is a real detectable difference between 1.75% salt and 2.25% salt in bread and no recipe that uses volume measures can be that accurate.

Also, try fermenting longer.
posted by ssg at 6:54 AM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

My initial no-knead attempts were not very inspiring, but I think I've gotten to the point where I make a pretty decent loaf. Some of the changes I've made since my first no-knead loaf:
  • More salt. I don't use as much as ssg suggests -- I'm at about 1.3% -- but that's still higher than some no-knead recipes recommend.
  • Higher temperatures. I was initially baking at 425 degrees (the oven dial said 450, but of course it runs cool), but now I bake at 475.
  • Better flour. I was initially using just whatever was cheap at the supermarket, but I make sure to buy halfway-decent flour now.
  • Small amounts of whole wheat flour. I found I was able to include about 15% whole wheat flour without significantly changing anything else in the recipe. This produced a heartier loaf with more complex flavor, but did not substantially change its character.
  • Longer rise. I initially cut the rises as short as I could, baking after about 12 hours. I now bake after 18-20 hours if I have the time, with a couple of hours after that for proofing.
I don't add any vinegar or beer, and I haven't yet felt that either is necessary.
posted by Serf at 7:33 PM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

(I love this thread) Just as a data point - after reading the salt suggestion I was pretty energized. So last weekend I pulled together a 'no-knead' loaf, using 'German' flour and the suggested amount of salt.

It looked great, the bread, but it still had a taste that doesn't comfort/appeal to me the way I want.

I also made pizza with 'Italian' flour and that came out very good. Of course the thing to do now is try to make bread with that flour - the market where I get that flour's out of the way and I just haven't gotten over there.

All of this is to re-state, Try different flour.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:06 PM on February 18, 2016

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