No-knead bread is bread which is produced without kneading, as the name implies. Various cultures have a tradition of making bread without kneading which dates back for centuries, although the French probably have the most refined tradition of no-knead bread. New York Times columnist Mark Bittman popularized the concept of no-knead bread in the United States, attracting a great deal of attention and a furor of commentary on the recipe.
Bread is kneaded for one reason: to encourage the gluten in the flour to elasticize, developing long chains instead of lounging about, pell-mell, inside the dough. As the dough is kneaded, it works the gluten, pulling into the desired chains and generating a dough with a springy texture which will develop into a springy loaf. However, the same goal can be accomplished by whisking the ingredients in bread together and allowing them to sit, undisturbed, for eight to 14 hours.
Many bakers are familiar with the trick of cutting down kneading time and lengthening rising time if they don't feel like kneading for the recommended 20 minutes, but with no-knead bread, no kneading at all needs to be performed. The ingredients are mixed to make a sloppy dough which is covered and allowed to rest until it develops a bubbly surface, before being turned out, shaped into a loaf, dumped into a loaf pan, allowed to rise for another three to four hours, and then baked.
The ingredients in basic no-knead bread are: three cups (400 grams) flour, one and a half teaspoons (7 grams) salt, one quarter teaspoon (one gram) instant yeast, and one and one half cups (375 milliliters) water. If instant yeast is not available, regular active dry yeast can be used, although many people recommend proofing it in a small amount of water with a pinch of sugar first. The ingredients should be stirred together to create a loose dough which can be transferred to an oiled bowl and covered with a damp towel or a sheet of plastic for the resting process.
No-knead bread is baked in a 450 degree Fahrenheit (232 degrees Celsius) oven until the loaf sounds hollow when tapped, which can take 30 to 45 minutes. Many people recommend using a pre-heated and oiled heavy baking pan for no-knead bread, and covering the pan for the first half of the baking to encourage the development of a dense, chewy crust, creating a more rustic bread loaf.