Few things in life are as satisfying as baking your own bread. From the moment you plunge you hands into the supple dough, to the aroma that fills your home, the process is spellbinding and the result is miles beyond anything you can buy at the grocery store.
Traditionally, bread baking is a laborious, time consuming process that involves a great deal of kneading. Kneading by hand allows long gluten strands to develop, providing structure to the dough and the finished loaf. Without the mechanical combination and conversion of gluten proteins (mixed with water) to long gluten strands, the finished loaf would be dense with a tight crumb structure – more like brick than bread.
So, what to do if you love fresh bread but don’t need the knead? This light and tasty no-knead pumpkin bread is perfect.
In no-knead bread baking, time replaces mechanical processing. While the dough ferments, natural enzymes break down gluten proteins and combine them with water to form long gluten strands. Other hallmarks of no-knead bread dough include higher hydration (the extra water assists in enzymatic activity) and minimal use of commercial yeast resulting in a more complex and flavourful bread.
Making no-knead bread still requires a bit of hands-on time as you mix the dough. Once combined, though, the bread (and the baker) rests while the natural enzymes go about their business. The long fermentation period (12-16 hours) allows the dough to fully develop on its own sans kneading.
The second ‘hands-on’ phase is entirely optional. Giving the dough a few stretches and folds will produce a nice tight boule. Otherwise, it’s entirely fine just to place the dough in a small bowl lined with a floured cloth or a floured banneton basket.
The best way to achieve the perfect outer crust is to bake it at a high temperature in a pre-heated Dutch oven. Just before baking, a quick slash with a sharp knife will help the loaf to spring up.
One of the best things about no-knead bread is that you can adjust the timing to suit your own schedule. For example: mix up the ingredients before you leave for work in the morning, then come home and finish it that evening.
One of the most popular no-knead bread recipes of all time is Mark Bittman’s New York Times recipe. The accompanying spin on it includes puréed pumpkin and a variety of seeds for the topping. It goes well with a bowl of homemade vegetable soup. Happy baking!