Our No-Knead Bread 2.0 (January/February 2008) presented a foolproof way to make bakery-quality loaves in a preheated Dutch oven. The heavy covered pot, which preheats at 500 degrees for a half-hour before the dough is added, acts like a miniature version of the steam-injection ovens used by professional bakers: The lid traps steam released by the loaf for maximum rise (without kneading) and a shatteringly crisp crust.
But after further experimenting with the recipe, we discovered that this already simple method can be made even more so by eliminating the 30-minute preheating step and starting the loaf in a cold oven. When we started the process in an unheated pot in a cold oven, the loaf rose just as high as the standard hot-oven version did, and the crust browned beautifully.
Why does this cold-oven method work just as well as the original? Because the same process is taking place, but in slow motion. Instead of blasting the loaf with heat and steam right from the get-go, we let those elements build gradually. Eventually, the loaf achieves the same amount of “spring.”
We did need to make two more adjustments to the original recipe. First, after you put the dough in the oven, simply set the oven dial to 425 degrees (rather than beginning at 500 degrees). Second, start your 30 minute timer as soon as you place the bread in the cold oven and turn the oven on. After 30 minutes, remove the lid and continue to bake 20 to 30 minutes.
Why This Recipe Works
For a no-knead bread recipe that would produce a loaf with a consistent shape, we strengthened the dough by lowering the hydration and giving it the bare minimum of kneading time (15 seconds). To give the bread more flavor than the standard no-knead recipe, we added acidic tang with vinegar, and a shot of yeasty flavor with mild-flavored lager. When we started the baking process in an covered pot, the lid trapped released steam, creating a springy loaf. By finishing the baking with the loaf uncovered, we created a beautifully browned crust.