No need for no-knead
Am I sounding a little snarky? I don't mean to. I'd like to think I support just about anything that gets people in the kitchen cooking. I tried the no-knead recipe, and I thought the crust it produced was lovely. But it wasn't any easier than any other bread recipe I've tried, and I'm suspicious that its rampant popularity is due in large part to the savvy wordsmithing at work in the article (a "truly minimalist" recipe that "will blow your mind," etc.) rather than actual convenience. The thing still takes 24 hours to make, after all. Not exactly a 30-minute meal.
May I gripe just a bit more? I wish people were more excited about embracing culinary challenges, instead of backing away in fear unless a recipe purports to be so easy that a child can do it. What's wrong with a challenge? After all, it's just bread. What annoys me about no-knead bread is that it's not foolproof, not particularly easy, speedy or tidy, and yet people are willing to try it because it is presented as being all of those things. What's so scary about kneading, anyway? And why won't people give David Lebovitz a break already? Since when did no-knead bread become a sacred cow?
Ok, rant over. I suppose this is what I want to say: bread baking can be hard, and time-consuming, and frustrating. You should still try it anyway. Do not be paralyzed by the prospect of failing. Like I said, it's just bread.
Yes, baking bread is a demanding exercise. Dough is not unlike an irksome friend: asking for too much of your time, your space, plus comfort and warmth and affirmation. They both also benefit from the occasional beat-down. When you make your own bread, there is a small but real chance that you'll invest a lot of time into the process to produce a stunted, hard, dried-out piece of rusk that only the most desperate and diseased pigeons will consent to peck after you toss it out your window. But doesn't that risk always exist in cooking? I've messed up pretty much everything at one time or another. I burned microwave Cream of Wheat just last week, for the love of God. So what? The next time will be better.
Baking bread - with kneading, without it, whatever - is one of the most deeply rewarding culinary maneuvers. The process lets you bear witness to an amazing transformation: a shaggy mass of dough becomes a smooth, soft oval that feels like an earlobe, which then becomes that proud, golden loaf that magnetically attracts swarms of people with its heavenly scent as it emerges from the oven.
I had a breadmaker for a while, but it didn't float my boat. The sensual process of mixing and kneading disappeared and in its place the machine just spat out alien, cuboid loaves of bread with no discernible top or bottom. Like the breadmaker, the no-knead recipe produced a fine result (with a nice crackly crust to boot), but I quickly realized that this newfangled process wasn't going to be my cup of tea. It felt weird and sterile and sad to have such little contact with the dough throughout the rising.
One of my all-time favorite breads to make is challah. Now that I've spent this entry complaining about everybody wanting everything to be TOO DARN EASY, I will tell you that challah does fall on the quicker and easier end of the breadmaking spectrum, if you are quivering and frightened at the prospect of heaping bread-based failures upon yourself. The result is fabulous: a loaf that's moist, eggy, yeasty, richly hued, and slightly sweet. It's not such a great companion to garlicky salami or smelly cheeses (believe me, I've tried), and it won't keep more than a couple of days, but my goodness, challah toast is spectacular. And you won't suffer from any stress worrying whether the crust will come out crispy crunchy, because it ain't never gonna happen, sister.