I have no interest in no-knead bread.
Don't get me wrong. I love the counterintuitive logic of no-knead bread. As creative thinking in food chemistry goes, it's brilliant, and I can't deny that anything that gets people baking their own bread instead of buying spongy plastic-wrapped stuff at the supermarket is a Good Thing.
As long as I'm the one handling yeast and flour, though, the bread will be kneaded. Call me a masochist, but it just doesn't feel like baking bread if I can't get my hands sticky.
And I do mean sticky. Maybe I didn't play with enough paste and Play-Doh as a child, but for whatever reason, I find wet, recalcitrant doughs more interesting than their well-behaved cousins.
The "wetness" of a dough is its hydration - that is, its flour-to-water ratio by weight. A dough with half as much water as flour is at fifty percent hydration; a dough with equal parts water and flour would be at one hundred percent hydration. The higher the hydration, the stickier the dough.
At eighty percent hydration by weight, focaccia is one of the wettest bread doughs around. Furthermore, focaccia is made with a lean dough – just flour, water, yeast and salt – meaning that it lacks add-ins like fat or eggs, which make dough easier to handle. (Doughs with such extras are known as rich doughs. Challah is made with a rich dough, as is brioche.) It's probably no surprise that many recipes for focaccia begin with references to heavy-duty stand mixers.
Focaccia is a very old bread, however, and the dough has a long history of being worked by hand. The process requires patience, but there's a pleasure in feeling the dough develop as you knead, in learning to gauge when it's ready by touch. The effort shows in the results, too. Maybe I am a masochist, but I think bread just tastes better when you've gotten your hands all sticky.