Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Tuesday's Twist: Artisan Bread in the Slow Cooker

Tuesday's Twist:  A basic recipe with a fun twist.  In other words, just another excuse for me to play around with weird recipes I've been dying to try.

When it was way too hot to turn the oven on I tried baking bread in the slow cooker.  For those of you who haven't heard of the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day technique, it's a simple, no-knead dough that takes less than five minutes of your time. Baking with a hot stone and steam yields a crusty loaf bursting with texture and flavor.  I have both the original and healthy cookbooks and have tried many of  the recipes.

Typically, the recipes require you to pre-heat your oven to 450 for 20 minutes before baking a loaf.  There was no way my oven way going all the way to 450 in last week's heat wave. I was going crazy not being able to use the oven, and then I came across this idea of baking bread in the slow cooker.  A little extra heat from the slow cooker wasn't going to heat up the whole house, so I ended up making it 3 times to try out a few variables.    

For the first batch I used the Master Recipe from the book.  Flour, water, yeast and salt are stirred together just until mixed, no kneading required.  This mixture sits at room temp for around 2 hours and can then be refrigerated or used immediately.  I put mine in the fridge overnight to develop more flavor and make it easier to handle.  

This is what the dough looks like when it's ready to use, not  at all  like  typical  bread dough.
After shaping the bread using the technique described in the books, it goes onto parchment paper and is lowered into the slow cooker. Put on the lid, turn to high, and bake for 1 hour. This is were the variables come in.  Depending on your slow cooker your may have to bake the loaf longer.  I ended up going with a total baking time around 1 hour and 15 minutes for a 1-pound loaf.  The top was cracked and the bottom firm and no longer doughy.

At this point you can eat the bread, but the crust is pale and lacks that crisp crackle characteristic of artisan breads.  It's more like a steamed bread due to the moisture retention and condensation on the slow cooker lid.  If you want a crispy crust pop the loaf under the broiler for 5 minutes. The bottom of my loaf was a little soggy so I flipped it over and broiled the bottom for 2 minutes.  Just keep a close eye on the loaf, it doesn't take long.

While the results aren't exactly the same as the oven technique, they were pretty close.  If you don't want to heat up the oven or don't have a baking stone, this is the way to go.  You may have to try out a few loaves before you get the time down for your slow cooker, but it's worth it.  The strong yeasty flavor is more apparent than typical homemade loaves and bread machine recipes.  A moist, chewy crumb surrounded by a crisp, crackling crust makes these rustic loaves hard to resist. 

I also made a loaf based on the European Peasant Bread recipe on pg 46.  It uses rye flour and whole wheat flour in addition to the all-purpose flour. 

But I used beer for most of the liquid. 

Wow. So much more beer flavor than this beer bread experiment

You should try it to use up the leftover beer from these.

I also tried a 2-pound loaf on this one and opted out of the broiler option. After an hour and 30 minutes the loaf was still pretty soft so I baked it another 20 minutes. At this point the edges were golden but the top and bottom were still soft (unlike the pale 1-pound loaf which didn't touch the sides of the slow cooker).  There was a lot of condensation on the lid dripping back onto the loaf.  I took the lid off and gave it another 10 minutes.  If you don't want to use the broiler, I suggest removing the slow cooker lid for the last 10-20 minutes of baking.  You could also try leaving the lid ajar.  Just remember that either of these will lengthen your baking time.  

Above you can see how the edges are hard and golden without the use of the broiler.  

 The top crust was hard but chewy rather than crisp.  While the flavor was amazing (assuming you like beer flavor), the texture would have been better using the broiler for the last few minutes.  Never the less, this dense, chewy, hearty, beer-flavored loaf didn't last long around our house.  I'll be using the slow cooker technique again even if we're not in the middle of a heat wave.

Check out the original post for more tips.

Food for Thought: "Go forward in life with a twinkle in your eye and a smile on your face, but with great and strong purpose in your heart." -Gordon B Hinckley

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