Monday, August 3, 2015

Easy Slow Cooker Bread

As you know, I've been on a journey to gradually start making things from scratch, instead of processed or store bought versions of the foods my family eats. For quite a while now, I've had a desire to begin making my own bread but I was completely intimidated by the idea of having to use yeast. I had read countless recipes and tutorials from people telling me that making bread is way easier than I imagined, that it was something that could be learned in a matter of minutes. I always brushed it off, thinking that these people must have been in the kitchen since they could stand.

Well, we ran out of sliced bread this week. I kept mentally reminding myself that we needed to pick up another loaf from the store, but we never actually got to it. Then last night, like a light bulb had gone off in my head, I remembered that I'd seen something on Pinterest talking about making bread in a slow cooker. So I thought to myself, 'Why not just try it? We need bread anyway, and if it doesn't turn out, then at least I can say I gave it a genuine effort.' And so it began.

I found this recipe online, checked to make sure I had all the ingredients, and read through the entire process to make sure that there were no hidden steps, or outrageous techniques I needed to master before attempting the recipe. It was actually an extremely easy process, to my surprise. And you know what? The bread turned out great!

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
1/2 Tb yeast
1/2-3/4 Tb kosher salt
3 1/4 cups flour

Stir water, yeast, and salt together in a large bowl, or container with a lid. Dump in the flour and mix together into a wet, shaggy dough.
Let rise, covered but not sealed (the yeasty air needs to escape) for 2 hours at room temperature. You can use the dough right after the 2 hours rising time, but I suggest putting the dough in the fridge for another hour first. My loaf rose better, and stayed nice and round when I used cold dough. You can keep this dough in the fridge for 2 weeks; use it anytime, and it will develop a bit of a sourdough flavor.
When you're ready to bake, turn your slow-cooker on to high (Mine worked better when it was preheated)
Sprinkle some flour over the top of the dough, and pull out about half of the dough. Return the rest to the fridge.
Form a ball by tucking the sides in and under a few times, stretching the top surface of the dough ball. (They have a video of this technique here, it's important!)

Place dough ball on a sheet of parchment paper and lower into the slow-cooker. Cover and cook for 1 hour. (Some people have reported it taking up to 2 hours) It will be pale when it is done, and the outside will beslightly stiff, not hard and crusty.
If you want to darken/crisp up the crust, put the loaf on a baking sheet or stone and put in the oven under the broiler for 5-10 minutes. Let cool completely, and slice!

Make sure you use Kosher salt, like the recipe says. There really is a difference between kosher and table salt, as I found out. Table salt is much saltier than Kosher, so if you find that you don't have any kosher salt on hand, then just cut the amount of table salt you use by half. Unless you like very salty bread, then go for it.

If you don't want your crust to be too crunchy, but would still like a bit of color on it, I would recommend taking the loaf out of the slow cooker a bit earlier than the recipe says, and transfer it to your oven to broil for a few minutes. I found that my crust came out a bit tougher than I like on my first loaf, and I left it in the slow cooker for the entire hour, and then moved it to the oven to broil for about 10 minutes. However, this is simply a preference thing, so use your best judgement.

In the comments on the original recipes post, many people were voicing concerns about the use of the slow cooker without it having any liquids in it. I did both of the small loaves without any issues, but if you want to be safe, there's an easy alternative. Find a metal or heat-safe glass bowl that will fit in your slow cooker. Place about 4 balls of crumpled up foil on the bottom of the slow cooker bowl, fill with 1-2 inches of water, then place the bowl on top of the foil balls. Add the bread and bake according to the directions above.

Depending on the desired size of the loaf, you may want to make one large loaf as opposed to two smaller ones. My two came out to be about 6 inches across, which will work perfectly fine for me. But if you want a larger size, just keep all of the dough together instead of halving it.

I hope you all will try this recipe, it really is easier than I thought it would be! Good luck, and Happy Baking!

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