Super frugal baking: slow cooker sourdough

I’ve been a little crock-pot happy the last few days (with good reason of course: Crock pots are awesome!). After my happy realization that I could cook dried beans using far less energy than the stovetop, using my crock pot, I decided to take another plunge into the world of slow cooker baking.

I made bread in my slow cooker once before (and strangely, that is consistently the most clicked-on post on my entire blog since someone pinned it on Pinterest), but it was a bit strange, with a very hard bottom crust.

But after checking numerous sites, I found out the reason for my earlier flaw: direct contact with the bottom of the slow cooker with create a very thick crust. This is easy to avoid by cooking it in another cooking vessel, inside the slow cooker, and raising that vessel up a tad off the floor of the crock pot.

So I decided to try with my current favourite sourdough rye bread (a spiked “epoxy” dough from Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads book–which means it has some sourdough, some soaked dough, and some commercial yeast added on baking day). This morning I got the final dough together and gave it a first rise. Then, without a final proofing, and also without pre-heating the crock pot, I degassed the dough and put it into a well-oiled pyrex bowl which I then perched on a canning ring inside my crock pot.

I let it bake for about 2.5 hours, until I could see the top starting to firm up (the top finishes last in this type of baking since the heat doesn’t really make it up that high).

Now, bread gourmands would be shocked at this bread I’m sure. It was slightly browned on the bottom, but there was no crackly crust, no maillard reaction, no grigne to speak of. But it was bread. It was even quite good!

The crumb was open and creamy, as it seemed that the proofing happened inside during the crock’s warm-up. It was well-risen indeed. Actually it seemed a touch over proofed, but just a touch. Still certainly enjoyable.

I have to admit, it was very light and fluffy, which I would love to attribute to my amazing kneading skillz, or the crock pot proof, but I think it was probably because I ran out of my usual stone-milled whole wheat and supplemented with some supermarket “whole” wheat stuff that is really just white bread with a bit of bran thrown in. Blush.

Some tweaks

For future experiments–and I will be doing this again, oh yes–I plan on finding a better baking vessel, maybe a coffee can? I would like something with straight sides, as with my bowl method the dough actually rose up and touched the inside of the lid, which meant some condensation got on the bread which made some really nasty gummy spots.

I might also try preheating the slow cooker while I proof the bread a bit outside the oven, to see if I can get it “baking” a bit sooner and lose the over-proofed yeasty taste.

In any case, I’m excited for summer baking. I can put my slow cooker on my balcony and enjoy fresh bread without heating up the house! And it also gives me hope for another summer plan: solar cooking! Stay tuned . . .

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