Many people are downsizing and turning back to the basics. It can be difficult to find products that are free from unwanted ingredients; or, perhaps you are the type who likes to experiment and create your own delicious dishes in the kitchen. Regardless of the reason, it is exciting to realize that you can repurpose that old crock pot and use it to bake delicious bread. Of course, with so many people living in smaller homes, apartments or even travel trailers, keeping extra appliances, such as a dedicated bread maker, seems to be an unnecessary waste of space; however, having the ability to quickly and easily make bread at home can certainly have its benefits. One of the nice things about baking bread in a slow cooker or crock pot is the fact that this method allows the baking environment to stay moist which helps produce a tender crumb for the bread with a crispy outer crust.
Preparing Your Pan or Crock Pot for Baking Bread
The first thing to remember is that you want to be sure that you have the right type of container to use for baking your bread. While you will be using your crock pot as the heat source for your bread baking, you will not always be baking it directly in the inner crock or container of your crock pot. There are special pans you can purchase that are made specifically for this purpose; however, you can also use a coffee can or similar size can. Simply wash the emptied coffee can very well and be sure there are no sharp edges around the lip where you cut off the lid. Grease the container very well and set aside while you prepare your bread dough. Another method that can be used equally well is to line the bottom of your crock pot with a double layer of parchment paper in order to keep the bread off the bottom of the crock pot and prevent it from sticking or burning.
How to Make Bread in a Crock Pot
Many people are a little intimidated by making their own homemade bread, especially the first time they attempt bread making. They see it as something mysterious and difficult; this is probably due to the fact that they have likely not been exposed to home baked bread in many years. It is truly a kitchen art that has frequently fallen by the wayside; however, today, many people are getting more interested in controlling the ingredients in their food and are looking for ways to save money and streamline their cooking processes. Baking your own bread in a crock pot is certainly an excellent way to help move in this direction and you will quickly discover how simple it can be do enjoy your own homemade bread.
There is a little science behind the art of bread baking, regardless of whether you use a bread machine, a crock pot, a cast iron pan set on a campfire or your kitchen oven. Of course, each method will require its own special handling procedures, but the science behind bread baking remains the same. The first thing you need to think about is the type of yeast you will use. Most home bread bakers will use active dry yeast. This is available either in small bulk jars or in individual envelopes. You want to keep your yeast fresh and a jar should be used within one month of opening, so choose the form of yeast that will suit your particular bread making habits.
Another point to consider is the amount of flour you will need. Most recipes will give a range because this is something that can change from batch to batch, based on a number of environmental factors. If you live in a dry area, you might need a little less flour than someone in a more humid region of the country. Also, the age of your flour, the amount of moisture it has in it, and even the weather on the day you do your baking, can all play a factor in the amount of flour you will need in order to reach the right texture for your dough. This is something that might take a little experimentation before you get the confidence to know you have it just right; however, when you begin, remember to err on the side of having your dough a little too loose, rather than too thick. A bread dough that is too dry will produce a hard tough bread. You want your bread dough to not be sticky; it should be soft and pliable.
Here is a basic recipe to get you started, but remember you can stir in your favorite spices to make it savory. Try garlic, onion, tarragon, rosemary or another favorite herb. If you prefer a sweet bread, consider cinnamon, raisins or a variety of dried fruit or nuts.
Basic Bread Dough:
1 packet yeast or 2-1/4 tsp if using a jar
2 T sugar
½ c warm water (about 110 – 115 degrees F)
1 T oil (peanut oil, canola oil or vegetable oil)
¼ tsp salt
1-1/4 to 1-1/2 cups flour
Combine the yeast, sugar and warm water in a bowl. Let set about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes foamy. This will be your sign that your yeast is working and you can proceed. Stir in the oil. Combine the flour and salt, mix into yeast and oil mixture with a wooden spoon.
Turn the dough out into a lightly greased bowl and cover with a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place, about 1 hour or until it has approximately doubled in size. Place the dough on a double layer of parchment paper and place the cover on your crock pot. Cook on low for approximately 1-1/2 hours, but be sure to start checking after about an hour. Remove when the crust is a nice golden brown color.
If you prefer, you can pour this batter into a greased coffee can or bread baking pan and set it in the bottom of your crock pot. Proceed to cook as above, but eliminate the parchment paper.