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Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Oven Broken? Using a Crock-Pot to Bake Bread

One of the more interesting ideas I encountered this summer was the concept of using a crock-pot instead of an oven for baking. Most of the time we use a crock-pot to start a meal in the morning before work so that dinner is ready when we get home, or just because the day is busy and time for meal prep later is minimal. Of course, a lot of time in the summer we don’t want to heat up the kitchen, so that’s the primary driver behind choosing to use a crock-pot.

However, with rising energy costs, some might be interested in saving money by slow cooking their baked goods instead of firing up the oven, while others just want to be good citizens and reduce the load on the overtaxed power grid (which probably wouldn’t be quite so overtaxed under better management and the use of fossil fuels, but I digress). And then, in an era where replacing a broken oven could take weeks or months, having a safe alternative for indoor baking is always a good idea.

And apparently, the concept of using a crock-pot for baking nothing new. There are loads of references for it online. However, it’s always important to give these ideas a try before things fall apart. One reason is because there is a slight difference between crock-pots and slow cookers.

It’s important to keep in mind that while many people use the terms crock-pot and slow cooker synonymously, the two are, in fact, different creatures and this may affect the outcome of your recipes. A proper crock-pot has a removable ceramic crock that is nice and thick and helps distribute the heat to more evenly cook (or bake) your food. The outer unit of the crock-pot has heating elements up the sides to more evenly cook and it also cooks food more slowly.

A slow cooker, on the other hand, may have a removable crock. The primary difference, however, lies in where the heating element is, and in a slow cooker, the heat is on the bottom only. A slow cooker is better suited for soups and stews—anything with a lot of liquid. Meats and casseroles are a bit more likely to burn when prepared in a slow cooker because of the heat concentration at the bottom and the need for the food to be stirred frequently to prevent burning.

For this first venture into baking bread in a crock-pot, I used my go-to recipe for whole wheat sandwich bread and placed the dough in my regular loaf pans. Two went into the oven for normal baking and the third went into the crock-pot. I baked it in my crock-pot for about four hours, but it never reached the 200°F temperature that indicates the bread is fully baked. The highest it would go was 190°F. After sitting at 190°F for over an hour, I decided it was done and pulled it out. And I’m guessing that because I was using a crock-pot that just doesn’t get as hot as a slow cooker, the bread wasn’t going to get any hotter. Anyway, it was done and we ate it, but the texture wasn't all that great.

If you have a medium-sized crock-pot, the standard sandwich loaf pan isn’t going to fit inside. Instead, you’ll form a round loaf and place it on a square of parchment paper to rise. As it is rising, plug in the crock-pot and set it to “high” to pre-heat the crock with the lid on. When the dough has nearly doubled in volume, carefully transfer it to the preheated crock-pot and place it inside. Replace the lid and let bake for 2-3 hours, until the top is kind of rubbery-looking. Because the bread is steaming as much as baking from the sides, it’s just not going to achieve that nice golden crust we all love. After it has baked 2-3 hours, remove the bread and flip it over so it can finish baking the bottom of the loaf, and let it bake an additional 30-60 minutes. I used the no-knead recipe listed below and baked in the crock-pot as described here. Becky and Aaron didn't really like it, nor did I for that matter. But we all agreed, if the oven were dead and we couldn't use a sun oven outside (like today, which is cloudy and rainy), baking in a crock-pot would work in a pinch.

Helpful hints: During baking, as moisture accumulates on the lid, shake it off into the sink or wipe it off with a towel. This will let your bread or other goods cook more by baking and less by steaming.

Keep in mind that your results will differ from bread baked in the oven. Bread baked in a crock-pot doesn’t get that initial burst of high heat to spring up into high loaves that we are accustomed to. Crock-pot bread will be a bit flatter and won’t develop a crust and brown like loaves in the oven. The crust will be softer and lighter in color. If desired, you can counteract this by placing the loaf under the broiler in the oven for a few minutes, but watch carefully to make sure you don’t burn it.
Links to related posts:
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Difference between slow cooker and crock-pot
Instructions for baking in a loaf pan in a large, oval slow cooker
Instructions for using a medium, round crock-pot
No-knead bread baked in a small slow cooker
Overnight slow cooker bread

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