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Baking bread in a crock-pot?
June 2, 2010 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Have you ever baked bread in a crock-pot?

This no-knead bread was a success in the oven, but we're thinking of trying it in the crock-pot.

We have a 6-quart crock-pot that cooks at 300 degrees on "high." In the oven it was about 40 minutes at 450 degrees.

Any suggestions? How long to leave it in? A little research suggests 3 hours.
posted by starman to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
eh I'd be leery. Part of the reason why you bake bread at high temps (especially a high hydration dough like the no-knead) is for oven spring, carmelization, and crust formation. 300 degrees is probably not high enough to do any of this so you'll end up with a dense, thin crusted, tasteless loaf. My googling turned up some quick breads in a slow cooker but those wouldn't suffer from the same issues and bake at lower temperatures in conventional ovens anyway.

If you insist on trying this my one recommendation is you not turn the dough out directly into the slow cooker - it will never release. use a pan you've greased (and maybe floured?)
posted by JPD at 8:33 AM on June 2, 2010

I think you'd end up with delicious bread that never really forms a crust, but I'd love to be proven wrong.
posted by jrishel at 8:53 AM on June 2, 2010

So, understanding why the high temperatures are good (as JPD mentioned above, roasting proteins in the dough, caramelization of sugars, gelatinization of gluten, etc) I'd say give it a shot.

Some days I loathe heating up the whole apartment baking in the oven, but thats the only advantage I'd see. You would still want to watch it closely, preheat the crock for a good 30-45 min, and then maybe an hour to 90 min for baking. Is the extra time worth it? Meh. It's going to be 97+ all this week, so I'm curious to know how it goes.

Part of why the preheated dutch oven works well, is it allows heat to radiate in from all angles, and allows for oven spring to happen as it keep the dough moist for a few minutes. I'm also a fan of spray bottle steaming (as Peter Reinhart outlines) and baking on tiles/pizza stones. It accomplishes the same things (better IMHO).

What I'd worry about is over steaming your crust, making sad, soggy, pale stuff on the outside. If you're going for sandwich bread, that might be ok. Rustic lean hearth style? Not so much. I'd also worry that after initially plopping your dough in there, it will suck all the heat out of the crock, and it will take forever to get back up to temperature, also leading to soggy, if not stuck, crust.
posted by fontophilic at 8:58 AM on June 2, 2010

I'd say stick with the oven.

Bread baking is mostly dependent on several competing processes:
1. The evaporation of water within the dough, forming holes and forcing the bread to rise,
2. The gelatinization of the starches in the dough, which sets the structure of the bread, and
3. The formation of the crust through gelatinization and caramelization.

2 sort of follows from 1 -- the starch won't gelatinize until the interior of the bread reaches a high enough temperature, which is slightly delayed until much of the water is turned to steam by the tremendous amount of energy required in the phase-change process. However, this is not the case on the surface of the bread. Since the surface has an interface directly to the open air of the oven, water evaporates much faster and the outer crust forms.

You want the evaporation process inside the bread to happen quickly, so you can take advantage of the delay in gelatinization. Commercial bread ovens are much hotter than conventional household ovens -- this allows the bread to rise, then set. But if the outside of the bread is too hot, as in a very hot oven, the crust forms fast enough that it will keep the bread from rising. In order to delay formation of the crust to permit a good rise, they inject steam into the oven during the first couple of minutes of cooking to increase the moisture level of the outside of the bread.

If the evaporation process inside the bread is too slow, as in a low temperature oven (or in this crock pot scenario), the starches in the bread will heat at around the same rate as the water and will begin to gelatinize as the steam starts to form, resulting in an extremely dense bread. Steam will eventually be released through the outside of the bread, making conditions that are already not particularly good for crust formation even worse due to the high levels of moisture. Cooking the bread until it has a nice crust would leave you with a dry, dense, sad loaf of bread.

Basically, this sounds like a bad idea, and would generally only really work if you were using a bread made with chemical leavening (quick bread).
posted by malthas at 9:19 AM on June 2, 2010 [2 favorites]

Eh, give it a try. What are you out if the experiment fails? Some dough and a couple hours?

Note that you can get good, crustless bread that's not dense or dry. One prime example are Chinese steamed buns (picture here). Note that they're steamed, so that might explain some of the non-dryness, but these are yeast breads that are rising and forming a fluffy crumb, even though the temp is around 212F.

Note that this is with steam heat, so the rate of energy being transfered into the dough is much, much higher than a dry oven. But it's not as if you'll automatically get bad results if you're not using an oven at idea temperatures. Your crock pot isn't going to deliver heat in the same way, so it's hard to say how it'll turn out.

As said, give it a try. What's the worst thing that'll happen? A weird bun that'll wind up as bird food?
posted by chengjih at 9:46 AM on June 2, 2010

Steamed breads are usually rich doughs at lower hydration as well vs the no-kneads are totally lean and in 70's hydration wise. The fat does a lot for the crumb.
posted by JPD at 10:02 AM on June 2, 2010

Baking != cooking.

With cooking, all you need to do is make sure that the stuff you're cooking gets hot enough for long enough to kill everything. With the exception of sauces--which can be tough--heat doesn't necessarily play a huge role in turning random ingredients into a new finished product. Take steak as a stereotypical example. You can cook a steak in the oven, on the stove, on the grill, or in a crock pot (well, roasts anyways). Hell, you can cook a steak on a stick over an open fire if you've got a mind to. You'll get slightly different results depending on the method, but in the end what you get is some variation on the theme "steak". Rare, well done, whatever: it's still basically what it was before you started cooking.

This is true for more complicated dishes too. Think that recipe has too much salt? Leave it out. Needs cinnamon? Add some. Would be better with peppers instead of onions? Go for it. These sorts of things may change the way your final product tastes, but they aren't going to have major implications for the edibility of your result.

Baking, on the other hand, is a home chemistry experiment, every single time. You're trying to get your ingredients to interact in a fairly precise way to produce a fairly narrow range of desirable outcomes. Rising? Crust formation? These are subtle things, and the slightest deviation from established methods is not likely to work very well. The temperature has to be hot enough to cook it through, but not so hot that it burns the outside, and not so cool that the magic doesn't work. If it somehow doesn't work, your loaf will fall, or fail to cook through, or burn, and the result will be inedible.

So if you were asking how to cook a cut of meat, I wouldn't see any reason not to try cooking it in a crock pot at least once. But baking has a lot more science to it, and recipies are a lot less forgiving. Stick with what you know works.
posted by valkyryn at 10:53 AM on June 2, 2010

We're going to try it in the name of science. Will post results. Any other suggestions on how long to bake it?
posted by starman at 10:55 AM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

this recipe would indicate 3 hours, but I've not tried it.
posted by jrishel at 11:30 AM on June 2, 2010

Ok, here is what it looked like out of the oven at 450 when we made it before.

This was cooked in the crock-pot for just shy of 3 hours.

Overall, the crust was very crunchy on the bottom (almost too crunchy) and edges, soft, not quite crisp on top. To me, the taste wasn't as good as the oven-baked. It seemed a little more bland. The texture was similar to typical bread machine bread where as the oven-baked had real character to it.

I'd say it's acceptable but it's not going to impress people like the oven-baked version.
posted by starman at 6:19 PM on June 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and the bread did stick a little to the pot (but not impossible to get out).. grease or flour would have helped.
posted by starman at 6:21 PM on June 2, 2010

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