Of all the things I’ve made in the slow cooker, few have had the response of slow-cooker bread. Most people are highly sceptical that such a thing is possible, including my mum when I suggested making some over Christmas. She makes fabulous sourdough loaves and mine needed to be good to win her over. And won over she was. We devoured the loaf in next to no time and she was suitably impressed by the light, open crumb and soft, chewy crust. She also deciphered the instruction manual to the timer plug and allowed me to wake up to freshly baked bread in the morning. Had Santa brought me a Teasmade too, my mornings would be complete…
|500g||plain flour (or 150g strong white and 350g plain flour)|
|14g||fast-action dried yeast (equivalent to 2 sachets)|
|25g||soft butter, cubed|
You will need a slow cooker.
Sift the flour into a large bowl and make two little wells on opposite sides in it. One is for your yeast and one is for your salt. If you add them together, the salt can stop the yeast from working and you end up with a sad, flat loaf.
Put the yeast and the salt in these wells and then scatter the chopped butter across the flour and add about half of the warm water. Bring the flour together with your hand and it will start to form a sticky, ragged dough. Bring it together as much as you can and then add about another 100ml of the water. Add the rest if the dough is stubbornly dry.
Strangely, adding more water makes the dough less sticky and easier to work with and you should be able to pick up the loose bits of flour and dough in the bowl at this stage and allow the dough to form a ball.
Turn this ball out on an oiled surface and start kneading.
This activates the gluten, channels any life tensions and gives a sense of achievement. It’s useful to lift and slap the dough and give it some welly. The dough will soften and smooth after about 10 minutes of kneading.
Pop it into a clean oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to rise for an hour in a warm place. After an hour, it will have doubled in size. Take it out of the bowl, punch the dough down, knead for about 10 seconds and shape into a tight ball.
Line the slow-cooker crock with a sheet of reusable baking liner or double-thickness greaseproof paper. Don’t use foil as this will make the bottom of the bread burn. Place the dough into the slow cooker and then cover the top of the crock with 4 sheets of kitchen roll, doubled over. Put the lid on the slow cooker.
Either set the slow cooker on a timer to come on in the morning or switch to high and begin cooking the bread. Both ways allow the bread to rise a second time, which gives it a lovely texture. The bread will take about 2 - 2½ hours to cook. If you can, turn the loaf about 30 minutes before the end to brown the top slightly, but if you can't, don't worry. It tastes just as good, only slightly paler.
Lift the bread out of the slow cooker and allow it to cool for as long as you can, then slice. It should keep for about 3 days, but honestly I've never managed to hold myself back long enough to test this theory. This is seriously delicious bread with the minimum of effort. Perfect, especially if you don't want to heat the oven in warm weather or need it free over Christmas.