Each compartment of my triple slow cooker is 1.3 litres, so to make matters simple, and after a little trial and error, I worked out that the optimum amount of flour to make a loaf of really good bread in it is 260g. I started at 350g, and upon seeing how splendidly it rose, reduced it down – my first attempt ended up with dough stuck to the lid of the cooker, trying fervently to escape! If your slow cooker is larger than mine, you can pop the dough in a loaf tin.
This bread does not need to rise or prove as it does all that in the slow cooker, but for best results, when you turn your cooker on for 20 minutes to preheat, you can leave the dough to rise a little to give it a headstart.
You will also need baking or greaseproof paper, for the best results.
Now with all that in mind, let’s make the simplest, softest bread you’ve ever made! Once you have the hang of it, you can add all sorts to it – I have made mine with beer, coconut milk, orange juice, beetroot juice, spinach and an array of herbs and spices, but before we play around too much, it’s important to crack the basics.
Grab a large mixing bowl, and weigh in the flour carefully. Add the yeast and salt and mix well to combine.
Make a well – a sort of hole – in the centre and add most of the water. Using a blunt knife (like a butter, palette or standard dinner knife), mix the flour and liquid together, starting from the wet middle and working it out to the dry edges, to form a dough. You may find you do not need all of the liquid – not all flours are created equal.
Heavily flour your worktop – a third of a cup of flour or a generous handful – and tip the dough onto it. Lightly oil your hands – this will stop the dough from sticking to them, and incorporating a little fat into your bread baking also helps the crumb structure to form or some science like that. It’s a good thing, anyway. Knead the dough for a few minutes – common wisdom suggests 10 minutes, but you will need strong shoulders to pull this off, so 3 or 4 will do if you put your back into it. To knead, I find it best to visualize an assailant; if that kind of thing doesn’t trigger you, or if it does, I’m very sorry, this is just what works for me. First, drive your palm into the dough and push it away from you like a mugger trying to nick your mobile phone on a dark night. POW! Grab it by the scruff of the neck at the back and pull it back towards you. Flip it over. Throw it down. Whack it again. BAM! This should feel satisfying and slightly bizarre. Repeat, putting your back into it, really driving the force of your forearm and shoulder into it, until you feel it start to spring to life beneath your hands. If it starts to stick, add a tad more flour.
Set to one side for 20 minutes to relax a little after you’ve duffed it about a bit. You both kinda need a rest now.
Lightly grease a piece of greaseproof paper big enough to line your slow cooker pot with the edges poking out, then pop it in – it doesn’t have to be neat, the bread will see to that as it expands. Drop the dough in on top of the paper, pop the lid on, and set a timer for an hour and 30 minutes. Walk away.
Then, 90 minutes later, go back to your bread. Gently gently remove it from the slow cooker. Peel away the greaseproof paper and turn the bread over, so the odd-looking undercooked side is now on the bottom. Pop it back in for the remaining 40 minutes.
When the time is up, remove the bread from the slow cooker and give it a tap on the top. It should feel light and sound hollow, if it doesn’t, pop it back in for 20 more minutes. The steam/heat trapped in the slow cooker means that it won’t dry out the way that conventional bread does in the oven, in fact, you should notice that it is a lot softer and squidgier than crusty oven-baked bread, and that to me is part of its appeal.
When well and truly done, remove from the cooker, allow to cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then slice and enjoy.
This bread will keep, well wrapped, for 3 days in a cool dry place. It can be frozen for up to 3 months, then toasted from frozen.
© Jack Monroe, 2020