Crock Pot Bread, Take 2

by Ben N on October 10, 2012

If you read my last blog entry, you may have noticed that I had some success in baking bread in a Crock-Pot. The real challenge was getting back into the house…

This past weekend was a busy one, as I was both working and helping out with my parent’s garage sale. My mother has lots of friends who bring over items for the annual sale (it’s held at the same time as a local private school’s annual fund-raising “Barn-Sale”.) So, there were plenty of items there that didn’t belong to me and my family. One item I saw was an old-fashioned #5 earthenware crock. Lots of people have these as decorations at home, but I was glad to see this one was in excellent condition – no cracks or chips – and it was only $5.00!

I put down my five and got my first new crock of the weekend. When I got home, I checked the value against what it would cost to get a new one at Lehman’s – $85! Ouch! But for me, I now have a crock for homemade saurkraut, (at a substantial discount) so look for a post on that in the future.

I was also working on Sunday, but was near the Milwaukee Makerspace, and I had a chance to stop in afterwards. At the Makerspace is something called the “Hack Rack” – a big wire rack full of odd items too good to throw away, but perfect to use as parts in other projects, or maybe even INSPIRE a new project or design. As luck would have it, there was a Rival brand Crock-Pot right there on the shelf! It is the style with the NON-removable ceramic and only a plastic (not glass) lid, but otherwise in good condition.

Since I had already talked about permanently modifying a crock-pot, this was perfect. A free one I could dissect, examine, and modify to my heart’s delight. My wife was also happy for me to have something of my own to melt the handles off of…

A doughy start.

I plugged in the pot and checked the power draw with a Kill-A-Watt, and the temperature with my non-contact laser thermometer. It draws 90 watts on low and 180 on high. This crock-pot also runs hotter than the one we already had – over 300 degrees on the sides, without modification. It might be that the non-removeable crockery allows better conduction of the heating element. It looked thinner (less thermal mass) as well.

I started up a batch of the “No-Knead Bread” recipe, but this time, I did a double-batch for about a three-pound loaf, two-thirds wheat flour and one-third white. On the first loaf I did in a crock-pot, it just didn’t seem to fill the available space well, so I thought I would try going larger.

The next morning, I plugged in the crock-pot on high to let it pre-heat for a while, and then dumped in the dough. It sure seemed to fill the pot pretty full. Hmmm – maybe a double-loaf was a BAD idea…

I checked after baking for about an hour, and it was starting to look more or less like bread. Actually, it looked more like a giant wheat-flavored cup-cake! The crust seemed to be stiffening up at the edges, but the top (with no heating element above it) was looking rather doughy.

After two hours, it looked pretty much done, although the top still was not browned. On the first loaf, I actually flipped it over for just a few minutes right at the end to sort of toast the top. For THIS bread, that was going to be challenging. By now, it had expanded to thoroughly fill the crockery. I slid a skinny wooden spatula down both sides and loosened the loaf, but couldn’t get under it very well. I managed to wiggle the loaf and pull it out, but at the expense of tearing the bottom of the crust, still stuck to the bottom of the pot. I flipped the giant cup-cake and dropped it back in, it’s ugly bottom-side staring me in the face, and put the lid back on.

Another twenty minutes, and I removed the giant loaf, and let it cool for a few.

Upon slicing the loaf, I found that it was almost too big for my good serrated knife (the “Bread Saw” as I like to think of it.) I also didn’t really know HOW to slice a giant muffin, so I quartered it like a mellon, and then took slices from there.

Overall, it turned out fairly well, the main exception being the torn bottom crust. The middle sides was a bit overdone, as that’s where the heating element is, and even when flipped upside down, the crust lined up in the same hotspot.

On the original Crock-Pot-Loaf, the top turned out pretty well. I think that it was because there was plenty of room for air-movement above it, and it didn’t crowd the pot. I also noticed considerably more steam on my double-loaf. Which makes sense – twice the water went into making that dough. But having twice the moisture and half the room seems like a good recipe for wet, instead of crispy, crust.

The flavor and texture of the bread itself was very good, as was the top crust.

As an experiment, this was, well, an experiment. I don’t plan to make a double-loaf in a crock-pot again. It overcrowded the vessel. I will also have to do a close inspection of the two crock-pots to see what their exact differences were. It seems to me that EVEN heat is very important, so thermal mass is a good thing, as well as keeping dough away from any hot-spots, if there are some.

I also ran the Kill-A-Watt the whole time, and found that I used about 5 cents worth of electricity to bake a 3lb. loaf of bread. Wow, sounds like a bargain to me!

I’ll keep you up to date on further BAKING EXPERIMENTS and Modified Kitchen Devices. (Somebody DID recently inquire about the Cordless Drill Margarita-Maker, so I may have to do a video blog on that sometime soon!)

Take care, and don’t burn the house down,

-Ben

More photos below.

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