Are you sitting down? Ok, good. Because what I'm about to tell you might just blow your mind: you can make a loaf of fresh, warm, homemade bread in your slow cooker. You read that right. You don't have to turn on the oven this summer to get your fresh bread fix — just plug in your crockpot.
When I first heard about baking bread in the slow cooker, I was skeptical. I've been baking bread for almost ten years, and in all that time, I've only pushed my oven temperature hotter when making bread. The idea of "slow cooking" a loaf of bread seemed completely counterintuitive to me. But it only took a few bread-baking trials on a hot summer day to convince me that slow-cooked bread is a fantastic alternative when it's too hot to turn on the oven or the oven is otherwise occupied.
So how does slow-cooker bread work?
Exact cooking temperatures can vary from slow cooker to slow cooker, but most reach upwards of 200°F on their HIGH setting. Coincidentally (or maybe not!), this is also around the target internal temperature for baking most breads. The trick is letting the bread hang out in the slow cooker for long enough that it bakes all the way through — undercooked loaves mean gummy interiors. On the upside, there's no need to let the dough rise before you put it in the slow cooker; the loaf will rise and bake all at the same time.
How long does it take to bake bread in the slow cooker?
The first few times you make bread in the slow cooker might require some trial and error. In researching the technique and trying it myself, I found that total baking times can swing from 1 hour to 2 1/2 hours depending on your slow cooker. In my 6-quart slow cooker, my average baking time was 2 hours.
The first time you bake, check the loaf after an hour and then every half hour, and then more frequently as it gets close to finishing. Checking the internal temperature is the best way to gauge when the bread is done — a baked loaf will have an internal temperature of 190°F to 200°F. The top will also feel set (no longer spongy) and the bottom will be slightly browned.
Can I bake bread in any slow cooker?
Yes, round slow cookers or oval slow cookers can both be used to bake bread. You're only limited by the size of your slow cooker. In my 6-quart oval slow cooker, I was able to bake both round loaves and sandwich loaves inside bread pans. In smaller or circular slow cookers, you may only be able to make round loaves. You can also make dinner rolls in the slow cooker.
What's the downside?
Slow cooker bread isn't totally perfect, especially when you compare it to oven-baked loaves. In the oven, that initial burst of high heat helps loaves to "spring" and poof up into rounded domes. In the slow cooker, the slow ramp-up of baking temperature means that you lose the initial burst of oven heat and loaves tend to stay a little flatter.
Slow cooker breads also don't brown or develop a crust the same way as oven-baked loaves. If you love soft crusts, then you'll love slow cooker bread! But if you like brown, crusty loaves, then run the loaf under the broiler for a few minutes to firm up the crust.
Tips for Baking Bread in the Slow Cooker
Prepare for some trial and error at first: Consider your first loaf or two as an experiment. Once you know how long it takes for your loaves to bake, subsequent loaves will require less attention.
Line the slow cooker with parchment: This makes it easier to lift the loaf from the slow cooker and prevents it from sticking to the bottom.
Check loaves with an instant read thermometer: The best way to know when loaves are done baking is with an instant read thermometer. A baked loaf will have an internal temperature of 190°F to 200°F.
Handle loaves as little as possible: Until they're fully baked, handling the loaves can crush the delicate crust and cause dimples in the loaves. (This is another reason why the first few loaves are an experiment and subsequent, less-handled loaves turn out better!)
Run loaves under the broiler for a brown crust: Place the loaf right on an oven rack positioned in the middle of the oven and turn on the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes. Check frequently as the crust can go quickly from golden to burnt.
Checking the internal temperature of the loaf is the best way to tell when it is done baking; a finished loaf will have an internal temperature of 190°F to 200°F.
How to Make Bread in the Slow Cooker
Makes one loaf
What You Need
1 batch bread dough (enough to make 1 one-pound loaf), any variety, prepared to the point of shaping and baking
Shape your loaf of bread: Shape your loaf into a round or a loaf depending on the size of your slow cooker and/or what kind of loaf you'd like to make. Set the shaped dough on a square of parchment paper. (If you're baking the bread in a pan, there's no need to use parchment.)
Lift it into the slow cooker: Lift the loaf by the parchment and set it in the middle of the slow cooker. Try to arrange flatten the parchment as much as possible against the sides of the slow cooker to prevent it from getting caught in the bread as it rises. Cover the slow cooker with its lid.
→ Pre-Baking Rise? You do not need to let your bread rise before baking. However, if your bread dough has been in the refrigerator, letting it warm a bit on the counter can reduce the overall cooking time.
Set the slow cooker to HIGH: Turn on your slow cooker to the highest heat setting (or quickest time setting).
Bake for 1 to 2 1/2 hours: Baking time will vary depending on your slow cooker. If this is your first time baking bread in your slow cooker, begin checking the loaf after 1 hour, then every 30 minutes, and then more frequently as it nears finishing. Record this baking time for future reference.
Bread is done with an internal temperature of 190°F to 200°F: Checking the internal temperature of the loaf is the best way to tell when it is done baking; a finished loaf will have an internal temperature of 190°F to 200°F. The top will also feel soft but no longer spongy, and the bottom will be hard and slightly golden.
Brown the loaf under the broiler: If a darker-colored, crustier loaf is desired, set the loaf on a rack positioned in the middle of the oven and turn on the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes. Check frequently to avoid burning the loaf.
Cool and slice: Let the loaf cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
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(Images: Emma Christensen)