An Honest Loaf

Playing with my tiny slow cooker is much like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates.  You never know what you are going to get.

Yes, it’s definitely the surprises that keep me coming back.  If you are a fan of the English muffin loaf style of bread or New England brown bread, then take a look at this chewy, highly nutritious, richly flavored brown bread.  Did I mention easy?brown-bread-slice

Its unusual approach begins by soaking rolled oats in yogurt for several hours. Once the baking soda and flour mixture is combined with the yogurt mixture the batter goes wild. Random baby bubble emerge during the baking process to create a moist and fascinating texture.

The brown bread element comes chiefly from a hint of buckwheat flour. I keep a small stash on hand for its dark robust characteristics that make everything taste better—from noodles to crepes and breads. Of course, whole wheat or rye flour will work, too.  An addition of egg helps to stabilize and provide a hint of richness to a seemingly bland composition. oat-brown-breadThere’s enough sweetness from the brown sugar to tie it all the together, admirably offset the tang of the yogurt, and complement the oats, buckwheat, and whole wheat flours. Once ingredients are combined, the results are somewhere between a dough and a batter: there is no shaping, just carefully spoon it into the pot.

It may seem silly to be ‘baking’ in a crock pot, but I love the idea of using a mere 95 watts of power to create a substantial loaf in only two hours. Since this is not a firm dough, I butter my 2-quart crockery pot and run two folded strips of parchment crisscrossing in the bottom and up the sides to act as handles for lifting out the bread.

A common problem with bread baking in the slow cooker is that the top does not brown. One solution is a quick toasting under the broiler, which seems at odds with the whole premise. Instead, for an inviting crunch here, I opt for a light dusting of grainy cornmeal in the bottom of the pot and a sprinkling across the top before baking.

Oat Brown Bread

Inspired by Fix-It and Forget-It, Baking with your Slow Cooker by Phyllis Good

Ingredients
1/2 cup yogurt
1/3 cup milk
1/2 cup rolled oats
1 egg
1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/3 cup mixture of buckwheat and whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons coarse cornmeal for dusting

Directions

  1. Combine yogurt, milk, and oats; cover and chill for 6 to 8 hours.
  2. In a mixing bowl combine egg, oil, and sugar with yogurt; blend and mix well.
  3. Combine the flours, baking soda, and salt and stir into the liquid.
  4. Preheat 2-quart crock pot set to high; butter the crockery liner and fit it with 2 strips of parchment crisscrossed and running up the sides. Dust the bottom with cornmeal.
  5. Pour batter into the crockery pot liner and sprinkle top lightly with cornmeal. Cover the top with 3 layers of paper towels tucked under the lid to absorb moisture.
  6. Bake for about 2 hours rotating liner every 30 minutes to brown evenly, until bread pulls away from sides and tester inserted in middle comes out clean. Lift out with parchment straps onto cooling rack. If it sticks, run a knife around edges. Let cool before slicing.  Yield: 1 small loaf.

Pear Butter: Crazy Good

Using a slow cooker for jam is pretty unconventional, since popular wisdom leans toward cooking the fruit down rather quickly to maintain the fruit’s freshness and suspend it in sugar.

But these days I’m throwing out the rule book and giving my small crock pot a real workout. I’m also learning that using a slow cooker is not an exact science and there is a learning curve of sorts. In particular, the amount of liquid given off by ingredients is not always predictable. It’s reminiscent of recipes in old cookbooks that use the expression, “Cook until done.”

pear-butterIt seemed to me that winter pears should be the perfect candidate for my tiny crock pot.  Armed with a few lovely Comice pears and spurred by a bunch of different ideas, I formulated my approach and got busy. Several hours later I was completely enamored with the results.

In my small slow cooker set on low, I peeled, cored, and chopped 5 good sized pears, then added sugar, a little lemon, a pinch of coriander and cardamom.  Smuckers likes to tell us they use “a cup to a cup,” or equal amounts of fruit and sugar. But since I was not making enough for canning purposes, I decided to cut back and use an amount of sugar more suited to my taste.  Rather than 4 cups of sugar, I opted for 2 cups (which still seemed like a lot).

After about 30 minutes worth of maceration I kicked the temperature up to high.  I decided I would not cook it overnight in usual slow cooker fashion. Since ripe pears are fairly soft to begin with, it made more sense to keep an eye on it and cook until the fruit was soft and breaking down—and go from there. That took a little under 4 hours with the lid ajar to allow for moisture to escape. In spite of this attempt to reduce liquid there was an unbelievable amount left.  I tasted it and decided it was worthy of fine syrup status: excellent on just about anything from pancakes to ice cream. It was so good, I wondered if the fruit was worth saving—perhaps it had lost all flavor to the syrup? But I moved on.

The syrup was strained, 2 cups were decanted and set aside. I left small liquid puddles in the bottom of the pot to aid the fruit as the immersion blender was introduced to break it down into a smooth mass. In no time it was transformed from grainy chunks into a compelling, silky, slightly pink-tinged butter. When dropped from a spoon it held its shape naturally, but was not firm-set.

I could not have asked for more: the pears earthy perfumed flavors shined through gloriously. It was perfectly sweet, elegantly balanced with a whisper of citrus, and an exotic hint of coriander and cardamom.  Crazy good.

Pear Butter, Slow Cooked

Ingredients
5 large Comice pears, about 4 cups, peel, core, cut into chunks
2 cups granulated sugar
½ lemon, zest and approximately 1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
quick grind of sea salt

Directions

  1. Set slow cooker or  crock pot to low and add pears as they are prepped; then add sugar, lemon zest and lemon juice, coriander and cardamom. After 30 minutes, turn the heat to high; when mixture comes to a low simmer set lid to slightly ajar.  Cook for approximately 3-1/2 hours, until fruit is very soft and beginning to break down.
  2. Strain most of the syrup off the fruit and set aside for other uses.
  3. Using blender or hand held immersion blender, puree fruit until smooth and silky.  If desired, cook a little longer to eliminate any unnecessary liquid, about 30 minutes. Yield:  about 10 ounces.