One of the most difficult things about writing a book is the amount of information which gets cut from the book. There is only so much room on a page, so many pages in the book. Words need to be condensed down into the simplest of messages. This is one of the reasons I love teaching, I can explain ideas with many more words to help get concepts across. This article is my attempt to expound on what I learned about making bread in the thermal cooker.
So let’s talk Bread
Bread made in the thermal cooker is crust less, as there is no air to dry the outside. It is also on the slightly moist side, it is a bit more dense. As it sits out it looses some of the initial heaviness to it. I use a combination of white and freshly ground whole grain when making bread.
Bread dough recipes
I would suggest using your favorite recipe when making bread in the thermal cooker. I believe almost any bread recipe could be used with retained heat cooking. Success comes down to how the bread rises, determined by the temperature and yeast.
Temperature and Yeast
For instance, let’s say I mix up a batch of dough using quick-rise yeast and luke warm water. As soon as it has been kneaded it will be in an ‘actively rising’ state. In this case, there is no reason to let it rise before starting the thermal cooking process.
Cooking in the Thermal Cooker
When using the thermal cooker to cook the bread. Place dough into a bread pan, about half full, Cover and placed into the 7 L pot, add water around bread pan, in pot. The water is then brought to a boil. As the water comes to a boil the dough inside of the bread pan is very happy and rising. Once the water is boiling it needs to continue boiling for 15 minutes. During this time the dough continues to rise and starts to cook. Once the water has boiled for 15 minutes, place the 7 L pot into the outer insulated unit. Leave for 2 hours where the bread continues to cook
Back to Temperature
Now let’s contrast by using dough which has been chilled. Many times I save bread dough in the freezer to use later. I like using my bread mixer which makes 4 - 5 loaves of bread, the thermal cooker only cooks one. So I freeze the rest, divided into the proper amounts to use in the thermal cooker. When using dough which has been frozen it must come back to an actively rising state to have success in the thermal cooker. Otherwise, the dough will cook before it has risen and be heavy and unappetizing. After removing the dough from the freezer, wait until the dough is room temperature before shaping and putting into the bread pan. It is then necessary to wait until it has risen before putting it into the pot and following the instructions listed above.
One more thing to consider, let’s change the yeast. Natural yeast or sourdough will need to be fully risen before put into the pot. It takes time for the yeast to rise and it will need all the time you will give it, so be patient. A sourdough favorite of mine is to take the bread once prepared, cut into very thin slices, place on a cookie sheet and put into the oven. Once toasted on one side I remove the cookie sheet and turn the pieces of bread over, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and place back into the oven until nicely toasted. These are such good crackers, very good for you and addicting.
Adding different flavors to the bread dough is simple and impressive when prepared in the thermal cooker. I have been out of town resently and have found myself using Rhodes dough instead of making dough from scratch. (Try the orange rolls stacked into the bread pan for a version of pull-apart's.) I have learned a couple things in the process. Remembering to defrost the dough completely and letting it rise is a must. What I found with Rhodes dough is that it knows how to rise! So do not put too much dough in the bread pan or when you go to put it into the insulated unit the lid will smash the top and it will fall. The dough should be about 1/3 full, no more. Follow the process as mentioned earlier, if using Rhodes dough with sugar in it increase the cooking time by at least 5 minutes.
Traditionally as I raised my children, when I made bread, I made a batch of cinnamon rolls with the extra dough. Personally, I love them with milk chocolate chips in them.
I have learned many things from testing the thermal cooker and making cinnamon bread. Because of the sugar, I am assuming, the dough requires a longer boil. Also cooking them a bit longer is also a good idea so that they do not turn out too heavy, boil for at least 5 minutes longer than the bread recipe calls for.
The technique I use is to spread out the dough like normally done when making cinnamon rolls, rub dough with 1/2 cube softened butter, add about 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon, then top with 1/2 cup chocolate chips (adjust amounts as desired).Then roll, forming a long tube. Then make into a pinwheel and place into the bread pan like pictured below. Follow instructions for cooking bread above, letting boil for about 20 minutes. The bread comes out beautiful with rings of cinnamon and chocolate chips throughout. Nuts and raisins may also be added. Like mentioned before, be creative.
Following the instructions above but replace the sweet with savory. Over the butter or a slight rub of olive oil add your favorite herb blend, such as the Italian Herb Seasoning in my Let's Make Sense of Thermal Cooking Cookbook, and Parmesan cheese. Roll and prepare as instructed above!
When it comes to using containers in the thermal cooker, I am always on the lookout! The ultimate goal would be to find a stainless steel container which would accommodate a 2 pound loaf with a submergible lid. So far, no luck. I have found however, along with a couple of smaller stainless steel containers which do not seal, 2 containers which are the size I like, one tall and one short. The drawback is that they require a cover. For now I use foil or part of an oven bag secured with an elastic. I prefer the foil for now, it is simple and inexpensive. But in an emergency situation foil may not be available. The other option is to cut a circle out of an oven bag and secure with an elastic. So I have several boxes of oven bags in my storage, just in case, after all they are strong, cleanable and reusable. Mason Jars are also inexpensive and submergible but they are small, but they work for some situations.
Preparing corn bread can be done using containers, not in the upper 2.5 L pot. The thought of preparing quick breads in the upper pot may be tempting. After all it seems logical that it should be able to heat through as the food boils in the lower pot. Two things, first it cannot come to a boil so should be put into a container. Secondly, I come at thermal cooking from a preparedness and fuel savings angle. To let the corn bread heat all of the way through this way requires a long boiling time. By putting the corn bread batter into mason jars, boiling time is greatly reduced and fuel is saved.
One more thought.
When adding water around the bread pan before boiling. Add water until the pan floats. If too much water is added the container tips over. A perfect example of this is when I was preparing a photo shoot for the book. I used an unseal able stainless steel container with a lid. When I made the bread I was in a hurry and could not find a trivet. Instead, I found a 4 oz mason jar and used that as my trivet. Once the water started boiling the bread pan tipped back and forth the whole 15 minutes the water boiled. When the pan was opened, the outside half inch of the bread was super soggy, the inside - cooked. What did I learn from this experience? If you can’t find a trivet, use at least 3 - 4 ounce mason jars so the bread pan has a secure base. Secondly, it is very important to have the bread pan out of the water unless the container is airtight and no water can get in.
Thanks for taking time to read this article.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!