The bread recipe that broke its creator’s website this weekend
Food blogger Jack Monroe’s sensational slow-cooker bread costs just 20p to make
Take it out on the dough . . . a slow cooker bread recipe is firing up the internet.
A recipe for a loaf of bread that can be cooked in a slow cooker has become an internet sensation, crashing the website of its creator – UK cookbook author, journalist and campaigner Jack Monroe – by generating 8,000 hits within 20 minutes at one point over the weekend.
The bread – made with flour, yeast, water and salt – costs just 20p to make, according to Monroe’s UK supermarket pricing. It has to be kneaded before cooking, but once that is done, the proving stage is completed in the machine. It takes just over two hours in the slow cooker to bake the loaf. Monroe says the machine should be pre-heated on high, while the kneading is being done.
Slow cooker bread is not a new phenomenon, you’ll find lots of recipes online, but Monroe’s version seems to have captivated the internet, in much the same way as Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, a long fermented loaf baked in a cast iron casserole, did in 2015.
Monroe describes it as “the simplest, softest bread you’ve ever made,” and some of her 166,000 Twitter followers have been posting photographs of their versions of the unusual loaf, the recipe for which she published on her website Cooking on a Bootstrap, and which she kindly agreed to share here.
It appears to be adaptable to different flours, including rye, and Monroe has developed several flavoured variations, though she suggests bakers try the original recipe first, before customising.
“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,” she says. Beetroot, and caraway and beer, are among the most successful flavours she has come up with, and she has also developed a recipe for a slow cooker yoghurt bread, which she likens to sourdough “but simpler”.
Monroe cooks the bread in a three-in-one slow cooker, similar to the Ambiano model which went on sale at Aldi last month. There are still some of theses available (the Blackrock branch had them yesterday) and they cost €49.99. If you have a larger slow cooker, Monroe suggests putting the dough into a baking tin and placing that inside the slow cooker.
Monroe first came to prominence for her award winning blog, A Girl Called Jack (later renamed Cooking on a Bootstrap), which documented her efforts to feed herself and her son on £10 a week.
In July 2012 she wrote a post, Hunger Hurts, in which she graphically recounted the crushing realities of poverty – going without food so that her son could eat, pawning the last of her possessions, and living without heating or hot water.
The success of the blog led to a career as a journalist and food writer and she went on to write several cookbooks – Cooking on a Bootstrap was published last year and Tin Can Cook is due out in May (both published by Bluebird). She is a also vociferous campaigner on food poverty and equality issues.
Earlier this month she wrote an article for the Guardian, under the headline "My name is Jack Monroe, and I’m an alcoholic. But now I’m recovering …" in which she recounts her experiences with alcohol and her path to sobriety. In October of last year she was voted best food personality at the Observer Food Monthly awards.
Speaking to the Irish Times on a previous occasion, Monroe said that the frugal recipe she is most proud of creating is her 9p burger. “It’s a carrot, cumin and kidney bean burger made from a Value can of kidney beans and a sad looking carrot at the bottom of the fridge. It’s quick, spicy and versatile.”
Jack Monroe’s slow-cooker bread
260g plain flour (after many years of obstinacy I will concur that bread flour is better, but bogstandard plain flour does work)
7g dried active yeast
260ml warm water
A pinch of salt
A little oil, for greasing
First turn your slow cooker on to High to preheat, and pop the lid on. 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 liquid. Using a blunt knife like a butter knife or palette knife, or standard dinner knife, mix the flour and liquid together, starting from the wet middle and working it out to the edges, to form a dough. You may find you do niot 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. Oil your hands – this will stop the dough from sticking to it, and incorporating a little fat into your bread baking 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 three or four will do if you put your back into it.
To knead, I find it best to visualise an assailant, if that kind of thing doesn’t trigger you, and if it has, 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. Pop it in, it doesn’t have to be neat, the bread will see to that as it expands. Drop the dough in, pop the lid on, and set a timer for an hour and thirty minutes. Walk away.
The, 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 it to cool for 20 minutes, then slice and enjoy.