As everyone knows, slow cookers or crock pots are great for soups, stews, pasta sauce or anything else that needs a good long simmer. Since they cook on such a low heat and the heat is thoroughly diffused by the thick crockery container, they’re pretty much burn-proof. So even though it takes two or three times as long to cook soup in a crock pot instead of on the stove, it needs absolutely no attention during that time. You can even leave the house. Load your crock pot up in the morning, work all day and open the door to the smell of a delicious home-cooked meal waiting for you.
But there’s no news there. Everybody who cooks knows about slow simmering remotely and its advantages. But what else can a crock pot do? If you think about it, a crock pot is a tiny little oven with only two settings, low and really low.
So if it’s like an oven, can you bake in it? Well, as it turns out, you can. It just takes longer which makes sense. It is, after all, a slow cooker. But once again, no supervision is needed. Why not make mac and cheese in it? Don’t bother making a sauce and melting the cheese. Just throw everything into the crock pot and wait for the magic to happen.
Cakes and brownies are easily baked in a slow cooker. That’s more of an advantage in the hot months when you can bake a cake without heating up the house with the oven. Same thing goes for baked potatoes. Load it to the top and bake away with minimal heat given off.
Even bread and rolls can be ‘baked” in a slow cooker. The shape of your loaf will depend on the size and shape of your cooker. You can even put a loaf pan down in the crock pot to bake sandwich bread. The down side is that your bread may not brown much on the top which is good if you like a soft crust but less so if you like a crisp crust. In that case, run it under the broiler for a minute or two. Really, no more than that. Watch closely or you’ll burn it.
Another advantage of slow cooker baking is managing oven time. If you want to plan a menu that has too many things that need to go in the oven, it’s pretty handy to just throw one of them in a slow cooker.
A soufflé, for instance, is an oven hog and probably comes under the heading of things that can be cooked in a crock pot but maybe should not be. But wouldn’t it be cool to pop the top off your slow cooker, whip out a little blow torch and brulee the top of a soufflé right in front of your astonished guests. They won’t even notice if the soufflè is not perfect. A little table theater never hurts.
If you eat a lot of yogurt, a slow cooker is the best way to make it at home. Then you just keep using the last bit of the yogurt as a culture to make the next batch. It’s only really effective if you eat yogurt on a regular enough basis to keep the culture going. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time. This is a good way to make use of one of those tiny crock pots that everyone gets as a gift and no one knows what to do with. You can also melt chocolate in that little guy and put some cookies, sponge cake, fruits and dried fruits around it for a very simple dessert that also has an element of table theater.
Think creatively. You’ve got an extra oven in the house. If you’re like most people who cook a lot, you’ve got several.
Crockpot Mac and Cheese
To halve the recipe, reduce the cooking time by half also.
16 ounces cooked macaroni
16 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cubed
16 ounces Colby cheese, cubed
16 ounces Velvetta (cubed)
1 stick of butter, cut into slices
16 ounces milk
salt and pepper, to taste
Spray crockpot lightly with cooking spray. Layer 1/3 of the macaroni in bottom. Layer half of cheese, butter, salt and pepper. Repeat, ending with last 1/3 of macaroni on top. Pour milk over mixture. Cook on low for about 4 hours and stir about mid-way. A very small amount of the Mac and Cheese with stick to the edges and get browned. It’s like the topping on a baked mac & cheese. You can scrape it off and stir it in or leave it on the edges if you prefer.
Slow Cooker Apple Butter Yeast Rolls
Yield: 24 rolls
2 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast (1 packet)
1/2 cup warm water
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 cup apple butter
1 large egg
1 1/2 tsp. salt
4 cups bread flour
4 tbsp. melted butter
2 tbsp. brown sugar (optional)
Using an electric mixer with a bread hook, place the warm water (just barely over luke-warm, too hot will kill the yeast) and sugar in the mixing bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let it foam for 10 minutes. Then turn on the mixer and add the apple butter, egg and salt. Slowly add the flour. Once all the flour is in the bowl, add the melted butter. “Knead” the dough with the bread hook for 5-8 minutes. The dough will be smooth, but very tacky. Dump it out onto a floured work surface. Using a floured knife, cut the dough into 4 quarters. Then cut each quarter into 6 equal pieces, to make 24 small dough segments. Turn the ends of each dough segment under to create little balls. Then place a large piece of parchment paper in a 6 quart slow cooker, and press down. Arrange 12 dough balls in the slow cooker. Then carefully lift the parchment paper out, and repeat with the remaining dough balls and another piece of parchment, creating two separate batches. Place the lid on the crockpot and cover the additional dough balls on the counter, with plastic wrap. Allow them to rise for 1 hour at room temperature. (At this point the dough balls could be put in the fridge for up to a week, until ready to bake.) Sprinkle the rolls with a little brown sugar. Turn the slow cooker on high and “bake” for 60-90 minutes, depending on your crockpot. To test, touch the top of the rolls. If they feel slightly firm and are no longer tacky, the rolls are ready. Repeat with the second batch of dough balls. Each batch will cook for 60-90 minutes, 3 hrs total.
Crockpot No-Knead Bread
1 ½ cup lukewarm water
1 packet granulated yeast
¾ tsp. coarse salt
3 ¼ cups all-purpose white flour (unsifted)
Warm the 1 ½ cup water to around 100°F. before adding the yeast and salt to it. If you use warm water, the dough will rise in about 2 hours. Add in the packet of granulated yeast and the ¾ tsp. of salt. Give it all a little stir. Don’t worry if the yeast and salt don’t dissolve completely in the water. You can still add in the 3 ¼ cups of flour. Add in the flour all at once and stir. If you have a mixer with a dough hook, then you don’t have to work as hard to get everything mixed together. However, if you’re doing everything by hand, then you might need to switch to using your hands to mix the dough after a while. It only takes a few minutes to get the dough all mixed together. Place the dough in a large bowl and allow it to rest at room temperature for 2 hours.
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. Lift it into the slow cooker. Lift the loaf by the parchment and set it in the middle of the slow cooker. Try to 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. Set the slow cooker to high. 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. Let the loaf cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
Slow Cooker Apple Butter
Use any combination of apples for this recipe. The sweetness of your apples will depend on how much sugar you will need to add. Adjust according to your apples and preferences.
yield: 4 pints
6 1/2 pounds apples – peeled, cored and sliced
1 cup sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
Place the apples in a slow cooker. In a medium bowl, combine sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg cloves and salt. Pour the mixture over the apples and mix well. Cook in slow cooker on low for about 10 hours, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thickened and dark brown. Uncover, stir in vanilla and continue cooking uncovered on low for about 2 hours. Use an immersion blender to puree the apple butter until smooth. Spoon the mixture into sterile containers, cover and refrigerate for up to two weeks or freeze. Can probably also be canned.
Slow Cooker Chocolate Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce
8 cups whole wheat bread crumbs, torn into 1” cubes (whole wheat French bread was used in this recipe)
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
1/2 cup sucanat or honey
1 cup chopped pecans
4 egg whites
2 cups milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup maple syrup
1 tbsp. cornstarch
2/3 cup milk
2 tsp. vanilla
Lightly mist the inside of the slow cooker with non-stick spray. Add bread cubes to the slow cooker. In a medium mixing bowl, combine chocolate chips, cocoa, sucanet or honey, 3/4 cup pecans and salt. Add remaining ingredients and whisk until well combined. Pour mixture over bread and stir until all bread is moist. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup pecans on top, cover and cook on low 3 hours. Recommend 5-7 quart slow cooker.
Caramel Sauce: In a medium saucepan, combine maple syrup and cornstarch. Add milk and cook over medium-low heat, or until desired thickness. Remove from heat, add vanilla and stir to combine. Drizzle sauce over warm bread pudding, about one tablespoon per serving.
Orange Grand Marnier Soufflé
2/3 cup sugar plus extra sugar, to coat slow cooker and sprinkle on top of soufflé
1 orange, zest only
6 tbsp. flour
1/2 cup milk
8 egg yolks
4 tbsp. soft butter
6 tbsp. Grand Marnier liqueur
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
10 egg whites
1 tsp. salt
4 tbsp. sugar
Rub the interior of slow cooker with unsalted butter and sprinkle with extra fine sugar. Shake out excess sugar. Mix 2/3 cup sugar and orange zest in a food processor. Whisk the flour and milk in a saucepan to blend. Beat in the orange scented sugar. Stir over medium heat until sauce thickens, then whisk as sauce comes to a boil. Continue whisking for 30 seconds and then remove from the heat. Let cool for a moment before beating in the egg yolks one at a time. Add butter, Grand Marnier and vanilla extract to the mixture and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes to cool. In a clean bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add salt and beat to soft peaks. Sprinkle in sugar and beat to stiff peaks. Add in 1/4 of whipped egg whites to base and fold in. Fold in remaining whites and then scrape the mixture into the sugar coated slow cooker. Turn on High and cook for about 1 hour. If desired, sprinkle the top of the soufflé with sugar and brulée with a torch. Spoon out and serve with chocolate sauce or crème Anglaise. Serves 8-10.
Pineapple Upside Down Cake
1 box of pineapple cake mix (prepare according to box)
2-3 eggs (will be listed on the box)
vegetable oil (will be listed on the box)
Milk (use instead of water on the box)
1 can pineapple rings or 1 fresh pineapple cut into 8 rings
1 can maraschino cherries
1 cup brown sugar
Spray 6-quart slow cooker with baking spray. Lightly coat the bottom of the slow cooker with brown sugar. Place pineapple rings of pineapple on top of the brown sugar. Insert one cherry in the middle of each pineapple ring. In a separate bowl, make box cake according to the package directions and pour batter into the slow cooker. Cook on high for 2-3 hours or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Remove crock from the base and let cake cool for about 10-15 minutes. Place a platter over the top of the crock and flip crock over, letting the cake fall onto the platter. Serve as is or top with fresh pineapple and whipped cream.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.