Baking with Kids: Crock Pot Monkey Bread

The school year is upon us, and many parents and kids alike are finding themselves in a completely new routine. Our children are trying to navigate distance learning, hybrid learning (or something in-between) while parents are juggling jobs and their new teaching career. It’s wild, and often overwhelming, to say the least.

Since our kids are now home more, they are encouraged to take on more responsibility; we all have to pitch in to make our Covid lifestyles work. One area they are taking charge in is the kitchen: chopping vegetables, baking bread, and learning to use the Crock-Pot are all on their to-do lists.

We have several recipes on our site for Crock-Pot breads, and they have been a huge hit. But we’ve found that teaching our kids to use the Crock-Pot is a win-win: it’s easier to use than the oven, and there is less chance of getting burnt transferring items in and out of it. Combine it with the ease of our no-knead bread, and the options are endless.

If you head to our Breadin5 Instagram page, you can watch our stories of River (below) mixing the brioche dough and shaping the monkey bread. We’ve made this bread extra-simple by topping it with store-bought caramel sauce that is poured on after baking, so you don’t have to worry about transferring and flipping hot caramel.

And, if you need more Crock-Pot ideas, you can check out our Crock-Pot Cinnamon Rolls, Crock-Pot Challah, Crock Pot Brioche, Gluten-Free Crock-Pot Bread, and Crock-Pot Dinner Rolls.

Brioche dough, from New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day (makes about 4.5 pounds of dough)

1 1/2 cups lukewarm water

1 tablespoon Red Star Platinum Yeast

1 tablespoon kosher salt

6 large eggs

1/2 cup [170 g] honey

1 1/2 cups [340 g] unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

7 cups [990 g] unbleached all-purpose flour

Filling

8 tablespoons [1 stick, or 114 g] unsalted butter, melted

1 cup [200 g] granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup store-bought Caramel Sauce

For the dough

Mix Red Star Platinum yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter with water in a 6-Quart Round Food-Storage Container with Lid (not airtight) container.

Mix in flour without kneading, using a spoon, a Danish Dough Whisk or a heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). The dough will be loose but will firm up when chilled.

Cover (not airtight), and allow to rest at room temperature until dough rises for approximately 2 hours. Then refrigerate for at least four hours before first use; it is easier to handle when thoroughly chilled. This dough can be stored for up to 5 days in the fridge. Beyond that, the dough stores well in the freezer for up to four weeks in an airtight container, in one-pound portions.  When using frozen dough, thaw and use as instructed.

For the filling

Line your Crock-Pot with parchment paper. You will use this paper to remove the monkey bread from the pot, so make sure it is coming up the sides of the Crock Pot (it may have some creases, but this won’t affect the bread baking).

Sprinkle the surface of your dough with flour and take out a 1 1/2 pound piece.

Divide the dough into about 32 pieces, as even in size as possible, but perfection is not needed here.

Roll the dough into small balls. If the dough is sticking to your hands, coat your palms with a small amount of flour.

Combine the sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a bowl. Drop the dough balls into the melted butter, then the bowl of cinnamon sugar and roll them around to coat them evenly.

Place the balls in the lined  Crock-Pot, cover and turn it to high.

Leave the crock pot covered until the dough is cooked through and springs back when touched, anywhere from 1 to 2 hour, depending on your Crock-Pot. Use the parchment paper to remove the Monkey bread from the pot.

Flip the monkey bread onto a serving plate and remove the parchment paper (which is now the top).

Drizzle the Monkey Bread with the caramel sauce and let cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Eat and enjoy!

Red Star Yeast provided yeast samples for recipe testing, and sponsors BreadIn5’s website and other promotional activities.  

Blackberry Mascarpone Focaccia with Basil

We wanted to sneak in some summer berries before apples and pumpkin take center stage (and also take over the internet). This delicious focaccia bread is based on a recipe from Edd Kimber’s beautiful new cookbook, One Tin Bakes; his version uses fragolina grapes and rosemary. But I had blackberries in my fridge that needed to be used, some leftover Master dough, and my basil plant is currently larger than life, so Blackberry Basil Focaccia was born.

This focaccia is sweet: it’s dolloped with mascarpone and sprinkled with sugar, and the results are amazing. You will want to eat this the day it’s made, and I highly recommend digging in while it still slightly warm.

Blackberry Mascarpone Focaccia with Basil

Inspired by Edd Kimber’s One Tin Bakes

For the mascarpone topping

1/2 cup [4 ounces] Mascarpone

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

In a small bowl, mix the mascarpone, sugar, and vanilla together until combined.

For the focaccia

1 1/4 pounds dough, Master recipe, from New Artisan Bread in Five

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 cup blackberries, chopped

4 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Pour two tablespoons of olive oil into a quarter sheet pan (a 9 x 13 pan will work, too) and use a pastry brush or your fingers to to rub it all over the base and up the sides of the pan. Place the dough into the pan, coating the bottom with oil, then turn the dough over so that both sides are coated in oil. Using your fingertips, gently spread the dough into the pan in an even layer. If the dough resists, let it rest a few minutes and try again, until the dough is nestled into the pan and into the corners. Lightly cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 425F. Gently dimple the dough with your fingertips.

Scatter the blackberries evenly over the dough, then sprinkle the turbinado sugar over the top (it will look like too much sugar).

Dollop the mascarpone mixture over the dough, and then drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

Bake the bread for 18 to 25 minutes, or until light golden.

Scatter the basil leaves over the top of the hot bread. Move the pan to a wire rack to cool for 5 minutes, then remove the focaccia from the pan and let cool on a wire rack (this helps it stay crisp).

Cut the bread into squares and serve. Best eaten the same day it’s made.

Pan-banging Sugar Cookies from 100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen!

These sugar cookies are courtesy of our friend and colleague, Sarah Kieffer, who’s been part of our BreadIn5 family since 2012. You can grab the recipe for these on The Vanilla Bean Blog by clicking here, or you can buy the whole book that it comes from, click here! The year our pizza book came out, Sarah photographed an event where Zoe was doing a demo. We saw the shots on her website, and they were terrific. I’d been looking to scale back my own blogging, so I had coffee with Sarah. We hit it off right away, and I decided to turn over my part of the bread-blogging to Sarah, so this post is part of my way of saying THANK YOU for that. Eventually Sarah started doing Zoe’s too.

Here’s what impressed me: I’ve been tinkering with photography since I was 12, in my own darkrooms and then using color labs, but I struggled to create great shots for our website, because this isn’t the easiest craft to master. Well, Sarah mastered it. Juggling hobbies and avocations with the demands of caring for young children (sound familiar?), she bought a good camera and taught herself digital photography and food blogging, with phenomenal results. In addition to blogging on BreadIn5, Sarah shot and styled some of the photos in our later books. Through all this, she was perfecting a very fun and delicious cookie-baking technique. Her pan-banging chocolate chip cookies became an internet sensation, and were covered in the New York Times. She has two books of her own now; this week releasing 100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen. It’s available on Amazon and everywhere else.

More beautiful cookies from Sarah’s book (and of course, all photos are by Sarah Kieffer):

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Brownie Cookies

Crock Pot Cinnamon Rolls

Crock Pot Cinnamon Rolls

Well, we’ve made our Master recipe in a crock pot, our brioche in a crock pot, dinner rolls, and even our gluten-free dough in the slow cooker. It seemed a good time to add to the list, and so we took on crock pot cinnamon rolls. I’m happy to report that they work just as well; it’s as easy as rolling out dough, brushing some butter and sprinkling sugar, shaping rolls, and then letting them bake for an hour. My family couldn’t tell they weren’t baked in the oven, and my kids had the best after school snack of the year.

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Cream-filled Brioche Buns with Fruit for the 4th of July

We come to you again this week with one more 4th of July dessert, after realizing we didn’t have a version of these brioche buns on our website. These sweet little treats are made with our no-knead dough, filled with pastry cream and fresh fruit, then sprinkled with pearl sugar, making these red, white, and blue desserts perfect for your holiday weekend, or any day this summer.

Cream-filled Brioche Buns with Fruit

2 pound Brioche dough (page 300 in New Artisan Bread in Five)

Egg wash (1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, whisked together)

1 cup Pastry Cream (page 348 in New Artisan Bread in Five)

2 cups fruit (sliced strawberries, blueberries, or raspberries work best)

Pearl sugar, for sprinkling

Divide the dough into 3 ounce pieces. Gently smooth the pieces into round balls of dough. Grease English Muffin Rings, and flatten the dough into 1/4 inch disks and place them in the molds on a parchment-lined baking sheet (if you don’t have rings you can make them free form, but they won’t keep their shape as well). Cover loosely with plastic wrap (spraying the plastic with a little cooking spray will help it not to stick to the top of the dough) and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes. While the dough is rising, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and and preheat the oven to 350F.

Use a pastry brush to brush each round of dough with egg wash. Gently press in the center of the dough to make an indentation. Fill the center with 2 tablespoons of pastry cream.

Place the berries over the pastry cream, and sprinkle the edges with pearl sugar. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the buns are puffed and light golden brown.

Eat the buns slightly warm; best eaten the same day they are made. Happy 4th of July!

4th of July Berry Pizza on the Grill!

4th of July Pizza 10

There is nothing more American than grilling on the 4th of July, well, maybe a star spangled pizza is the most patriotic of all. This is a super fast pizza that is ideal for breakfast, which I just served my family this morning, or can be throw together at your holiday BBQ as dessert. I made the pizza in a small baking sheet, but you can make a larger one if you have a crowd to feed.

Happy 4th of July!

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Video: secrets of baguettes on the gas grill for summer!

OK, first the disclaimer, I did not bake the breads above, this is from an old post I did after a trip to France, where these loaves were bought and eaten.  I also need to admit that it looks like I bit the perfect tip off the baguette on the right (I did, on my walk back from the boulangerie–bakery).  Truth moment, even though you can bake baguettes in your gas grill (and I’ll prove it in a video below), they won’t look quite like these. No matter, they’re still delicious. Read on–click “more” below…

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Potato Brioche Buns for Father’s Day

It’s almost Father’s Day (did you remember?) and that might mean pulling out the grill this weekend and serving Dad up some serious burgers. We came up with this soft and delicious Potato Brioche Bun to serve alongside your favorite burger recipe, and it’s easy enough to put together that the kids can jump in and help, too. As with all our no-knead, refrigerated dough recipes, you can bake as little or as much as you want. So if you are social distancing and only need a couple buns (because the grill-out party is small this year), this is a perfect recipe for that.

If cooking and mashing potatoes just seems like too much work (even for a holiday), you can always check out our straight up Brioche Burger Buns, complete with Lamb Burger and Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce.

Potato Brioche Buns (based on the Brioche Recipe from New Artisan)

1 1/4 cup warm water

1 cup mashed Russet potatoes (sent through a food ricer for fine consistency, or mashed by hand)

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

2 large eggs, room temperature

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

4 cups all-purpose flour

Egg wash (1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water)

Seeds, for sprinkling (optional) – plain sesame seeds work fine; I used a bagel seed mix

Mix the water, potato, butter, eggs, sugar, yeast, and salt in a 5-quart bowl, or lidded (not airtight) food container.

Mix in the flour, using a spoon until all of the flour is incorporated.

Cover (not airtight), and allow to sit at room temperature for about two hours. Chill the dough for at least two hours, and up to 3 days.

The dough can be used as soon as it is chilled. This dough is way too sticky to use after the initial rise, but once it is chilled it is very easy to handle.

Divide the dough into 3 ounce pieces (this dough will make about 14 buns, but you can make less if desired). Gently smooth the pieces into round balls of dough. Grease six English Muffin Rings. Flatten the dough into 1/4-inch disks place them in the molds. If you don’t have rings you can make them free form, but they won’t keep their shape as well.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap (spraying the plastic with a little cooking spray will help it not to stick to the top of the buns) and allow the buns to rest for 30 to 60 minutes (depending on temperature of your kitchen), until the dough is just peeping over the top of the rings, and feels like a marshmallow when gently pressed/jiggled.

Place an oven rack in the center of the oven, and preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Use a Pastry Brush to paint on the egg wash, and then sprinkle with seeds if desired.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until they are golden brown (I baked with steam for an extra soft bun, but you don’t have to do that).

Perfect for loading with a burger and toppings, or just nibbling on with a slice of cheese.

Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Coffeecake for Mother’s Day

Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Coffeecake

It’s Mother’s Day this weekend (you remembered, right?) and if you are celebrating your Mom or any other women in your life, we have a lovely (and easy!) coffeecake for you to put together. It is made with our 5 minute no-knead brioche and a delicious strawberry-rhubarb filling, but in a pinch you can use your favorite store-bought jam to substitute. We also have a coffeecake in Blueberry if that is more your jam (pun intended).

Other Bread in 5 news: Zoe did a Instagram live with our no-knead brioche, and made cinnamon rolls! You can watch her here shape the buns and cook them (and some other treats) in the slow cooker. We also have a recipe for Crock Pot Cinnamon Rolls if you’d rather take that route for Mother’s Day.

We have updated our Sourdough Starter post, with more helpful tips and troubleshooting suggestions. We also have a FAQ page we are constantly updating if you are having issues with your bread baking.

Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Coffeecake

Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Coffeecake

Streusel Topping

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup brown sugar

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup almond flour or oats

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature

Strawberry Rhubarb Filling

1 cup rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 ounces strawberries
1/4 cup granulated sugar (if your rhubarb is really tart, you can add up to 1/2 cup sugar total, however the streusel and icing will add a lot of sweetness, so it’s better to keep the jam slightly on the tart side)
Pinch salt

1 pound (grapefruit-size portion) Brioche dough, from New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Icing
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons milk
Pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 to 1 1/4 cups confectioners’ sugar

Prepare the streusel topping: In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the all-purpose flour, sugars, almond flour, salt, and cinnamon on low. With the mixer on low, add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture comes together but still is quite crumbly.

Prepare the fruit filling: Place the rhubarb, strawberries, sugar, and salt into a medium pan and simmer over medium-low heat for about 30 to 40 minutes, stirring often, until the rhubarb and strawberries have broken down and the jam has thickened. The jam will cling to a wooden spoon when it is done. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the jam until ready to use. (Taste your jam – if it is a little flat, you can add a squeeze or two of lemon juice – about 1/2 teaspoon at a time, until it brightens the flavor.)

Grease an 8-inch springform cake pan with butter and dust with flour. Set aside. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1-pound piece. Divide the piece in two, dust with more flour, and quickly shape each piece into a rough ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go.

Roll the balls out into two 1/4-inch thick rounds, about 9 inches across. As you roll out the dough, add flour as needed to prevent sticking. Place one of the dough rounds in the bottom of the prepared pan.

Top with half of the fruit filling and and sprinkle half the streusel topping over it. Repeat with the remaining dough round, fruit filling, and streusel.

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 90 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F, with a rack placed in the center of the oven. Bake for 55 to 60 minutes.

While the cake is baking, prepare the icing: In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese, milk, salt, and vanilla until smooth. Add 1 cup of the confectioners’ sugar and mix again until smooth. If the mixture is too thin, add more powdered sugar until the desired consistency is reached.

Move the cake pan to a wire rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Pour the icing over the cake, and then let it continue cooling for 20 minutes.

Remove the cake from the springform pan while it is still warm.

Serve the cake warm or at room temperature.

Health questions?

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When we wrote our books, we were aware of the controversies surrounding food consumption and its effect on health, and over the years we’ve received many questions related to health claims made in the media and in popular books. The answers are complex and the science is often inconclusive. Given that, we don’t make any specific health-promotion claims about the breads in our books. When we first wrote Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day in 2009, we knew that it’d generate lots of questions. Below (scroll down), you’ll find part of the introduction to that book, which addresses the state of the science related to nutrition and bread ingredients. In Healthy Bread, we baked with lots of whole wheat and other whole grains, and had a whole chapter on sourdough baking. But bread is a carbohydrate food, and the best advice that scientists give us is this: don’t binge on it. Eat bread and other energy-rich foods in moderation or you’ll gradually gain weight and put yourself at risk for diabetes and other chronic conditions. That’s the best science-based advice we can give. Two specific topics on which we get a lot of questions here on the website:

Sourdough? Are there health benefits, compared with breads made with commercial yeast? Short answer: the science is far from clear on this, and mainstream researchers aren’t promoting sourdough as having any particular health effects, despite it’s natural bacteria and yeast, and supposed effects on acid balance or glycemic index–the evidence just isn’t there. Like all breads, sourdough loaves are a carbohydrate food, and should be eaten in moderation. The main reason to eat sourdough is its wonderful flavor, and that’s the thinking that drove most of the choices in our books.

Gluten-free? We wrote Gluten-Free Bread in Five Minutes a Day primarily for people with celiac disease, a well-documented medical condition that may affect as much as 1% of the population. People with celiac cannot eat bread made from wheat or anything with gluten. For other folks who feel better when they don’t eat wheat or gluten, the science is newer, and less clear. We can’t make any claims about health benefits of gluten-free bread, other than that it’s the only option for celiacs. There’s no credible evidence suggestiong that everyone needs a gluten-free diet.

Read on for some basics on bread ingredients, from the introduction to Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day (copyright 2009, 2016, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois):

1. Whole grain flour is better for you than white flour: Because whole grains include the germ and the bran, in addition to the starch-rich but fiber- and vitamin-poor endosperm whole grain flours bring a boatload of healthy substances into your diet, including phytochemicals (beneficial plant chemicals), vitamins, and fiber. Those are pretty much absent from white flour. Iron, niacin, folic acid, riboflavin, and thiamine are added back in enriched commercial white flour, but no other nutrients—so whole wheat delivers more complete nutrition than enriched white flour. But there’s more—because bran and germ in whole grains dilute the effect of pure starch in the endosperm, the absorption and conversion of starches into simple sugars is slowed, so blood glucose (the simplest sugar) rises more slowly after consumption of whole grains than it does after eating refined white flour products. Complex, high-bran carbohydrates are said to have a lower “glycemic index,” a measure of how fast your blood sugar rises after eating a particular food. The evidence for better handling of blood sugar, better digestive function, and heart health convinced the American Diabetes Association (ADA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make two recommendations in their current guidelines:

  • Consume a high-fiber diet, with at least 14 grams of dietary fiber per 1,000 calories consumed in an ideal-calorie diet each day. For a 2,000-calorie diet (appropriate for most women), that means about 28 grams of fiber a day. For a 2,500-calorie diet (appropriate for most men), that means 35 grams a day). 100% whole wheat bread contains a little less than 2 grams of fiber per slice if you cut a thin 1-ounce slice, and 3 to 4 grams if you cut a 2-ounce slice. White bread contains a quarter of that.
  • Make sure that at least half of your grain intake is whole grain.

2. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils are better for you than saturated and trans fats (like butter and hydrogenated oil): Switching to these oils or other heart-healthy fat sources can benefit those with high blood cholesterol.

3. Low-salt breads will benefit people with hypertension, heart failure, and kidney failure: This applies to all our breads—they all can be made with less or even zero salt, though the flavor will of course be different.

4. Nuts and seeds contain heart-healthy oils: Though they’re concentrated calorie sources, nuts and seeds are rich in vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy fats (monounsaturated and omega-3 polyunsaturated fats).

5. Fruits and vegetables are the best sources for protective phytochemicals and vitamins: In Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day, we have a whole chapter of breads enriched by fruits or vegetables, which are fiber-rich and loaded with vitamins and antioxidants.

And one final word of advice about diet and health: Please don’t obsess about food. This is supposed to be fun. If you can put some healthy ingredients into your bread and you like the flavor, do it. Most of all, enjoy your food!

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