There are times and places in life where you don’t have an oven available – remodeling, extended stay in a hotel, small apartment, etc. There are times when it’s too hot to fire up an oven and heat the house up further. I have been surprised to discover that you can still bake fresh bread in these situations even without a bread machine. First, I tried bread in a crock pot. This time, it’s bread in the microwave.
The first I heard of this was while reading through Beard on Bread by James Beard, one of the classic bread books (although, I have to say, every time I read or hear the title, I think of a loaf of bread with a little beatnik beard and a beret). I went “Huh, who woulda thunk it?” and passed over the recipe. I quite enjoy the normal English muffin bread recipe from that book, though.
I believe it is in response to this single recipe that Bernard Clayton Jr., in The Complete Book of Breads, says pointedly in the equipment chapter, “I have not found a need for a microwave oven in my kitchen to do my kind of baking.” I could be wrong, though.
I enlisted the help of my five-year old making this bread, because he likes to help and I thought he might think it was fun making bread in the microwave. James Beard also claims that you can see it rise as it cooks, which would have been fun, but I may have let mine rise a little too long before cooking, and so it didn’t do anything spectacular in the microwave.
Still, my son got a kick out of having “his” bread for a snack.
Taste-wise, it isn’t a bad bread. Sort of bland, but improves when toasted. Toast is basically the point of English muffin bread, anyway. The crust is very soft and doesn’t brown at all. I prefer the look and taste of a browned crust, but if you or your kids like the soft crust of store bought bread, you might like it. It does not keep well, however, and was much better the first day than the second and following. It dried out fast, making toasting it a necessity after the first day.
I did pop my loaf under the broiler a few minutes because sticky spots remained on the bottom. I don’t think they were underdone, just the result of steam being trapped in the pan. I didn’t want to put soggy bread into a bag.
I halved Beard’s recipe, and substituted instant yeast for active dry, which I believe was not even available when the book was written. If you use active dry just increase the amount to 2 1/4 tsp (1 packet) and increase the rise times to approximately double. I also warmed the milk in the microwave instead of the stove top. If you have one, might as well get the most out of it.
On cook time: James Beard says 6 and a half minutes, but I was afraid that would overcook it, since the book came out several years ago and my microwave seems to run hotter than my mom’s older one. I stopped mine at five minutes, and I’d say that was about right for my microwave. No doughy spots should remain in the crust, and the it should spring back when touched.
I also temperature checked in about three places to make sure it had consistently reached an internal temperature of 190 degrees. Five minutes was about right, but I did notice after the bread cooled one spot that was hard like it had overcooked and dried out.
English Muffin Bread for the Microwave, adapted from Beard on Bread, by James Beard
2 1/2 cups flour, approximately
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 c. milk
1/8 tsp baking soda, dissolved in 2 tsp. warm water
Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, yeast, and salt. Microwave milk for around 45 seconds to warm it to a temperature of 100 – 115 degrees F.
Add milk to the flour mixture, beating by hand or mixer until smooth (for English Muffin bread, Bernard Clayton says beat for 200 strokes by hand, so that’s what I always do). Add in as much of the remaining flour as needed to make a stiff batter.
Cover and let rise until doubled in bulk, around 45 minutes. Stir down the batter and stir in the baking soda/water mixture, making sure it is well-distributed throughout. Pour into a greased Pyrex 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ casserole dish (or other similar sized casserole dish).
Cover and let rise a second time, about 30 minutes in a warm place, until doubled.
Cook uncovered in the microwave for about 5 minutes. Test with a finger to be sure there are no doughy spots in the top crust, and the crust springs back when touched. Internal temperature should be at least 190 degrees.
Let the bread cool five minutes in the pan, then remove and cool completely. Slice and toast before serving.