Hello friends, and welcome back to Will It Sous Vide?, the column where I make things with my immersion circulator. This week we're once again attempting sous vide baking which, with the exception of custard-based desserts, has not exactly worked out well in the past.
Photos by Claire Lower
My main concerns about sous vide bread — and baking this way in general — are:
- Given the fact that we are cooking in a vacuum-sealed environment, there is no where for any moisture to escape, meaning our bread is going to get soggy, or at least gummy.
- The water can't get hot enough to initiate the browning reaction that forms a crust, and bread without a crust is like a snail without a shell — kinda mushy and unappealing.
But bread kept coming up, and when one kind reader sent me this article on Icelandic hot-spring bread, I was cautiously hopeful. Actually, I was more than cautiously hopeful, I was downright optimistic. I bought the fancy European butter, so full of hubris was I. Not only was the cooking temperature pretty close to what we could achieve with our circulator, but the ingredients were pretty simple:
- 4 cups dark rye flour
- 2 cups wheat flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 teaspoons baking powder
- 1L of milk
- A pinch of salt
I sifted the dry ingredients together, then slowly stirred in the milk to make a batter.
My original plan was to pour the batter in a loaf pan, then seal it in vacuum bag, but I happened to just be out of the larger bags, and the dumb pan wouldn't fit in the medium ones.
So I went the classic sous vide packaging route, and poured the batter into a bag and a little greased jar, because what would this experiment be without a little jar?
Then, instead of setting my vessels down in a hot spring and covering them with dirt, I put threw them in a very hot 88C water bath, and let them hang out for 20 hours.
Side-note: One feature of sous vide cooking is that you can't really smell the food you're preparing. This is sometimes a good thing, but in the case of baking bread, I feel like I'm being robbed a little, experience-wise. Taking in the aroma of baking bread is a very comforting sensory experience, and I really missed it here.
Anyway, after 20 hours of cooking, the bread in a bag had floated up to the top of the bath and, when poked, felt quite firm. It also looked insanely unappealing.
No one asked for this. (Actually, a few of you did.)
I decided to first give the jar bread a taste, and ran my knife around the side to help it slide out. I then sliced it down the middle, and gazed into the abyss that is sous vide bread.
That's a bad bake, Mary.
I then took a tentative nibble, and experienced what I can only describe as "gummy shame". The "bread" stuck to my teeth in a very unpleasing way, much like our sad sous vide jar cake. I hated it and hated myself for bringing it into the world.
The bag bread was similarly disappointing, dense and gummy, with no real flavour. At first I thought I just hadn't cooked it long enough, and started to reseal it in another bag for another dip, but then I pulled off a thinner edge piece which seemed a little less wet and compact.
Looking a little more promising.
Though the edge piece certainly looked more like bread, and had a more open crumb, it still made my mouth very sad. The gummy shame was back, and I spit out, just as I had every other bite before it.
So, will bread sous vide?
The answer? No, and I think we, as a community, should quit trying to make it happen. If any recipe was going to work, it would have been this one, but this system is just all wrong for baking. Though our sous vide setup is similar to a hot spring, the cooking vessel used in said hot spring isn't vacuum-sealed, and it isn't completely submerged in water. This gives the moisture somewhere to go and — though it looks like the Icelandic volcano bread is very moist and tender — this prevents it from turning gummy. But at least we know now, my friends, and that means no one has to waste their time and flour on the tragedy that is sous vide bread.