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Making Bread in a Pressure Cooker

Risen dough ready to "bake".

Bread is the staff of life and the foundation of my diet. I make my own bread at home, finding it more to my taste than store-bought, and I miss it when I am aboard Valor. Sea biscuits last on board but regular bread gets stale and mouldy fast. I have made sea biscuits for fun, and once my sailing partner David and I pounded some up and made a spotted dog duff, in honor of his Hunter Cherubini Spotted Dog, but sea biscuits are more like survival food than something you would eat by choice.

Not having an oven on Valor, I thought I was just out of luck, until one day I saw a reference to bread made in a pressure cooker. Well, I thought, in Boston they make steamed brown bread, so pressure cooker bread doesn't seem out of the question. A little browsing around the internet turned up several articles about pressure cooker bread, and I decided to give it a try. I found instructions at a website called Healthy Family Cookin that seemed reasonable, and mixed up a small batch of dough using my regular recipe as a trial run. It turned out nicely. Of course, there is no crust, which is my favorite part, but a friend who is used to soft commercial bread liked it better than my regular bread. No question, this fresh bread is way better than anything a boat crew is used to. For anyone with pretensions as a sea cook, coming up with hot yeast bread out of a sailboat galley would go a long way.

The Healthy Family Cookin website has a good recipe, but I have my own, and this is the way I made mine. I like to soak whole grains overnight so I started out by mixing a quarter cup oats, a quarter cup barley flour, and enough whole wheat flour to fill out a cup (I shake the barley down into the spaces between the oats so you need a little extra flour to make a cup). I added a tablespoon of flax seed meal, then mixed in a cup of water, and refrigerated overnight. In the morning, I got the mix out and let it come to room temperature. I added half a teaspoon of salt, half a teaspoon of yeast and half a tablespoon of molasses, and mixed well. Then I kneeded in enough unbleached bread flour to make a fairly slack dough (about a cup). Finally, I coated the ball of dough with vegetable oil and set it aside to rise.

Looks like bread!

I was lucky to have a pyrex mixing bowl that just fit inside my pressure cooker, so I let the dough rise in it. The dough filled the bowl and domed up to the extent that I knew it wasn't going to fit in the cooker, so I cut off a bit and used it to make fried dough, something I learned to eat when Marie and I visited Maine some years ago. I beat the remaining dough down and set it back in the bowl for a second rising (I oiled the bowl and dusted it with coarse ground corn meal). Once the dough came back up, I put the steaming pan in the bottom of the cooker, added water just up to the pan, and put the pyrex bowl with the risen dough in the cooker. Then, with the lid and regulator in place, I brought up pressure. I didn't get it screaming like a banshee, and I didn't leave it barely seeping steam, I brought it to a good middling stage with the regulator rocking. I cooked it this way for 20 minutes and then took it off the heat and let the pressure come down on its own. Then I got the bowl of bread out and let it cool like I would a batter bread. Once cool, I ran a knife around the edges and the bread came out with no problem.

Once the bread finished cooling, I cut off a slice. I was impressed with how easily and cleanly it sliced, and what a good, holey texture it had. Even more impressive was how it tasted with a little butter spread on top.

Since the first trial came out good, I decided to make a second one. This time I cut all the ingredients to 75% of the original, so the risen dough would not be too high for the lid to go on the cooker. The finished product was just as good as the first batch.

The real test will come aboard Valor at some anchorage along the river, but I have every reason to believe that this pressure cooker bread will work very well on my propane stove. The water and steam temper the stove's heat and prevent scorching. I've cooked everything from beans to potatoes to whole chickens in the pressure cooker aboard Valor, and bread from a twice-tested recipe should be a snap.