Baking–for real–in my solar oven!

dark chocolate-cherry cookie bars & cheddar cranberry monkeybreadIt worked!  Not that I really had any doubts that I could actually bake something using my solar oven, but I put it to the test this past weekend and it passed beautifully.  For dessert: I threw some ingredients in a bowl and ended up with some dark chocolate-cherry cookie bars (I could have eaten the entire thing in one sitting).

IMG_8731These are some of the best cookie bars I have ever made–dried cherries and dark chocolate are perfect for one another. It was hard to restrain myself while eating these!

For bread: I combined two recipes to come up with a cheddar-cranberry monkeybread that was de-licious!  I have that recipe to share.

I wasn’t sure weather conditions were going to permit me to use the oven last weekend, but on Saturday morning, things looked promising enough that I decided to give it a try.  If the weather turned cloudy or rainy (as it always has in the past when I put my oven outside) then I would finish off the baking process indoors.  But the weather held, with just a few high, thin clouds passing by and in just 3 hours I had two mouth-watering baked goodies to enjoy.  Temperatures ranged between 225 degrees F and 275 degrees F, but once the thin clouds showed up, I think much of the time was spent on the low end of that range.

I know 3 hours seems like a hell of a long time to wait for some cookies to bake, but there are advantages to this slow-cooking approach.  For one, when my friend showed up, she needed to pick up something for the bridal shower she was attending.  So after I put the cookies and bread in the oven, we left the house, walked downtown, picked up her gift, and grabbed a bite to eat.  We were gone for about an hour.  It was nice to be able to just put food in the oven and not have to worry about it burning while I went and did something else.  If I had been using my conventional oven, I would have either had to decline the invite to accompany her downtown on her errands–and miss out on catching up with her, or else tell her we couldn’t leave until the bread and cookies had finished baking, which would have put her in jeopardy of being late for her shower.  Needless to say, I’m a fan of the low-temperature, leave-it-and-forget-about-it cooking option.  Multi-tasking at its finest, no?

IMG_8730Cheddar-cranberry monkeybread

3/4 cup water

2/3 cup half and half (or milk)

3 tablespoons butter

4 cups flour

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup dried cranberries

2 teaspoons yeast

If using a breadmaker: Combine all ingredients in the breadpan and set your breadmaker on the Dough setting.

If not using a breadmaker: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and knead until the dough is soft and pliable.  Then set in a warm place to rise for at least an hour.

Additional ingredients:

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons milk

Combine the oil and milk in a small bowl.  Once the bread has risen, use kitchen shears or your fingers to pinch off small balls of dough, about the size of a golf ball.  Dunk each piece of dough in the milk mixture, then place in a greased pan.  Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough, tossing the dough loosely on top of the pieces already in the pan.  Place in a warm place to rise for about 20 minutes.  Bake in a 350 degree F oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until the top of the bread turns golden.

OR-if you have a solar oven, place in the oven and leave it until you can smell it and the top looks golden (test the center with a knife for doneness).  Your mouth will be watering, which is also an indictor for doneness.

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