It’s no secret that we love pressure cookers and Instant Pots. Most of us have heard gruesome tales of exploding pressure cookers that discouraged would-be users of the device from cooking with one. Older versions of the pressure cooker were simply not as safe as those produced today, which was mainly due to malfunctioning release valves. These days, pressure cookers and Instant Pots are not only safe but also produce extraordinary results with many foods, including grains. They cook wet foods at higher temperatures and faster speeds than other conventional methods.
A pressure cooker is just a pot with a lockable lid and a valve that controls the internal pressure. Water boiling inside the sealed pot turns into steam and increases the internal pressure, usually to 1 bar / 15 psi above atmospheric pressure. The higher pressure makes it possible for water to reach an effective cooking temperature as high as 120°C / 250°F, which reduces cooking time by half or more for most foods. This fantastic speed, however, comes at a cost: since you can’t open the lid until the pressure is released, you can’t stir the contents or see what you’re cooking until the end. You can learn even more about how pressure cookers work in our blog.
During the creation of Modernist Cuisine, we stumbled upon an interesting method to caramelize food under pressure. The key ingredient? Baking soda! Baking soda is a catalyst that accelerates the caramelization process to create exceptionally rich results. Picture sugars intensifying and flavors concentrating, all because of baking soda combining with a heat of 120°C / 250°F within the confines of a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Two of our favorite pressure-caramelized recipes include our Caramelized Carrot Soup and Pressure Caramelized Sweet Potato Soup recipes.
Initially designed for vegetables and fruits, this technique surprisingly works wonders for grains as well. It make the grains tender and incredibly flavorful. Read on to learn how to pressure-caramelized grains and also how to seamlessly incorporate them into your bread recipes.
BEFORE YOU USE THE PRESSURE COOKER OR INSTANT POT
To pressure-caramelize grains, you will need to cook them first, separately, until they are al dente. This means that each grain (or piece of cracked grain) is visibly independent from the others, rather than as part of a homogenous mass, as in porridge. Grains are considered al dente when they’re tender; the water should be absorbed or evaporated when cooking is complete. Taste the grains to judge the texture rather than relying on how they look.
You can cook grains until they are al dente on a stovetop, with a pressure cooker or an Instant Pot. You’ll find a step-by-step guide for each option (as well as our recommended cooking times for various grains) starting on page 28 of Modernist Bread at Home. As a general rule, when cooking grains on a stovetop, avoid lifting the lid of the pot unless the recipe calls for it (the lid must be removed for some grains so that water can evaporate). If you lift the lid, steam will escape from the surface, which cools down the pot’s contents. Depending on the type, cooked grains can be refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 2 months. After cooking, the grains will clearly retrograde, transforming from soft to brittle and crumbly as the starches recrystallize, but when they bake inside the loaf of bread, the process will be reversed.
HOW TO PRESSURE-CARAMELIZE INCLUSIONS WITH A PRESSURE COOKER
With nothing more than sugar, butter, baking soda, and a few canning jars, you can add pressure-caramelized grain, fruit, and vegetable inclusions to your dough in a few hours by following this recipe. The water in the recipe below should be added only when pressure-caramelizing grains; without the additional water, the grains will harden and become unpalatable. If you are pressure-caramelizing any other ingredient, omit the water.
We found that in addition to intensifying flavors, the small amounts of butter, baking soda, and sugar we added actually improved the structure and quality of the dough, producing a larger volume and more-open crumb structure. We suggest adding up to 50% of pressure-caramelized ingredients to your breads.
- 200 g main ingredients
- 40 g (or 3½ Tbsp) sugar
- 60 g (or ¼ cup) butter, melted
- 1 g (or ⅛ tsp) baking soda
- 100 g (or ¼ cup + 3 Tbsp) water if pressure-caramelizing grains
- Combine all the ingredients well in a bowl.
- Place the mixture in canning jars; close the lids but not too tightly (not too loosely either).
- Place a trivet in the base of a pressure cooker.
- Place the jars on top of the trivet.
- Fill the pressure cooker with enough water to reach halfway up the jars.
- Bring the water to a simmer over high heat without the lid on the pot.
- Once the water reaches a simmer, place the lid on the pot securely.
- Allow for the pressure to build up, but don’t let the mixture boil. Turn the heat down to low, maintaining 1 bar / 15 psi. Avoid boiling the liquid, which is a sure sign that the pressure cooker is overpressurized.
- Pressure-cook for 1 h.
- Turn off the heat, and remove the pot from the stove. Allow it to cool down naturally. Don’t open the lid.
- Once the cooker is cool, remove the lid carefully. Pull the jars out of the pot.
- Open the lids to the jars, and remove the contents (drain if necessary). Once cool, the caramelized ingredient is ready to add to the dough.
INSTANT POT VARIATION
- Set the Instant Pot to Sauté. Melt the butter in the base of the cooker. Add the main ingredient(s), sugar, baking soda, and water (if using).
- Stir thoroughly to combine. Switch the Instant Pot to Pressure Cook mode. Select 12 psi (High), and set the time for 1 h. Lock the lid onto the pot and pressure-caramelize the grains.
- When the Instant Pot has depressurized, cool the contents before adding to the dough.
- Keep a timer close to your pot. Pressure-cooking is time specific. You don’t want to forget when you started or how long your grain has been cooking.
- Let the pressure within the pot release naturally, and don’t force this to happen. It can be dangerous to open the lid while there’s still pressure within the pot. Beware that the contents of the pot continue to cook even after you remove the pot from the stove and the pressure inside has decreased.
- Determining the final texture of the grains is up to you. If the grains are undercooked, simply close the lid again, and continue to cook on low after reaching full pressure in 2- to 3-minute increments, checking for doneness each time. If the grains are too soft, they may still be usable for mixing into your dough. They’ll be less chewy and firm than properly cooked grains but will nonetheless contribute flavor and make for a chewy crumb. Accurate measuring should lead to properly cooked grains.
- Once your grains have cooled, you can incorporate them into the dough. If you’re mixing by machine, add the caramelized ingredients into the dough when it has reached medium gluten development: turn the mixer down to low speed, add the pressure-caramelized ingredients, and mix until they’re just combined with the dough (see page 67 of Modernist Bread at Home for more information). If you’re mixing by hand, add them on top of the dough after the first or second fold in a single layer; they’ll mix into the dough as your folding progresses.
- To prevent grains from scorching in a pressure cooker, make sure the flame or electric heat source is low enough to prevent scorching but not so low that the heat isn’t hot enough to cook the grains. Always start cooking with high heat to get the pressure buildup going, and then reduce the heat to medium-low or low to keep the liquid from boiling.
- The Instant Pot or pressure cooker’s gasket can crack, which will prevent the cooker from sealing correctly. To extend the life of the gasket (it’s often one of the first things to go), coat it in cooking oil, and wipe off the excess with a clean paper towel. This helps keep it from drying out.