The things you can do in a slow cooker! For years, I thought the only thing a slow cooker was good for was stew, but man was I ever wrong. I use it for so much more now, from jam to dessert, pork roast to roasted pecans and sweet potatoes. And then I discovered you could make bread in the slow cooker. It makes perfect sense, the warm, moist environment promotes a nice rise and slow and gentle cooking. I started with a super simple herb and cheese loaf but have now graduated to yeasty dinner rolls. It’s great to have the rolls doing their thing in the slow cooker while you get on with the rest of dinner prep, then you get warm, fresh rolls on the table at exactly the right time.
Once I figured out a basic roll recipe, I decided to get creative. Cacio e pepe – cheese and pepper – is a classic Italian flavor popping up in all sorts of ways, not just the Roman pasta dish (I use it in a simple brussel sprout salad). Funky pecorino and tangy black pepper add a real jolt to these rolls, making them perfect with a hearty pasta meal like a lasagna or a good Bolognese. I have even made these rolls as an appetizer, served with some marinara sauce for dipping. I find weighing the balls of dough a really simple way to get evenly sized rolls that cook through. Once you start weighing, you get a feel for the proper size and it goes quickly. If you don’t have a scale, just do your best to make sure the dough balls are evenly sized. The rolls will brown on the edges, but I like to pop them in oven to brown on top, with the extra coating of butter and cheese and pepper. It takes very little time under the broiler – I actually leave to door open and watch until they reach the right color.
Slow Cooker Cacio e Pepe Dinner Rolls
3 cups all-purpose flour
¼ plus 2 Tablespoons cup finely grated pecorino cheese (almost like powder), divided
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast (not active dry)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, plus more for topping
1 1/4 cup milk
2 Tablespoons honey
¼ cup butter, melted, divided
- Line an 8-quart slow cooker with parchment paper on the bottom and up the sides. Trim off any pieces that stick up over the top of the crock.
- Put the flour, ¼ cup of the pecorino, the sugar, instant yeast, salt and pepper in the large bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Stir to combine with a spoon or the hook. Heat the milk in the microwave in 20-second burst until it reaches 110 – 115 degrees (warm but not bubbling). You can also do this in a pan on the stove. Pour the milk, honey, 2 Tablespoons of the melted butter into the flour and beat with the dough hook on low, then raising the speed to medium as the wet ingredients blend with the dry. Beat for about 8 minutes, until the dough is soft and elastic and pulls cleanly from the sides of the bowl. Add a bit more flour if the dough is not coming together in a ball. Pull the dough from the hook, cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it rest for 15 minutes (it will not rise).
- Divide the dough into 2 ounce pieces, about the size of a golf ball. Roll each piece into a ball, then use you thumbs to pull the ball taught and smooth on top. Place each ball in the slow cooker in one layer, not quite touching. Place a thin tea towel over the top of the slow cooker to absorb steam, then cover with the lid. Cook on high for 2 hours, until the rolls reach an internal temperature of 190 degrees. You can lift out the rolls and tap the bottom. The sides should be browned and the rolls sound hollow.
- Heat the broiler in the oven. Mix the remaining melted butter with generous grinds of black pepper. Pick up the parchment with cooked rolls on it and place it on a baking sheet. Brush the peppery butter over the top of the rolls, then sprinkle over the remaining 2 Tablespoons pecorino and a nice sprinkling of flaky salt. Slide the baking sheet under the broiler and brown the top of the rolls for just a minute or two. I usually leave the oven door open and watch carefully.