Like you, I have a lot more time on my hands right now. When I’m not writing from whichever corner of my Brooklyn apartment I decide to cram a chair into, I’m in the kitchen trying to cook or bake my anxiety away. Or, I’m watching TV; I just finished binging the 2004 anime, Yakitate!! Japan.
The show follows Kazuma Azuma, a baker aspiring to create a national bread for Japan. Because his hands are supernaturally warm, they yield better-, quicker-fermented loaves that continually beat out his competitors’ (spoiler alert). Every episode outdoes the last, with Azuma baking increasingly outlandish recipes whose deliciousness (literally) transport his competitors and critics to another world.
In one episode, Azuma explains to the viewer how to make bread in a rice cooker. The show does occasionally offer baking techniques and tips, but this was its first and only full recipe (one that even caught the New York Times food reporter Julia Moskin’s eye, back in 2008). Because it’s cooked in a rice cooker, the bread looks nothing like the crusty sourdough loaves currently populating our feeds. It’s puffy, rounded from being cooked inside the rice cooker bowl insert.
Part curious, part skeptical—and, with nothing better to do—I decided to bring Azuma's rice cooker bread into my own, real-life kitchen.
This past weekend, I cued up the scene, got my ingredients ready, and pressed play. I kneaded everything together right in the bowl, as the show instructed. Sadly, my hands did not glow from warmth like Azuma’s, but my normal-temperatured hands seemed to suffice. After the first rise, the instructions said to drop the dough from a height of 50 centimeters, so I took out measuring tape to drop it at precisely that height (I know, a bit tedious, but I didn’t want to leave anything up to chance). It landed into the bowl with a loud thud. I assessed the damage: The dough seemed to not only survive its fall, but was properly degassed.
After one more hour of undisturbed rising, the dough was ready for its first of three one-hour cooking sessions. At the end of each round, you have to flip the bread over to help it cook evenly. My rice cooker plays a little jingle once it’s done, so each time I heard the music start, I popped the lid—releasing a cloud of milky-bread steam—and gingerly flipped the light brown loaf.
My apartment filled with the aromas of a Japanese bakery. When I opened the rice cooker, I gasped. The bread looked like a very thick, tall pancake. The five-hour anime recipe was a success! It looked similar to the one I saw on TV but not as glossy. I cut a slice off the massive pancake-monster and smeared it with butter—it tasted like a pillowy, heavenly dinner roll.
I’m now on the hunt for a new anime (would love your suggestions in the comments below!), though I still think about that rice cooker bread often. It wasn’t the prettiest or most delicious thing I’ve made, but it was a wonderful, much-needed five-hour break from our world. I think I’m going to make it again this weekend, to try and outdo my last.
I made this in a 5.5-cup rice cooker but a 3-cup one will work, too! If using the latter, I'd recommend decreasing the recipe by 25 percent just to be safe.
Makes 1 loaf
- 5 grams (1 1/2 scant teaspoons) active dry yeast
- 180 grams (3/4 cup) warm water
- 350 grams (2 1/2 cups) bread flour
- 21 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons) butter
- 21 grams (1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons) sugar
- 35 grams (2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) milk
- 6.5 grams (1 teaspoon) salt
- In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix together warm water and yeast. Let bloom for 5 minutes.
- Take the rice cooker bowl out of the rice cooker. In it, mix the bread flour, sugar, salt, milk, and yeast mixture with your hands. After it comes together, knead in the bowl until no extra flour remains, about 3 minutes.
- Hold the dough ball in one hand, while you press butter into its center. Fold the dough around the butter until it’s enclosed. Knead it in the rice cooker bowl until the dough no longer is sticky and forms a round, another 3 to 5 minutes.
- Wipe the inside of the rice cooker bowl clean, and place the dough back in. Cover, and let rise in a warm area for 1 hour.
- Once risen, lift out the dough ball and drop it from a height of 50 centimeters (around 20 inches) to degas. Cover and let rest in a warm area for another hour.
- Place the bowl back into the rice cooker and cook for 1 hour by using the time-setting mode.
- After the first “bake,” flip the round and cook for another hour in the rice cooker. Flip and repeat for 1 more hour (for a total of 3 1-hour sessions).
- Unmold the bread and let cool for 5 minutes. Enjoy while warm.