Chili in a Bread Bowl

Take this classic to eleven: serve it in bread.

Lop the top off, gut the sucker.

Put a bunch of stuff in a pot. Put on the lid. Turn it on. Leave. Come back 7 or 8 hours later, remove the lid, enjoy a delicious meal.

Slow cookers are great for busy people who want home-cooked meals. Trouble is, they just aren’t sexy. You’ll never see one used on a cooking show. Never ever.

But that doesn’t mean they’re not useful. Last year we had a bus strike in Ottawa. The traffic was terrible; we’d spend an hour or more on the road, both ways. It was really nice to come home and not have to cook dinner; it was already waiting for us in our slow cooker.

Chili is perfect for a slow cooker.1

The requirement to let chili sit for a few hours while all the ingredients mingle together is the only thing a slow cooker can do.

Serving it inside bread really punches up the presentation. I’d only bother doing that for guests, which I did for the Super Bowl last weekend.

Bread bowls two hours before baking.

I first cooked chili in Home Ec in, I don’t know, Grade 10. It took us 20 minutes, and it tasted like chili. Point is: chili is easy to get started with.

But it can take a lot of experimenting to get the flavours to your liking. This likely won’t be the last chili recipe on this site. My goal: to balance the four tastes or tongue can sense: sweet, salty, sour, bitter. Oh and spicy; technically not a taste, but something we can all detect.

That will explain my ingredient list below. Chili powder is, of course, a must. The cocoa is the bitter component. I went easy on it in this recipe, but I’d probably put it about even with the chili powder. What I’m going for with the cocoa is a definite hint of chocolate in the chili. More experimentation is required. One thing I wouldn’t experiment with, however, is the cayenne: one teaspoon is plenty; anything too spicy scares most people away.

Too bad my slow cooker broke.

Serves 10

  • 2 lbs lean ground beef
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 14oz cans red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • 4 tbsp chili powder
  • 4 tbsp cocoa
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tbsp cumin
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • 3 tbsp water
  • 1 – 2 tbsp of corn starch

Slow cooker method:

In a hot pan, brown the beef. You may have to do it in batches. On the last batch, sauté the onion until soft and nearly translucent. Put both in the slow cooker. Add the beans, tomatoes, chili powder, cocoa, brown sugar, cumin and cayenne. Stir to combine.

At this point, if you’re so inclined, you can refrigerate and cook the next day.

Cook in the slow cooker, 7 – 8 hours on Low; 3 – 4 hours on high.

When ready to serve, combine the water and corn starch, then add to the chili. Stir until the corn starch dissolves.

Stove method:

In a hot dutch oven, over medium-high heat, brown the beef. Once the beef is mostly brown, add the onions. Stir occasionally. Cook the onions until soft, about 3 minutes.

Add the beans, tomatoes, chili powder, cocoa, brown sugar, cumin and cayenne. Stir to combine. Turn the heat to low. Cover. Simmer for 3-4 hours.

When ready to serve, combine the water and corn starch, then add to the chili. Stir until the corn starch dissolves.

Serve topped with grated cheese.

Medium cheddar is the perfect topping for this bad boy; okay and maybe green onion if you got some.

Makes 3 bread bowls

  • 20oz flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp yeast
  • 12oz water

Put all ingredients in a bowl. Mix until combined in a wet, doughy clump. By hand, on lightly floured surface, knead the dough until smooth and stretchy, about 10 minutes; or in a stand mixer, with the dough hook, on stir setting for about 8 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl to rise, about 2 hours. (You want it to triple in size.)

Carefully take it out of the bowl onto a work surface. Get out your scale and dough separator. Split the dough into three roughly equal pieces and shape into boules. Prepare a baking sheet lined with parchment. Place the three boules of dough on the baking sheet. Let sit for 1.5 – 2 hours. (This is called proofing.)

Heat your oven to 425F. When it’s good and hot, put the bread in. After 9 minutes, lower the heat to 375F, for another 10 minutes. Let cool at least an hour.

This isn't surprising: very filling!


  1. Unfortunately, I discovered my slow cooker was broken when I took it out to make this. The control knob plate was ripped off its screws, so it just hangs there by wires. Now I can get a new one with a timer! Always a silver lining. []

Jason Kemp is a geek trapped in a cool guy's body. He hand crafts software for the web and mobile devices. He excels at user interface design, the deadlift and barbecue. He is @ageektrapped across the internet.

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