Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Give us this day our raisin bread...

Raisins... Those little mummified grapes have often been denied serious culinary cred. Truth is, few Americans appreciate these purple powerhouses unless they're coated in sugar and followed by the word "bran," or slathered onto peanut butter and piled on a stick of celery. Has everybody forgotten about raisin  bread? Warm, soft, and swirled with cinnamon filling, it can be made into the world's best piece of toast, or, if you're impatient like me, torn right off the loaf and eaten straight-up. Too lazy to make up a batch yourself? Make somebody else do it for you! It's worth the effort, believe me.*
To begin: assemble the software.
1/2 cup milk
1/3 cup warm water- 110 degrees F or 45 degrees C. Thermometer broken? Lent it to neighbors who never gave it back? No problem. 110 degrees is just barely above body temperature.
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 egg
2 tablespoons and two teaspoons white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons butter (softened)
1 cup raisins
4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons milk
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 stick butter (optional, but highly recommended)
2 teaspoons melted butter

Flour and non-stick spray for pan dusting

Okay, now. Stop hyperventilating! Yes, it's a long list. Calm down- if you are a loyal MadChef reader, you already have all these in your pantry. Not a loyal reader? You should still have these in your pantry, or whatever you have that kinda passes for a pantry. Other hardware: stand mixer with whisk and dough hook attachment, and a loaf pan.
Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start:
1. Warm the milk in the microwave (or a saucepan, if you want to clean one out) until it bubbles, and then remove from the heat.
2. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water, and let it wake up. A few notes here: The water does have to be within 10 degrees of 100 degrees F. A few of you out there might be whining "Whyyyy, Sam? I don't want to go out and spend seven dollars on a thermometer. The yeast will be fine either way." They won't! At cold temperatures, the little buggers go to sleep, and above that, they go to sleep permanently. The yeast themselves also have to be measured. I use 1-pound bags of the stuff, which is cheaper in the long run. It demands volumetric measurement, which keeps things nice and consistent. But if you're not willing to make that investment (which isn't much!), you can use those little packets they have at the supermarket. Just measure it out for this recipe! Those packets contain 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast, which would be too much.
3. When the yeast is frothy, pour in the bowl of your stand mixer, equipped with the whisk attachment. Mix in the butter, eggs, sugar (the first portion only! we need that quarter cup at the end of the list for something else.), salt, and raisins. Add the flour gradually, until the dough becomes stiff. Depending on the moisture in the air, the four, ect., you may not need to use it all.
4. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface. I used a large cookie sheet; it contains the clutter, and it's quite useful later on in the process. Place in a large, oiled mixing bowl covered with a damp cloth, and allow to rise in a warm place for about an hour, or until doubled in size. Dough doesn't double? Don't despair. Pull it after two hours, no matter what you see, hear, or think is going on in that bowl.
5. While that's rising, mix the quarter cup of sugar with the cinnamon and butter. The butter, as I said, is optional. Pull the ol' cookie sheet back out. Flour liberally, and roll the dough out on the cookie sheet until it roughly covers the bottom. Wet the dough with the milk, and spread every ounce of the filling over the top. Roll up tightly, and let that roll rise either in a warm place for an hour, or in the fridge overnight.
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. At this point, your dough should be nicely risen. If needed, cut the roll to fit your loaf pan. Flour and dust the pan(s), and bake for 45 minutes, or until nicely browned.
When these luscious lovlies come out of the oven, you'll be tempted, very tempted to dig right in. I'm telling you: resist that urge! The protein structure needs time to set. Cut in while the loaf is even the tiniest bit warm, and it'll sink down and result in a mushy, dense loaf. How do I know? Trust me. I know. What you can do is brush them with some melted butter right after they come out of the oven and are nicely situated on a cooling rack.

*In general, don't believe anything I say. Kidding, of course. :D 

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