I have very recently gotten over my fear of bread making, and it has been a revelation! I do not mean to downplay the art of baking bread, but I used to think it was only for those with an immense skill and experience to prepare a decent loaf. I never thought my inept attempts would amount to much. I was very, very wrong. This particular bread is delectable, and quite easy to make.
Once you get past the time it takes to proof the dough and the loaf (which is considerable, so plan ahead so you're not popping a loaf into the oven at midnight), there is really only 20 minutes of actual preparation- when utilizing a food processor with a dough blade. Although simple, it is very important to follow some basic techniques in order to ensure your success. The end results will be so worth it. As a friend of mine so eloquently said, bread is kind of like a discovery, not an invention. The magic is out of our hands.
As for my decision to stray subtly from the norm and opt for golden raisins rather than their inferior, dry and nubby counterparts... well, I think that my description of them is explanation enough. I like my wine white, and my grapes golden. They make this bread taste more like a dessert, since they are sweeter, plumper, and juicier than regular raisins.
As for the bread itself - the beatific texture of the crumb and crust are exceptional. The crumb is tender, yet with a delicate chew and pleasant sweetness. The crust has a slight crispness to it, and is buttery and delightful. In my humble opinion, this bread is really something to write home about.
Let me tell you, a slice of this bread toasted and buttered along side a steaming mug of Scottish breakfast tea is nothing short of divine.
- 3 3/4 c bread flour, 1/4 set aside for kneading
- 1/4 c sugar for cinnamon swirl, plus 3 tbsp sugar for the dough
- 4 tbsp melted unsalted butter, warm
- 2 tbsp melted vegetable shortening, warm
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 tsp cinnamon, 2 set aside for the cinnamon swirl
- generous 1/2 c golden raisins
- generous 1/2 c walnut halves
- 1 packet instant yeast
- 1 c whole milk, warm
- 1/3 c water, warm
Melt 3 of the 4 tbsp of butter along with the vegetable shortening. While the fats are melting, fit a food processor with a dough blade if available and add 3 1/2 c bread flour, salt, yeast, 3 tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp of cinnamon. Let this whir away until well combined, about 40 seconds to a minute.
In the meantime, measure out the milk into a glass measuring cup and heat in the microwave till very warm, but not hot. Add 1/3 c of very warm tap water, then the melted butter and shortening.
While the processor is running, slowly pour the liquid ingredients through the feed tube just until a ball is formed. Turn off the processor and let the dough sit for 2 minutes, then start it up again for 30 seconds.
Pull the dough out onto a clean and lightly floured counter and knead for 5 minutes. After the first 3 or so, place half the raisins under the dough and the rest on top and continue to knead. Once they're incorporated, crunch the walnuts in your hands a bit, then knead them into the dough the same way as with the raisins. It is important to use walnut halves here, not pieces, since they provide much more substance to the bread when they are kept closer to their original form. Don't worry if pieces of walnuts and raisins are falling out once your start kneading them in - just keep placing them under and on top till they are tucked snugly into the dough.
Don't worry about over working the dough- its pretty much impossible unless you're using a professional grade machine, and even then it takes a bit of time. Just relax, and enjoy the pleasure that is kneading.
Form a snug ball out of the dough and place in a large, lightly oiled bowl, coating it with the oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours until doubled in size.
Once the dough has risen, melt the remaining tbsp of butter and set aside. Place the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using your fingers, spread the dough into a 9x9 square. You can use the loaf pan you intend on baking the bread in as a guide, as they are usually 9 inches long.
Combine 1/4 c of sugar with 2 tsp cinnamon. Brush the spread out dough with the butter (leaving a little leftover), then sprinkle with all of the cinnamon sugar, leaving about a 1/2 inch space of dough at the top.
Roll the dough into a tight cylinder, ensuring there is nice surface tension as you go. Pinch the edges of the dough together to create a seam, and place seam side down into your loaf pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let proof for 1 to 1/2 hours, till the loaf is nearly doubled in size.
Make certain that there is a rack in the middle position of your oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. While the oven is heating, fill a kettle with water and bring to a boil on the stove. Once the oven is ready, brush the top of the loaf with a little of the leftover butter from making the cinnamon swirl.
Place the loaf in the oven, leaving room for an empty loaf pan next to it. Fill the empty pan half way full of boiling water, and quickly close the oven door. Be careful not to let the water splatter- you don't want it to come in contact with your door! If you're a klutz like me, place a kitchen towel over the glass in the door when you're adding the water, and remove before closing.
Bake for 40 - 50 minutes until the bread is golden brown, and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom. If you want a little extra sweetness to your bread, before removing it from the oven make a little more cinnamon sugar- a tbsp or 2 with about 1/2 tsp or so of cinnamon should do. As soon as you pull the bread from the oven, rub the top with a stick of butter and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top, using as much as you like. Remove the bread from the pan and let cool on a wire rack for 2 hours before slicing. Or, wait 90 minutes like I do so the bread is still warm! It is important to wait, and not slice it any sooner than an hour and a half though, in order to preserve the integrity of the bread.
The bread will last up to 3 days in a ziplock bag or airtight container, but I can almost guarantee you it will not last that long. It also keeps great in the freezer - just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, place in a freezer bag and throw into the deep chill for up to 3 months.
*This recipe is a reconstructed adaptation of American Test Kitchen's American Sandwich Bread recipe.