The Most Awesome Raisin Bread
Bread baking is easy. All you need is flour, yeast, salt and water. And a baking apparatus. Bread dough can be wound around a stick and held over a fire. Bread dough can be placed in a clay form with a lid and buried in a fire pit. Or bread dough can be laid out nicely on a parchment-covered baking tray and placed in a preheated electric oven for an hour.
Compared to other periods in history, the flour we buy today is of a high quality. For that matter, the bread we buy today is cheap and also of a very good quality. (Both points can be disputed and I invite you to dispute here in the comments.)
So why bother baking your own?
I like to bake bread because I can control the amount of salt going into it. I can decide what type of grain I want to use. The sweetish, yeasty, not-too-fermented smell of rising bread dough fills the room with a nostalgic, warm nuance. The smell of baking bread is the heart-racing epitome of all baking experiences put together.
Have we forgotten chocolate chip cookies so quickly?
For the moment, yes. Another reason I bake: because in Germany I can’t buy some of the products I would like to have, like decent cookies. So I make them myself. Now in Germany, the bread is excellent. No doubt about that. But I can’t get a decent raisin bread.
And as easy as writing down the four ingredients for baking bread, I slammed together a raisin bread last night that knocked my socks off. And I actually wrote down the ingredients and their approximate measurements because I would like to do this again. So here’s my recipe in the Chaos Kitchen style. Minus the wine.
Soak in just enough hot water to cover and set aside:
1 c Raisins (more or less to taste)
2 T Crushed Linseed (optional--Omega-3 oils)
Mix together in a bowl:
4 c Flour of choice (Keep another cup or two in reserve)
Yeast (one packet dry yeast, ½ - 1 cake fresh yeast--mine are 42 g)
4 T Olive Oil
250 ml Buttermilk
½ c Dark Brown Sugar
2 T Cinnamon (more or less to taste--add nutmeg, allspice, ginger, anything you’d like)
Mix with a fork or get in there with your hands. Now, if you’re using fresh yeast, you might want to activate it. I mixed it with warmish water and a bit of sugar, put the flour on the top, then the oil and the buttermilk.
Add the raisins.
Now you have to get in there with your hands. Knead for about 10 minutes. The structure of the dough changes. If it’s too wet, add more flour. If it’s too dry, add warm water, oil or buttermilk, depending on how many calories you want to add to the bread.
Where’s the fun in this, you say?
Bread dough takes on the feel of flesh. The manner in which one kneads is entirely up to the kneader. Punching is a great way to release tension. Think of it as a physical workout! Takes some of the guilt away when we add more butter. And I quit smoking a few weeks back, so it gives my hands something to do.
Knead, knead knead, punch, Punch, PUNCH! When the dough has that silky, smooth feel, place in a bowl, cover with a dish towel and put in a warm dry place to rise, about an hour. (I’ve read that the dough can turn too ‘beery’ and smell too fermented when left too long. Check this out: The Fresh Loaf)
Speaking of more butter: I melted one good tablespoon of butter and added some brown sugar and cinnamon. After the dough had risen, I wanted to roll it out, dribble the butter and sugar over it, then roll it up like a sort of swirl. Ha. That didn’t work. I ended up kneading the butter and the sugar into the dough. Which seemed to be ok. So I divided the dough into 3 loaves, put them on a parchment-lined baking tray and allowed them to rise again, like 20 minutes. Which didn’t happen in a cool room, so I put them in the oven at 150° C--no fan. 300° F, that is.
I have an electric oven with a fan. I have arrived.
After maybe 20 minutes or so, I turned the fan on. I may even have turned the temperature up to 350°. After only having a wood-powered oven for so long, I am so used to keeping my eye the goods, that I don’t pay a lot of attention to the temperature or the time. At some point I took the loaves out when the tops were lightly browned.
I allowed them to cool as long as I could contain myself. The loaves felt soft and I was worried I hadn’t left them in long enough. But after they had cooled, the knife slid through the cakey texture and the aroma of cinnamon and brown sugar almost moved me to tears.