Friday, January 27, 2012

Swirly Cinnamon Raisin Bread

I've recently become obsessed with creating an awesome but easy cinnamon-raisin bread.  The idea took hold during a conversation with a friend who suggested that Cook's Illustrated No-Knead Bread would work as a cinnamon-raisin loaf.  I was struck by that though, and since it is the easiest bread by far, I made a couple of loaves the next day.  The results were solid, but not quite what I had in mind.  Because the CINKB is both fat-free and slow-fermenting bread that develops a lot of gluten, it resulted in a tougher loaf than what I was looking for.  Still looking for a lighter, low-fat bread (as opposed to a buttery, brioche-based cinnamon-raisin bread, which would be very tender and delicious, but too rich for my purposes), I decided instead to try a classic white sandwich bread.   These breads are often milk-based, and contain either butter or oil, but are still fairly light.  The first one I tried was good, but it didn't produce as big a loaf as I imagined, and the weight of the raisins in the dough interfered with the rising and left a big empty pocket of air inside.  For take 3 I turned to the Cook's Illustrated companion, Baking Illustrated, and tried their American Sandwich Bread.  In addition to producing a nice big loaf, it's a relatively quick recipe to execute--just over 2 hours from start to finish.  It took a couple of iterations and adjustments, but I've finally achieved what I consider a delicious but not-too-indulgent-for-everyday-breakfast bread.  For ample cinnamon flavor I mix  ground cinnamon directly into the dough and roll cinnamon sugar into the loaf before it goes in the pan, producing an attractive sweet and spicy swirl.  A healthy dose of plumped raisins are kneaded directly into the dough so they're evenly incorporated, ensuring that with every bite you're rewarded with soft, sweet, raisin-y goodness.  My favorite way to enjoy this bread is simply toasted with a light smear of butter and a steamy cup of Earl Gray Tea. 

Every Day Cinnamon Raisin Bread (Loosely adapted from Baking Illustrated) 
Makes one 9-inch loaf

* 3¾ cups (18¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
* 1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
* 1 Tablespoon + 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, divided
* 1 cup warm milk--whole is recommended, but I use 1%
* ⅓ cup warm water
* 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
* 3 tablespoons honey
* 1 envelope (or 2¼ teaspoons) instant yeast
* 1 packed cup (5 ½ ounces) raisins
* 5 packed Tablespoons of brown sugar--light or dark is fine

1. Adjust your oven racks to the two lowest positions and prepare your oven for proofing by heating it to 200 degrees F. Once the oven temperature reaches 200 degrees F, turn it off.  Place a shallow baking pan on the bottom rack and set a few cups of water to boil.

2. Plump your raisins by covering them with very hot water, or cover with water and microwave for two minutes.  Set aside for 10 minutes.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine 3½ cups (17 ½ ounces) of the flour, the salt and 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon.  In a microwave safe measuring cup (at least 2 cup capacity), mix the milk, water and butter, and heat until the butter is melted and the liquid is warm (should be about 110 degrees.  If you let it get too hot--and I do this sometimes--allow to cool for a few minutes).  Add the honey and yeast and whisk together.

4. Turn the machine to low and slowly add the liquid/yeast mixture. When the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and satiny, about 5 minutes.  If the dough begins to creep up the dough hook, stop the mixer and push it down.  If the dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl, add some flour, a tablespoon at a time (up to 4 Tablespoons) until it no longer sticks.  Once your dough has kneaded for 5 minutes, drain your raisins and add them to the mixer.  Knead for an additional 1 to 2 minutes, until the raisins are incorporated.  If they're being stubborn you can also work them in by hand.  Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; knead to form a smooth, round ball (and finish incorporating the raisins), about 15 seconds.

5. Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl and turn it around the bowl to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the warmed oven.  At this time take your boiling water and pour it into the pan on the bottom rack to create a nice steamy environment.  Let the dough rise until it doubles in size, 40 to 50 minutes.  

6. In a small bowl, combine the 2 teaspoons cinnamon and the brown sugar and set aside.  Lightly oil a 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Dust your counter with a bit of flour and turn the dough out onto it.  Gently press the dough into a rectangle 9 inches across and about twice that in length.  Cover the surface with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.  Start rolling the dough from a 9-inch side.  When you get to the end, pinch the seam closed.  Place the dough in the greased pan, seam side down, and cover it again with plastic wrap. 

Put the loaf back in the oven until it nearly doubles again in size, 20 to 30 minutes.

7.  Remove the rising bread from the oven and heat it to 350 degrees F.  With the pan of hot water still in the oven, bake the loaf for 40 to 50 minutes.  If you have a digital thermometer, the bread's internal temperature will be 200 degrees F when it's done.  Turn the bread out onto a cooling rack and cool fully before slicing.  This bread will keep for several days in a ziplock bag at room temperature. 


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