Thursday, September 22, 2011

Raisin Bread

When it comes right down to it, while I love bread, I don't really eat that much of it. A good sandwhich on thick soft bread can be great, but when I make bread I find that it is never light and fluffy like the stuff that you buy; while it is nice enough and fine for sandwhiches I generally prefer to buy bread. I save bread-making for things that are a bit more special, not just plain every-day bread. Of course, generally my something-special is actually something-sweet, and I dont' really see much point fighting it so why not just focus on making sweet breads? I've always loved spicy fruit breads, like hot-cross buns and fruit toast. I have tried and had success with hot-cross buns, and for ages I have had this recipe for raisin bread, so I figured it was finally time to try it. Only the first time a tried it a couple of weeks ago it was just about ready to go in the oven when a friend called and suggested the cinema. So off I went, hoping that the oven timer would do it's job and turn the oven off. But what would you know, I was not using the bloody thing correctly! It wasn't just me either, my housemate got muddled up too, it was just not obvious whether it was being set to hours or minutes! Luckily I have had worse food disasters. While the bread was terribly hard on the outside after being baked for 2 hours, the inside was OK and still made good toast.

Now though, on the second attempt, I have decided that this is a perfect fruit-bread recipe, it really is just like what we used to buy when I was a kid. It has to be toasted though, that is the best part. You throw it in the toaster and then spread it with a bit of butter or marg and it soaks into the bread and it is so yummy. Plus it is not really bad for you, it is just bread, hardly any sugar, just lots of raisins. It was easy to make too. Unfortunately I can't for the life of me remember where the recipe came from, and I think it was another blog so that's really terrible that I am just stealing it like that. But in my defence, I have changed the recipe ever so slightly, so it is sort of mine now?

Raisin Bread

1 cup (250 mL) warm water
2 teaspoons dried yeast/10 grams fresh yeast (I used fresh but the recipe originally called for dry)
1/4 cup (55 grams) brown sugar
2 cups (300 grams) strong white flour
1/2 cup (about 80 grams) rolled oats
2 500mg vitamin C tablets
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (170 grams) raisins

* The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups white flour, 1 cup brown flour, but I had no brown flour so decided to throw oats in, to make up for the otherwise lack of whole-grain. It also called for 2 teaspoons of bread improver and I read that vitamin C is a bread improver. I'm not sure if it is even necessary but it did not harm, so if you have some sort of improver why not throw it in?

For bread, unlike other baking that I do, I always weigh the ingredients instead of trusting to my measuring cups. Which is why I have all the weights in accurately for once instead of just guessing them. As always with bread you begin by making sure that the yeast is active, by placing it in a small bowl together with the warm water and sugar. Only I read that tap water is not neccesarily the best thing for yeast, especially hard water such as what we have here in Galway. So I always boil the kettle and then let the water cool to body temperature and use that. After a few minutes you will know that your yeast is active because you will get frothy bits on the surface of the liquid, and this is called sponging I think.

While the yeast and liquid are sitting for a few minutes, weigh out all your dry ingredients (not including the raisins) and mix them together in a big bowl. Slowly add the liquid to this and mix it gently until it is all incorporated. At this point you may find that the dough is not at all dough yet, but a sticky mixture. That's OK though, I think the recipe just had not quite enough flour in it. Simply coat your clean bench with lots of flour, tip the mixture out, coat your hands in even more flour and begin kneading. The first time around I found that I needed about two good handfuls of flour to get a nice consistency to the dough, but the second time it just needed a little sprinkling every now and then when the dough got too sticky. It should be a little sticky, sort of tacky, but able to be handled without leaving bits of mixture all over your fingers.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes and then return to the mixing bowl and cover. Let it rise until it is double in size, which might take an hour or might take two. Here in Galway the weather is getting cold pretty fast, and my bread is taking much longer to rise than it used to. Eventually though, the bread will have risen enough and it is then time to turn it back out onto the bench and knead it down. It is at this point that you attempt to knead the fruit into the dough and you will find that it is not so easy - this is a very resistant bread dough! Eventually though the fruit will be distributed through the bread. You really should try to keep the second kneading to less than 5 minutes because too much and your bread will be tough.

Take a loaf tin, about 10 cm by 20 cm, and grease it well.  Shape your dough into a log and stuff it into the tin, and let it rise again for 30 minutes or so. While it is rising turn the oven on to 220 degrees celsius.

If you want a nice soft crust, brush a bit of milk over the top of the dough, or even whisk together an egg yolk with some milk and brush that over. Bake for 10 minutes in the hot oven and then reduce the temperature to 180 degrees and bake until it is cooked through and a nice toasted-brown colour on the outside, about 30 minutes. Bread is always best if you leave it to sit for awhile, it will cook a little more in the middle. Fruit bread is delicious toasted!

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