Cinnamon Pecan Raisin Swirl Bread
Golden rays and the light blue glow of a waking morning sky is but a distant thought as a proud, territorial rooster begins to crow. The bird’s familiar call rings out over open land beckoning cows, pigs, goats, horses, hens and families to end their slumber. Dirty, time-scarred hands belonging to a decades-old farmer manipulate piles of hay, mend broken fences, and drag feed from one pen to the next. Inside, the weathered face of farmer’s partner shows a determined smile; softer hands clear the dirty plates and remains from a hearty breakfast.
A distant sun begins to scrape the dew-laden grassy land drawing long, dramatic shadows across the terrain. A yellow glow hugs lone trees and big, worn down barn houses. The chug of a marauding tractor rumbles in the distance as freshly churned butter, home-milled flours, and milk from a favorite cow is collected. Delicate experienced hands toss and knead familiar ingredients together on a scratched and chipped cutting board made years earlier by the very same hands. A compact ball of sweet dough is dropped in to a dented, clanky old bowl and covered with a food-stained rustic towel; the bowl is set near a warm window and forgotten as chores are tended to.
Hours later as city folk begin to wake for their tedious jobs, with the sun traveling far from the horizon, a puffy, inflated mound of dough is punched down and tossed and turned in on itself. Set back by the warm window to work away creating delicious layers of flavor, soft hands begin preparing the next meal. A comfortable, hearty lunch is prepared for a busy working couple as a small reward for their hard work. Dirt covered hands join soft flour dusted hands at a table as old and scarred as both. Tired eyes and comfortable souls enjoy a homegrown, homemade meal in a years-perfected silence. Smiles and flirty glances peak from behind wrinkles. As quick as the two come together they are both off to their work separated by acres and acres once again.
A waiting, growing, maturing sweet dough is finally shaped in a loaf pan, set to wait again on a lumbering, warming oven. Soon in the hot oven it grows into its beautiful, soft golden brown crust. It is carefully removed and a pad of soft butter is left to melt over the hot loaf turning the drab crust into a shiny, enticing envelope hiding a soft, perfect white crumb. A dull, serrated knife tears and slips into the bread creating crude slices. A few are tucked away for tomorrow and a few are laid delicately on a platter for dinner. Amongst a sea of dishes, the bread is reached for first by barely clean, hungry hands, hours of work devoured in a matter of seconds.
Baking bread transports me to simpler times when life was anything but simple. The work, while more concerted than a typical baked good, is well worth the effort and time spent waiting, smelling, dreaming of homemade bread. This is my go-to white bread loaf with a delicious surprise waiting inside. Perfect with breakfast, or even as bread for a sandwich, this delicious bread is sweet, nutty and wonderfully cinnamony.
Bread: Making bread from scratch may seem scary but it is actually quite simple. Your best friend in baking bread is patience. Dough needs time to not only build structure but to develop flavor. Don’t rush any of the rising times. I’ve include a few very easy suggestions that if followed should yield you an excellent loaf of bread.
Sponge Bread: This bread has an extra step at the beginning which calls for preparing a sponge. A sponge is all of the dough’s liquid ingredients and most of the dough’s yeast mixed with a portion of the dough’s dry ingredients. The sponge is left to rise before being mixed with the rest of the dough. This is done for flavor as it gives the yeast a chance to work uninterrupted from other ingredients. The longer a sponge is left to rise, the stronger the flavor will be. You can let a sponge rise anywhere from 1 hour to 24 hours.
Ingredients: Honey helps gives bread a darker crust during baking and adds sweetness. Milk needs to be scaled to kill an enzyme which if left active can impede yeast production and result in a sticky, weak dough – not a good thing. Active dry yeast has to be dissolved in warm liquid before mixing; the liquid needs to be between 105 and 115 – use a thermometer, don’t guess. Bread flour gives a bread more structure though you can substitute all purpose flour with no problem.
Tips/Tricks: Yeast is finicky – too cold and it wont work, too hot and it dies. It rises best around 80°F. If your house is cold – like mine which is kept around 68 – then preheat your oven for 1 minute at 400°F. Turn the oven off and place the dough in the oven to rise. It should feel just barely warm, not hot in there.
If your dough has not fully doubled in volume after the allotted time, give it more time – this simply means your dough or the kitchen is too cool. If you dough hasn’t risen at all after a couple hours, then the yeast is dead and you will need to start over.
While it is tempting to eat bread fresh out of the oven, bread requires a cooling period to finish building its structure. Yeah who am I kidding. I cheat all the time and take a slice or two as soon as it comes out.
Cinnamon Pecan Raisin Swirl Bread
This recipe is adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum and her excellent book, The Bread Bible. You will need a lightly buttered 9 inch by 4 inch loaf pan for this recipe.
I’ve broken the recipe into three basic parts (sponge, dough and swirl) so take care to notice what ingredients are added when. This dough requires about five to six hours from start to finish so be sure to allot enough time.
6 ounces bread flour
9 ounces whole milk
1 ounce honey
1/4 ounce (1 teaspoon) Active Dry Yeast
5 ounces bread flour
1/8 ounce (1/2 teaspoon) Active Dry Yeast
2 ounces butter, very soft
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 ounces raisins
2 ounces pecans, chopped
Ingredients (Spice Sugar Swirl)
2 ounces sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 egg, lightly beaten
1. Make the Sponge. Scald the milk and remove from the heat. Let the milk cool until it reaches 115°F. Pour the milk into a large bowl and dissolve the yeast in the milk. Add the honey and flour and mix with a whisk for a couple minutes until a thick batter comes together.
2. Let the Sponge Rise – First Rise. Cover the bowl and let the sponge rise for 1 hour. You can let it rise for up to 24 hours, but if you do it longer than a couple hours put the mixture in the fridge.
3. Make the Dough. Add the remaining bread flour, remaining yeast and the butter. Knead until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Add the salt and knead for 7 to 10 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth. Add the raisins and pecans and knead for another minute.
4. Let the Dough Rise – Second Rise. Butter a glass or metal bowl and put the dough in the bowl. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
5. Let the Dough Rise – Third Rise. Punch the dough down – flatten it to remove most of the air - and knead it lightly for 30 seconds with your hands. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover and let it rise 1 hour in the fridge.
6. Add the Swirl. Mix together the sugar, nutmeg and cinnamon in a bowl. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough out until it is about 1/2 inch thick and about 7 inches wide by 12 inches long. Brush some of the egg mixture on the top of the dough leaving 1/2 inch around the edges untouched. Add the sugar spice mixture on top of brushed egg mixture, again leaving 1/2 inch untouched around the outside.
7. Shape the Dough. Starting with the short end, roll the dough tightly like you would cinnamon rolls or a jelly roll. As you roll brush the dough with the egg mixture. Once you have rolled the dough pinch all of the the edges together. Tuck the outside edges in and down so the rolled dough will fit in the prepared loaf pan.
8. Let the Dough Rise – Final Rise. Place the roll in the buttered pan. Let the dough rise in the pan for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until just under doubled in volume (it should stick 1 1/2 inches above the top of the pan). Preheat the oven to 350°F at least 45 minutes before baking, with the oven rack in the very bottom position.
9. Bake the Bread. Bake the dough for 50 minutes in the preheated oven until the crust is golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Turn the pan once 25 minutes into baking, otherwise don’t open the oven door at all.
10. Cool the Bread. Brush a little melted butter over the top of the bread and let it cool in the pan for about an hour before serving.