Surely you’ve been there before. You’ve innocently made out a grocery list and have pledged to stick to your guns and only buy what you’ve listed there on that saddening scrap of notebook paper. Suddenly, you turn down an aisle and you’re nearly blown over by an irresistible smell. What is that?! You’re down the bread aisle… all those pre-packaged breads. Where’s that intoxicating smell coming from?
Just when you think you’re losing your mind, you see the culprit: cinnamon-raisin bread. What tragedy! It’s not on your list. You turn your head, but when you look back, it has somehow migrated into your shopping cart on its own — call security!
It’s too late. The sirens have sung and you are sunk. Everything is smooth sailing from there. You pay for the smallish loaf and make your way homeward. At first you kid yourself by promising to wait until breakfast, tomorrow, to have a slice as part of a nutritious, balanced breakfast. Yet, the moment your key turns in the door, your heart has already eaten the first slice. How divine! In fact, everything about this scenario has been utterly pleasurable… until that first disappointing taste.
Over-sugared, over-priced, under-flavored, undersized… this is what most store-bought cinnamon-raisin bread amounts to and it’s everything that cinnamon-raisin bread shouldn’t be. How could such a sensational idea go so wrong? To make a long, complicated story shorter: raisins and natural, fruity sweetness have been replaced with sugar and corn syrup — and most of the whole grains have been replaced with fillers and additives.
Today’s recipe is my answer to those tempting but disappointing store-bought loaves. To get to the heart of what cinnamon-raisin bread should be, I went back to the basics of why we normally like it: raisins!
Method to the Madness
There are some cinnamon-raisin breads which are really nothing more than a cinnamon roll disguised as a loaf of bread — perhaps with the addition of a negligible amount of raisins thrown in for name’s sake. Far be it from me to say disparaging things about cinnamon rolls, but there’s a time and place for everything! Cinnamon rolls are for those carefree mornings when you’ll be hopefully doing enough strenuous exercise to work off all those calories from the thick cinnamon-sugar layer inside those babies. No, my cinnamon-raisin bread needed to be built on the natural sweetness of the raisins themselves rather than a decadent, sugary swirl.
Many recipes for raisin bread have you plump the raisins in boiling water, but — for some reason — they then have you throw the soaking water away. As it turns out, the soaking water is chock full of sweet, raisiny goodness that you might as well put into your bread. More sweetness from the raisins, of course, means you can use less added sugar in the recipe and carries the added bonus of a deeper raisin flavor.
After trial and error, I noticed I missed that little kick of extra something inside the loaf — something reminiscent of those cinnamon roll-type loaves. That’s when I decided to do a healthy and more flavorful spin on that theme. I flattened out the dough, drizzled on a bit of honey (which always brings out the fruity sweetness of things rather than the flatness of granulated sugar) and sprinkled on a bit more cinnamon to send things over the top.
A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Makes 1 loaf (about 14 slices)
2/3 cup raisins
2 cups bread flour – divided
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sucanat (or brown sugar)
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon – divided
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 package dry yeast – (about 2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons low-fat milk
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large eggs – lightly beaten
1 tablespoon honey
Place raisins in a small bowl; add enough boiling water to cover the raisins about a half inch. Let the raisins soak for 15-30 minutes; drain raisins well, reserving 1/2 cup of the soaking water.
Combine 1 1/2 cups of the bread flour, the whole wheat flour, sucanat, 3 teaspoons of the cinnamon, salt, and yeast in a large bowl.
Combine reserved raisin water, milk and butter in a small, heavy saucepan. Heat over low heat until mixture reaches 100°-110°; remove from heat, continuing to stir until butter melts.
Add warm milk mixture to flour mixture; stirring a few strokes. Add eggs and stir until a soft dough forms; stir in the plumped raisins. Leaving dough in the bowl, place in a warm location and let rest for 10-12 minutes. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic (about 8 minutes); add enough of the remaining bread flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, to prevent dough from sticking to hands (dough will still feel slightly tacky even when enough flour is added; don’t add too much).
Place dough in a large bowl coated with oil or cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let rise in a warm location, 1 hour or until doubled in size. (Gently press two fingers into dough. If indentation remains, dough has risen enough.) Punch dough down; cover and let rest 5 minutes.
On a lightly floured surface, gently roll or press dough into a 14 x 7-inch rectangle. Drizzle honey evenly over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border on all sides. Sprinkle remaining teaspoon of cinnamon over honey. Beginning with a short side, roll the dough up jelly-roll style. While rolling, stretch the dough slightly into the roll and press gently to eliminate air pockets; pinch seam and ends to seal loaf. Place loaf, seam side down, in a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Cover lightly with a damp kitchen towel; let rise in a warm location for 30-45 minutes or until doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 450-degrees. Place loaf in the oven and immediately spritz the sides of the oven with water to create steam. Lower the oven to 350 degrees and continue to spritz the sides of the oven with water ever few minutes for the first 10 minutes. Bake for a total of 25-30 minutes or until loaf is browned on bottom and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from pan; cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.
I think the hardest part about this recipe is waiting until the loaf completely cools before slicing into it. In truth, I don’t think I’ve ever managed to do that! I usually slice a thin piece while the bread’s still pretty warm to the touch. The longer you allow it to cool before slicing, however, the more steamy moisture will remain inside the loaf… so fight the good fight!
The honey-cinnamon layer that’s rolled into the loaf does wonders for the overall flavor — so much that you probably won’t mind that it doesn’t have the striking visual effect of that sugary swirl you normally see.
One of our favorite ways to enjoy this bread is lightly toasted with a thin smearing of peanut butter… or nutella. For an extra special breakfast treat, you could use it to make french toast!
Need some pointers about yeast breads and kneading? Practice is the biggest part, but try this post for some helpful how-to.