Cinnamon-raisin bread

Source: Fine Cooking #115 (also at FineCooking.com)

People who have never made bread often find the idea of working with yeast (a living organism) a bit daunting. But it really isn’t and it opens a whole new world in the kitchen.

Yeast comes in 3 formats: active dry yeast, instant, and fresh compressed yeast.

I generally buy active dry yeast. Instant yeast is essentially the same thing, except the yeast granules are smaller. Active dry yeast needs to be proofed before using it in a recipe. This involves rehydrating the yeast in warm water for about 5 minutes to activate it. (The water must not be hot, or it will kill the yeast.) During this time a layer of foam forms on the water, indicating the yeast is active. (Adding a punch of sugar to the water speeds up this process because you’re feeding the yeast.)

Most recipes are adapted to the 1/4 oz packets of yeast that are the most widely available. However, if you’re a serious baker, you’ll save lots of money by purchasing larger bulk jars of active dry yeast.

Because instant yeast has smaller granules, it doesn’t need to be proofed. It can be mixed directly into the dry ingredients of your recipe. The tradeoff is a shorter shelf life. I stick with active dry yeast, because the proofing step confirms the yeast is viable and active.

Compressed yeast is a fresh, perishable form of yeast. For this reason, it’s not readily available on most grocery stores, but some specialty stores do sell it. I have never purchased it due to its perishability. It’s generally used by bakeries that go through large amounts of yeast.

Enough about yeast… let’s get to the good stuff.

This Fine Cooking recipe for a cinnamon-raison swirl loaf is simply amazing. The final product rivals anything you’d find at an artisan bakery. It’s a rich, dense loaf without being too heavy, with the perfect amount of cinnamon and raisons, and a nice, soft crust. It’s absolutely delicious warm from the oven with a generous amount of butter, or lightly toasted just to heat it through.

Luckily the recipe makes 2 loaves, because they don’t last long. You may want to freeze one loaf, just to force yourself not to eat them both right away.

For anybody who has made bread before, the recipe is very simple. (And if you haven’t, it’s still very doable.) The dough comes together in a stand mixer, and then you knead the raisins in by hand. After a rise, you roll out the dough, brush with melted butter and cinnamon sugar, roll, and let rise again in loaf pans before baking. After baking, you brush with more melted butter to keep the crust nice and soft.

This recipe has become a go-to recipe whenever I have overnight guests or and I’m planning a lazy weekend at home. Give it a try… it’s well worth it!

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