Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Trying Out New Bread Recipes

I have 4 guys coming to visit in a few days, ostensibly for a fishing trip. One is our friend Rich, and the other 3 are his buddies. My husband doesn't fish, doesn't eat fish, so he will not be a part of their excursions. But having 4 extra men in the house, I figure I should have some things made ahead, trying to make my life a little easier. Each time Rich visits, I end up standing in the kitchen all day long, either trying out a new recipe (like during pheasant hunting season), or putting together a particular meal my husband believes Rich absolutely must try. I understand that this is kudos to my cooking skills, that he wants his best friend to try these various meals. Still, I end up so exhausted some days, making a meal that I would have ordinarily planned weeks ahead and have prepared half the items  many days in advance. My husband has no concept of what he asks me to do, because he doesn't cook except for making himself an egg, or a salad. Be that as it may, I am trying to be somewhat prepared for 4 extra men about the house.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread, braided

I decided to make some various loaves of different types of bread. Some of the guys may be on a diet, or some may be doing a low carb diet - I have no idea. But in my general knowledge of men, they love bread. One of the breads I tried out was Cinnamon Raisin Bread. I read a recipe in a book I have, but true to form, I cannot ever seem to follow a recipe. I have a pathological need to experiment, change things, even if I have never tried the recipe. Sometimes it's just because I prefer a different ingredient; sometimes because I don't care for the way a recipe is made or put together. In this case, there were a few changes I made to the basic recipe, but not changing the overall amount. I have not had good results with this particular book in the past, either, so I should just scrap that book, but I decided to try again. The book said the recipe made 2 loaves. Yikes.

Back in the 1970s there was a British sitcom called "Good Neighbors". My husband and I both love that sitcom, and have all the episodes. We've probably watched them all more than 20 times. One, called "The Thing in the Cellar", ended with Barbara having experimented making bread in her wood burning oven and showing her husband Tom the result: a hugely over-sized loaf soaring far above the edges of the pan. She deadpanned, "I think I used too much mixture." Having been making bread since long before those shows became a regular part of my life, I found this exceedingly funny. After making two loaves of Cinnamon Raisin Bread out of that first recipe, I rather felt the same way. The loaves were far too large for the pans, and took over an hour to bake. They were really tasty; that was not a problem. I resolved to try again.

Double-rolled loaf of Cinnamon Raisin Bread
The second time around I did many more things differently. The original recipe called for making a "sponge", but the amounts of flour used made such a dry sponge it hardly worked as such. I changed the amounts of flour and it worked beautifully. The first time, I had those huge loaves split and leak the cinnamon, sugar, butter mixture all over the oven, smoking up the kitchen. I made the same amount of cinnamon, sugar, butter mixture the second time; silly me. I had planned to make less, after having the problem of the mess in the oven. However, I just could not bring myself to skimp on the filling. It is the best part, after all! I should have listened to myself the first time. Oh well. I got the dough perfect; rich and moist. The filling is amazingly good; just need to use less of it. Here is what I did:

Sponge just mixed; after 45 minute rising

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

Makes 3 loaves

1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/3 cup honey
2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon + 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

Heat the milk, water and honey to 105 - 115 degrees (I did this in short bursts in the microwave - if it gets too hot, allow it to cool to that temperature). Pour this mixture into a large bowl, or the bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer, such as a Kitchen Aid. Whisk in the flour and instant yeast. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap and set aside for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture has grown markedly and is bubbling.

Dough just finished; after rising 2 hours
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
3 eggs
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 to 3 1/2 cups more bread flour

If mixing by hand, use a wooden spoon to beat the melted butter and the eggs into the sponge. Add in 1 cup of the bread flour and the salt and mix thoroughly. If using a mixer, set the bowl with the paddle attachment and beat in these ingredients. Begin adding more of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Once the dough is too stiff for the spoon or paddle attachment, switch to the dough hook, or turn out to knead in more flour by hand. The dough should end up still quite sticky. Do not add more flour than needed to make the dough come together. Knead for about 5 minutes. If by hand, now grease a bowl and set the dough in the bowl, turning once to grease all sides. With the mixer, I just remove the dough hook and leave the bread right in the mixer bowl for its rising time. Set the bowl in a warm place for the bread to rise until doubled; 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Cinnamon Filling

1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons good quality cinnamon

Beat these three ingredients together until very light and creamy; set aside.

I wanted to try two different ideas on forming the loaves. One idea was to make long thin strands of dough, rolled with the cinnamon filling, and then making them into a braid, as I do often with my Mom's bread recipe. My second idea was to divide the dough for a loaf into 2 sections. Roll one out and smear with the cinnamon filling and top with raisins. Roll out the second portion, set it atop the first, right over the cinnamon filling and raisins, then smear this piece with more cinnamon filling and more raisins. Then, roll the two together into a loaf. It is more time consuming to make the braided loaves, but I had far less trouble with the braided loaf; a) leaking into the oven and b) baking in a timely fashion. Here are the steps for making a braid:

First, take a third of the dough. Further divide this third into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long and narrow rectangle, approximately 5 x 15 inches. Divide the Cinnamon Filling into three portions. Divide one of the portions equally among the three rectangles; spread the filling to within 1/2 inch of the edges of the rectangle. Sprinkle with a total of 1/2 cup of raisins divided between the three rectangles. Begin rolling up each rectangle along the longest edge, making a thin rope. Pinch the seam together all along the length. Repeat with all three rectangles. If desired, pecans may also be strewn over the cinnamon filling, along with the raisins.
Gently move the ends of the three ropes so they are together, pinching ends together. Separate the three legs and begin to gently lift one leg over, exaggeratedly creating a wide braid. When finished braiding, pinch the final ends together. Gently lift into a greased 9 x 5 x 2 1/2-inch loaf pan.

If you want smooth loaves, you may just take one third of the total dough and roll to a long rectangle no wider than the length of the loaf pan. Spread 1/3 of the Cinnamon Filling over the rectangle, sprinkle on 1/2 cup of raisins, roll the rectangle from a narrow end, pinch edges to seal and gently pinch ends, turning under before setting into a greased  loaf pan. 

My second bright idea with the loaf was to double up the goodness, as it were, making two layers of dough, one atop the other:
Using 1/3 of the total dough, further divide this third into two equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a rectangle no wider than the loaf pan is long. Use a third of the total Cinnamon Filling, dividing this third into two portions. Spread the filling to within 1/2 inch of the edges of the first rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of raisins. Set the second rectangle on top of the first one. Spread the rest of the portion of Cinnamon Filling onto this second rectangle. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup raisins. Begin to roll the two layers together into one loaf. Pinch the edges to seal, then gently tuck the ends under slightly, pinching them to seal. Set the loaf into a greased loaf pan as above. Repeat whichever one of these methods you desire for the other third of the dough. Set the loaves to rise in a warm place until the loaves show about an inch above the rims of the pan, about 50 minutes to 1 1/2 hours. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (325 on Convection). If you want the tops of the loaves to be glossy brown, brush gently with one egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon of water. Be careful not to let the egg run down inside the edges of the pan or it could glue the sides of the loaf to the pan and prevent rising. Set the loaves to bake for 45 to 55 minutes.The internal temperature should be about 204 degree before the loaves are done.

Remove the loaves to wire racks to cool completely. The loaves may be frozen until needed: large zip top bags work wonderfully for this purpose.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.