At last. Raisin bread made at home that tastes like the bought version. I know, that sounds wrong, and yet...
It may be this way in England - I see raisin bread and buns as English - but in South Africa any reasonable supermarket or Spar (a franchise) bakes its own raisin bread. The loaf is tall and golden and soft inside and sticky on top, and wonderful. And not heavy like a brick. Light, like a pillow.
After fiddling around with my raisin bun recipe, and a small, fortuitous accident with yeast, I have at last found a combination that makes perfect raisin bread. Tall, soft, sticky on top. For my buns I use candied citrus peel, but not here - and I also added powdered ginger to this recipe.
If you'd rather have buns, of course, just break off bun shapes after the second rising and and arrange them on a baking sheet, about an inch apart, or perhaps even in small foil trays, which will contain the rising buns nicely in sets of six or so. This recipe would make about 12 buns.
About measurements and weights. I have a very small scale that gives both grams and ounces and I could not bake without it. Nor could I bake without my nesting teaspoon-and-tablespoon measures. Just saying. Useful.
Grated butter on flour
200 ml milk
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons dry yeast
Warm the milk. Remove the milk from heat and cool till tepid. If it is too hot it will kill the yeast. Add the sugar and yeast and whisk. Allow to prove a little (it bubbles and foams).
12 oz/340 gr white flour
4 oz/113 gr wholewheat flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3.5 oz/100 gr butter
2 oz/50 gr sugar (about 3 tablespoons, if this is getting tricky)
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, whisked
200 gr raisins or currants or a mixture of both
Put flours and the spices in a large bowl. Grate the butter over the flour. Gently push your fingers into the flour, palms up, beneath the butter and draw the butter into the flour, rubbing softly. Rub until the flour resembles very coarse sand. Add the sugar and salt and mix gently.
Make a well in the flour mixture. Pour in the whisked eggs. Into the eggs pour the milk mixture.
With a wooden spoon, stir the liquid into the flour, moving in circles, until all the flour has been drawn in. Abandon the spoon and knead the dough once or twice with your hand to form a cohesive ball. It will be a little damp. Turn out onto a floured board and start to knead seriously, dusting the board with a little more flour if the dough sticks. Knead for ten minutes. There's no skimping, here: Give the dough a quarter turn, fold the back over towards yourself, knead, give it a quarter turn, fold the back over towards you, knead, and repeat. For ten minutes.
...until it becomes smooth and silky and very pliable.
Dough after kneading
Clean your bowl very well, grease with butter and lay the kneaded dough ball in it. Cover with a cloth and allow to rise until doubled in size. This will take 1 - 3 hours, depending on various mysteries of temperature. Check on the rising dough every now and then.
Once it has doubled, punch it back down again - which really means just pushing it back into a smaller shape with your hands - and lay it back on your board. Sprinkle about a quarter of the raisins onto the dough, press them into the surface and then knead it once or twice until the raisins have disappeared.
Raisins being added
Repeat until all the raisins are incorporated. The last addition will cause some of them to pop straight out again out but press them back in or ignore them. Escapees are inevitable. Form the dough into a rough log shape.
Butter a baking pan. Don't use Pyrex. Trust me. I use a 10. 5 inch x 5.25 inch pan. Lower the dough gently into the pan. Cover the pan and allow the dough to rise, doubling in size again. It should reach the top of the pan and fill in the open spaces at the ends.
Heat the oven to 375'F/190'C.
2 tablespoons milk
Whisk egg and milk. Brush the surface of the loaf with the egg wash.
Slide into the hot oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.
Tip the bread from the pan and tap. It should sound hollow. Hollow is good. Immediately, while it is still too hot to hold, brush the surface with this sugar glaze.
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
Don't worry if there are still sugar crystals, they tend to melt on contact. If you are very detail-oriented, heat the water and sugar first and stir to dissolve the sugar, then apply.
Fresh from the oven, near midnight
I've never really been able to get to the third day...