It’s having a renaissance if you haven’t noticed.
You have only to look at the nearly-empty flour shelves in your local grocery store to know that people are baking. Bread flour isn’t the only baking ingredient in short supply; don’t even think about trying to buy yeast. In one week in mid-March of this year yeast sales were up 647% over the same week in 2019.
Michael Kocet, a mental health counselor and professor at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology has a theory. He argues that baking is a form of therapy. It delivers a much needed sense of accomplishment during this time of angst and unknowns, giving us something concrete to create, control and enjoy when we have the finished product. This helps to reduce the anxiety stemming from the unfamiliarity of dealing with a pandemic.
I know that I can certainly testify to the meditative effect of kneading bread on a tough day. I’ve gone through fifty pounds of bread flour during the last five months!
Sourdough baking has become my passion of late, thanks to my perky sourdough starter, Kellyanne. In fact, my Kellyanne is happily bubbling and burping on my kitchen counter as I write this. I bake sourdough bread at least twice a week. (A conceit in the sourdough baking world is to give a name to your starter, by the way.)
Sourdough doesn’t have a lock on my baking, though. There have been all kinds of bread experiments emanating from my pandemic kitchen of late–challah, focaccia, banana breads and this absolutely wonderful Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread.
Here’s the recipe.
- 2 1/4 t. active dry yeast (1 package)
- 1 1/2 C. lukewarm milk
- 1/3 C. granulated sugar
- 1 T. kosher salt
- 3 T. melted butter
- 2 eggs
- 5 t0 6 C. all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup dry sherry (or apple cider)
- 1 1/2 C. raisins
- 4 T. melted butter
- 1/2 C. dark brown sugar
- 1 T. ground cinnamon
- Cinnamon sugar for dusting (optional)
- To prepare the dough, dissolve yeast in 1/4 C. of lukewarm milk in the bowl of your stand mixer. Let it sit for a few minutes until the mixture begins to foam. Stir in the remaining warm milk, sugar, butter, salt, and eggs. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer, add flour and mix for about 2 minutes. Then, change to the dough hook attachment and knead until you have a stiff and slightly tacky dough. This will take about 10 minutes. If necessary to get the right texture, you can add a bit more flour.
- Grease a large bowl with butter and put the dough into the bowl. Immediately, flip the dough in the bowl so that both sides of the dough are greased. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside to rise. You want the dough to double. This will take between 1 1/2 and 2 hours. Butter two 9 inch by 5 inch loaf pans.
- While the dough is rising, make the filling. Put the sherry in a small pan and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature and simmer the sherry until it has reduced by half. Remove from the heat and stir in the raisins. Cover and let the raisins absorb the sherry. If, after a while, your raisins aren't "plumping" sufficiently, add a bit of hot water to the pan. Set aside.
- Once your dough has doubled in size, remove it from the bowl. Find a flat surface in your kitchen, dust it with flour and knead the dough for about 3 minutes. Return the dough to the greased bowl. Let it rise again. This time, your rise should be for about 30 minutes.
- Remove the dough from the bowl and put it back on the lightly-floured counter. Use the palm of your hand to press the dough down to expel the air in the dough. Divide the dough into two equal parts. Roll one of the halves of the dough into a 16 by 8 inch rectangle. Brush the top of the dough with some butter. Drain the raisins and mix with brown sugar and cinnamon. Scatter half of the raisin mixture and its juices onto the rectangle of dough being careful to spread the raisins evenly across all parts of the rectangle. Starting with the short side of the dough rectangle, roll the dough into a tight 8-inch log. Tuck the ends of the log under the log to seal your loaf. Place your dough roll into a buttered loaf pan seam side down. Brush the top of the roll with butter and dust the top of the loaf with cinnamon sugar.
- Repeat with the other half of the dough.
- Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for about an hour. You want the dough to rise until it is just above the edges of the pans.
- Bake the loaves in a preheated 400 degree F. oven for about 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, lower the oven heat to 350 degrees F. and bake for an additional 30 to 40 minutes or until the internal temperature of the bread at 200 degrees. The top of the loaves should be a rich golden brown and the bottom of the loaf, when tapped, should sound hollow.