I was recently in Chicago visiting my family. I saw a bag of cinnamon raisin bread on their counter and had a piece for breakfast one day. To my surprise, it was the best cinnamon raisin bread I ever had. When I asked where it came from, you can imagine my surprise when I was told, “Walmart”! Unfortunately, when I returned home and went to my Walmart, no such cinnamon raisin bread was to be found that even came close to the one I had.
So my task was clear. Make a better cinnamon raisin bread – and I took this very seriously. There is nothing I like more than working with yeast breads. There is something magical in combining ingredients and watching them grow. Several years ago I wanted to come up with my quintessential sweet yeast bread. I used honey for sweetness and instant mashed potatoes to keep it soft for days. Vanilla is used to enhance the flavor and the basic dough is used in more than a dozen sweet yeast bread and roll recipes, some familiar and some new.
I knew right away what the base bread would be for this Cinnamon Raisin Bread. I tried the traditional cinnamon sugar bread route with granulated sugar and cinnamon enclosed in yeast bread but I didn’t think it offered enough of the sought after taste. Brown sugar which has so much more flavor than granulated was the answer and lots of cinnamon. The other thing I did was fill two rolls of dough and twist them together to swirl the flavor throughout the bread. If you prefer the jelly roll style, that’s fine also.
This Cinnamon Raisin Bread needs no sweet icing or pats of butter to enhance it. The plus is that is truly will last for several days on your counter if well wrapped. It also freezes beautifully.
So, if you are a cinnamon raisin bread fanatic, or not, this is the bread for you!
Basic Sweet Yeast Dough
1 cup milk
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces (60 grams or 2 ounces)
¼ cup honey
¼ cup potato flakes (14 grams or ½ ounce)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 package active dry yeast (2 ¼ teaspoons, 7 grams or ¼ ounce)
¼ cup water (90 to 100 degrees)
3 cups bread flour (454 grams or 1 pound)
Dissolve the yeast in the water and add it to the liquid in the mixing bowl.Fit the mixer with a dough hook. Add the flour and salt all at once and mix on medium until it forms a dough; continue mixing to knead the dough for 3 more minutes. The dough will clean the side of bowl.The dough will be very soft and may more like a batter; this is as it should be. Do not add additional flour. Spray a bowl at least twice the size of the yeast dough with cooking spray. Shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl and spray the top lightly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, mark the time on it and let rise for 1 ½ to 2 hours in a wam place or until doubled in bulk.
Punch the dough down and reshape into a ball. At this point the dough can be used immediately or it can be punched down and refrigerated up to 2 days before using. The dough will probably rise again in the refrigerator; punch down, cover the surface tightly and directly with film. Then cover the bowl itself with film. Use when cold.
Food Processor Version – A slight change in the way the dough is put together gets the job done in a matter of minutes. All of the ingredients remain the same. However, the butter should stay very cold and be cut into about 8 pieces. Keep in the refrigerator until needed. Continue as in above recipe omitting the butter in the hot milk but keeping everything else the same. Cool the mixture completely. Add the egg and dissolved yeast.
Place the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse 3 or 4 times to mix. Place the cold butter in a circle over the flour and process until it is so finely cut in it is indistinguishable. With the machine running, pour the liquid mixture down the feed tube; process until mixed. Process for 1 minute to knead. Remove the dough and knead 10 to 15 times by hand to smooth out. Place in a sprayed bowl and continue as directed.
Cinnamon Raisin Bread ¾ cup packed brown sugar (150 grams)
2 tablespoons cinnamon
¾ cup raisins
3 tablespoons butter, melted (45 grams or 1 ½ ounces)
1 recipe Basic Sweet Yeast Bread, above
2 teaspoon butter, melted, optional
Spray a 9x5 loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment. Spray the parchment. Set aside.
Divide the dough in half (about 445 grams so just short of a pound each). Roll one piece into a 11x14 inch rectangle. Brush with half the butter and spread half the sugar/cinnamon and sprinkle with half the raisins. Roll tightly from the short end. Pinch the edges together and also the ends. Place in the refrigerator while you repeat this with the rest of the ingredients.
Place the two rolls next to each other and pinch the top edges together. Twist the two rolls together and pinch the ends together. Place in the pan. Flatten the roll to fill out the pan. Cover with a towel
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes until the top is deeply brown and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped. You can also use a thermometer to make sure it is 180 degrees inside. Tent the top lightly if it is browning too much.
Brush the top with the 2 teaspoons of butter if desired. Cool in the pan for about 30 minutes, release and cool on a rack completely.