Thursday, December 21, 2006

My Mother's Best Braided Raisin Bread

As a child, I would watch my mother make this bread every year during Christmas and Easter. Studded with dark raisins, the crust crackling with sugar, we kids couldn't get enough of it.

I can still remember her pulling the braided loaf out of the oven, the cinnamon-y, yeasty smell making my mouth water. Having to wait until it cooled was agony. Having to wait even longer because company was coming was excruciating.

I have her recipe, written in the way only a person who could make this without looking at the recipe would write it: In code. That is to say, many steps are not written down.

It's a good thing that I watched her carefully as she made this or I wouldn't have a clue how to proceed. I have added the missing steps for you.

I haven't made this bread in a very long time, but every year before Christmas, filled with good intentions, I take out the recipe card then some weeks later put it back, bread unmade. My sisters are the bakers in the family.

This year I was determined and am proud to say that as I type this, the braided loaf is achieving its second rise and will be baked, cut and buttered before this is posted.


As both cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg are used in this bread, making it especially nice for the holidays, this is my second offering to Kalyn's Holiday Cooking with Herbs, which includes spices, plants and veggies as well as herbs. Kalyn will post a round-up of all the entries in this special version of Weekend Herb Blogging on December 23rd and you won't want to miss it.

Then there's the whole low carb thing. Bread is my downfall. I cannot, will not, pass up a few slices of good artisan bread when it comes my way. And that includes walking by the Brio display shelves in my favorite grocery store. Those loaves somehow always manage to jump into my cart. What I do to combat this indulgence is to buy whole wheat, whole grain breads, which have more fiber and more protein, giving a better balance to a low carb lifestyle.

To that end, the one major thing I changed in my mother's raisin bread recipe was to use all white whole wheat flour from King Arthur. I got a bit denser loaf as a result, but it had a fine crumb and made fabulous toast.

Skip's Best Raisin Bread
Ingredients:
1 cup milk, scalded and cooled slightly
2 packages dry yeast
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 cups flour (I used white whole wheat, she used all purpose)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated is best
1 1/2 cups raisins (I used golden and only 2/3 cup)
2 tablespoons light oil (she specified melted shortening)
1 egg white, beaten
2 tablespoons sugar

Preparation:
Place the yeast in a small bowl and add the water, stirring until dissolved.
Combine scalded milk, brown sugar, salt and butter then add the yeast and beaten egg.
Sift the flour, cinnamon and nutmeg and add to the liquid ingredients along with the raisins.
Stir well with a wooden spoon (I used my stand mixer, which my mother would have done had she owned one.)
Turn dough out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, 6 to 10 minutes.
Gather into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, turning over once to coat both the top and bottom.

Allow the dough to rise in a warm spot, covered, until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Turn dough out again and knead a few times.
Shape into a ball, cut off 1/3 of the dough and set aside.
Cut the remaining dough into 3 equal pieces and, using the palms of your hands, roll each piece into a rope 20 inches in length.
Braid the 3 ropes together, tucking the ends under.
Cut the reserved piece of dough into 3 equal pieces and repeat the rope making process, this time ending up with 15 inch ropes.
Braid these together and place on top of the larger braided piece, tucking the ends under.
Brush the tops and sides with the 2 tablespoons of light oil, place on a buttered cookie sheet, cover with a towel and allow to rise again in a warm spot until doubled in size.
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Brush the top and sides of the dough with the beaten egg white and then sprinkle the sugar all over. Place on a rack in the middle of the oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until the loaf is golden brown.
You have to let this bread cool just a bit before slicing into it, so here's what you do. When it's cool enough to handle, make yourself a cup of tea, cut yourself a slice bread, slather it with butter or Smart Balance, maybe some jam, sit down, put your feet up and enjoy.

Cook's Notes:
Because I used whole wheat flour, a bit more liquid was necessary so I changed my mother's original 1/4 cup warm water to 1/3 cup. I could have used even more water or added another egg to lighten this bread further although Mr. CC says it's pretty darn good just the way it is. He's the bread eater in the family.

15 comments:

Tanna said...

Well Christine, you've wowed me again. This is family special bread but it's really also super lovely!!! Glad somebody else substitutes whole wheat.

Julie said...

That's a gorgeous loaf of bread. Good job with the whole wheat flour! My grandma recently passed away and even before she died, I tried to bake her holiday homemade bread. It's like no bread I've had anywhere else. It is eggy and a little sweet. It comes plain and filled with candied cherries, nuts and brown sugar. The recipes she wrote down are in virtually unbreakable "code" as you put it. Luckily, my mom has managed to make a rather good version. I have to bake it with her next time I visit. I am determined to figure it out for myself one day. It's too good to disappear!

Christine said...

Thanks Tanna. One could also use 1/2 regular flour and 1/2 whole wheat. The loaf would probably be lighter.

Julie,
Those handed-down recipes are priceless. Don't let them disappear!

Merry Christmas to both of you!

Anonymous said...

Looks really great Christine the bread and the photography. I usually make my bread nowadays as it has to be gluten free. Have been quite successful, my next task is to try pastry.
Anne

Jann said...

I enjoyed your post today. I love seeing recipes from our moms and ones passed down from our family.Your braided bread looked perfect! you must have watched your mom make it several times!Grear pictures,too!

sher said...

Ahhh! That's beautiful, every photo. I can only imagine what it smells like when you're making it. And I wouldn't be able to wait very long to eat it after I took it out of the oven!!!

Kalyn said...

The bread is just beautiful. And of course I love your adaptation of using white whole wheat flour. I keep planning to experiment more with baking, but like you, I don't get to it.

Mimi J. said...

A wonderful post, Christine, lovely text and pictures. This is a gift to your readers: Thank you!

home cook said...

Hi Christine.
There's nothing like homemade loaf of bread ! Oh my...the first one I made looked terrible. And despite of trying many recipes I'm still not good in baking bread. Your recipe will be my next attempt. This looks like a wonderful recipe. Thanks.

Christine said...

Anne, Jann, Sher, Mimi and Kristina,
Thanks so much for your kind comments. I'm in such a dither these days that I can't take the time to answer each of you personally, much as I would like to. Please know that I appreciate each one of you!

Christine said...

Anne, Jann, Sher, Mimi and Kristina,
Thanks so much for your kind comments. I'm in such a dither these days that I can't take the time to answer each of you personally, much as I would like to. Please know that I appreciate each one of you!

Anonymous said...

Don't worry about being in a dither, I think everyone is the same this time of the year too much to do. Have a Merry Christmas Christine.
Anne

farmgirl said...

Wonderful! I am a huge fan of toast and can practically taste the slice in that photo. What a stunning loaf of bread. Thanks for sharing the recipe. Love that it was written 'in code.' : )

Christine said...

Hello Susan,
I'm honored by your visit. As far as I'm concerned, you are the bread making maven of our blogging community!

Linda said...

I want to thank you for sharing such wonderful recipes. This loaf of bread is truly a work of art. I can't wait to try it.