Do you love a baking project? Do you love the smell of warmly spiced baked goods? Do you love the satisfaction of baking your own bread but don't have the time for a three-day rise or a special trip to your local heirloom wheat farm? Then this cinnamon raisin loaf is for you (see the recipe).
Your friends don't need to know that you actually put in only about 20 minutes of active time. Yes, you'll be a hero. Yes, this is good enough to gift. And, yes, there are still some questions that might need answering.
Do I really have to buy nonfat dry milk powder?
We get it: It comes in only big-ish bags, and what the heck are you supposed to do with the rest of it? (Smoothies, Indian sweets, caramel apples—but that's another story.) So truth? No, it's not absolutely necessary. But it does make a difference: It adds sweetness and tenderness without making the dough too wet, and it aids in browning. If you're totally against it, fine, but if you want this to be the best bread it can be, just go buy it.
The raisins keep falling out while I'm kneading. How do I deal?
That's OK. Simply work them back in as you knead. While we're on the subject of raisins, feel free to experiment with other dried fruits: Chopped pitted dates, dried figs or apricots would be an easy swap, as would half a cup of toasted walnuts or pecans.
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And, yes, you could make this in a stand mixer with a dough hook, but what kind of meditation is that? Kneading the dough with your hands prevents the addition of too much flour—which you're often forced to do to keep the dough from sticking to the side of the mixer's bowl—and is an excellent opportunity to contemplate your mortality.
My swirl is off-center. Should I give up?
Like all patterns found in nature, yours may be irregular, and that's just fine. But remember that the evenness of your spiral depends on how level you pat or roll out your dough before sprinkling on the cinnamon mixture. If you're feeling particularly OCD, get out a ruler and make sure the bread is about three quarters to one inch thick all the way across. Then roll gently and with even pressure and be sure to place the seam side in the bottom of your loaf pan to prevent any unraveling.
This is the best toast I've ever had. What else can I do with it?
If you're a fan of sweet plus savory, try building a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on it or use it to make an egg in a hole. Ham and Swiss with a smear of currant jelly would be right at home on this loaf, too.
After a few days, this, like any other homemade bread, will start to dry out. Slice it about an inch thick, tightly wrap and freeze until you're ready to make very excellent French toast. Or cut it into cubes; toss with melted butter, more cinnamon and brown sugar; and bake until toasted. Serve the sweet croutons over ice cream if you don't eat them all straight off the tray.
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