Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Swirly Bread

Sometimes you just need a little comfort, you know? A tough day at work, a mean remark from a stranger, another freaking snowstorm - there are times when we all need a little something to boost us up a bit. As a mother, I find myself on the comforter end of things most of the time; bruised your face trying to climb over the gate? Run to Mama! Raisins spilled everywhere when you tried to throw them at the dog? Mama will fix it! Dad took away your maracas before you could hit him in the face with them? Aw, poor muffin, come see Mama. It's my job to make everything better and, if I'm being totally honest here, it's a job I relish. I'm a pretty typical, makes-feminists-cringe type of woman at heart - give me some boys to bake for and a sniffly toddler to cuddle, and my eyes glaze over in bliss.

But sometimes, even I need a little something to make me feel better, something that is guaranteed to make me happy just by existing. My list is ever-evolving, but always simple: slippers, daffodils, books by Tom Robbins, cheddar cheese, very hot showers, haircuts, broadway musical soundtracks. And this bread. Ah, this bread. I've been hunting for exactly this bread for a long time now - very soft and just sweet enough, dotted with juicy raisins and swirled with a thin line of cinnamon-sugar. It reminds me of the cinnamon-raisin bread my Naner used to buy. I'd spend weekends at her house, eating frozen cheese ravioli and watching old Gidget movies, and we'd start our mornings at her kitchen table, me with my raisin toast and Naner with a cup of coffee and half a grapefruit. This bread tastes just a little too good to feel like a "healthy" breakfast, and that's what I like about it. It's something I can toast and spread with butter and wrap in a napkin and tuck into my purse and then take a bite and feel, suddenly, better.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread
Makes 3 loaves

This is a huge recipe - it makes 3 full-sized loaves. I baked up two, and put the third in the freezer after shaping the loaf, before the second rise. When I'm ready for it, I'll take it out and let it thaw and rise before baking it up.

1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup warm water
4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (or two packets)
3 eggs
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cup raisins
8 cups unbleached white flour

3 tablespoons milk
3/4 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon

- Scald the milk, then set aside to cool a bit
-Proof your yeast in the warm water for a few minutes.
-Add eggs, one at a time
-Stir in sugar, salt, milk and butter (it'll be lumpy and hideous - no stress)
-Fold in raisins
-Add flour 2 cups at a time to make a sticky-stiff dough - don't overmix her
-Oil and let rise until doubled, about an hour - hope to heck your bowl is big enough, because this baby can RISE!

-Roll your dough out on a floured countertop into a rectangle about 1/2" thick. Sprinkle it with the milk to moisten, and then spread the cinnamon and sugar all over it, reaching to about an inch from the edges.
-Roll it up tightly the long way ("hot dog, not hamburger" they used to say in art class)
-Slice the big log into 3 smaller ones, and tuck in the ends
-Put each log into an oiled bread pan (or freeze now, wrapped in plastic wrap and foil), cover and rise another hour or so
-Brush the top of each loaf with melted butter - I melted mine in the bowl I used for the cinnamon-sugar, and it made the top all pretty
-Bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, until the crust is golden and the loaf sounds hollow when knocked.
-Cool for 5 minutes, then remove from pans to finish cooling on a rack (if you cool it fully in the pan, it'll get tough)

Slice, toast, butter, bite, close eyes in bliss, feel infinitely better about everything.


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