This was one of those recipes I flagged the minute I saw it but then didn't get around to making for a while. That's not terribly uncommon; in fact, it happens all the time around here. Usually it's because I temporarily forget about the recipe, but not this one. On the contrary, this was forefront in my mind every time I decided to bake.
But I kept procrastinating because I assumed this recipe was going to be a project. It's a bad habit of mine to judge the complexity of a recipe based on its length. Had I actually read through the instructions rather than simply scanning them, I would have realized they were long because they were thorough and not because there was anything complicated about this process. I also would have noted that although the recipe is time consuming, most of that time was hands off, thanks to multiple rise times for the dough.
Needless to say, upon trying this bread I was totally kicking myself for having put it off so long. Please don't wait as long as I did to try this - it's easily my new favorite recipe for cinnamon raisin bread. The thing that makes it superior is a unique method for shaping the loaves that ensures you don't get those really annoying gaping holes where the filling meets the bread. Those drive me crazy, they always make it difficult to toast the bread without it trying to fall apart near the gaps. This loaf has a soft, but tight crumb with lots of sweet cinnamon sugar filling, and easily passed the toast test. The recipe makes two loaves so you can stash one in your freezer for another day. And I guarantee when they're both gone you'll be back in the kitchen asap making more. I know I was :)
Cinnamon Swirl Bread
from Cook's Illustrated
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 3/4 cups (20 2/3 oz) bread flour
3/4 cup (2 3/4 oz) nonfat dry milk powder
1/3 cup (2 1/3 oz) sugar
1 tablespoon instant yeast
1 1/2 cups (12 oz) warm water (about 110 F)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz) raisins
1 cup (4 oz) confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten with pinch of salt (for egg wash)
To make the dough: Cut the butter into 32 small cubes. Add to a small bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the flour then set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, whisk the remaining flour, milk powder, sugar, and yeast together. Add the water and egg, then use the dough hook to mix on medium-low speed until the dough comes together in a sticky mass. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let the dough stand for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil.
Remove the plastic from the bowl and add the salt. Mix on medium-low until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 7-15 minutes. It will just barely clear the sides of the bowl (it's stickier than most dough I've made, so don't be concerned if that's the case - don't add more flour). With the mixer still running, add the butter - a few pieces at a time - and continue kneading until the butter is completely incorporated and the dough is smooth and elastic, about 3-5 minutes longer. Again, it might be wet and sticky, don't add flour. Add the raisins and mix just until incorporated. Spray a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray and transfer the dough to that bowl. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dough over itself by gently lifting from the bottom and folding the edge of the dough toward the middle. Turn the bowl 90 degrees (1/4 turn) and repeat. Do this 6 more times, for a total of 8 folds. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and transfer to the middle rack of your oven. Pour about 3 cups of the boiling water into a loaf or cake pan and place in the bottom of your oven. Close oven and let the dough rise for 45 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the oven. Use the rubber spatula to gently press down on the dough to deflate. Again make 8 folds repeating the process used above. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and return to the oven. Let rise until doubled in volume, about 45 more minutes.
Meanwhile, make the filling by whisking together the confectioners' sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract and salt. Spray two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Working with one half, press it into a 6 x 11-inch rectangle. With a short side facing you, fold the sides in over one another (like a business letter) to form a rough 3 x 11-inch rectangle. Starting on the short side, roll the dough up and away from you into a ball. Adding more flour to the work surface as necessary, roll the ball into a 7 x 18-inch rectangle (my dough was fairly elastic and kept shrinking back, but keep working it and it'll eventually relax). Using a spray bottle, lightly spray the dough with water. Sprinkle half of filling mixture evenly over dough, leaving about a 1/4-inch border on the sides (the long sides) and 3/4-inch border on top and bottom (the short sides). Spray the filling lightly with water. With a short side facing you, roll the dough away from you into a tight cylinder. Pinch the seam of the loaf closed, as well as the ends. Dust the loaf lightly with flour and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Working with 1 loaf at a time, cut the loaf in half lengthwise using a sharp knife. Rotate the halves so the cut sides face up. Stretch each piece lengthwise until it is about 14 inches long. Pinch the ends of the two pieces together then cross the piece on the left over the one on the right. Keeping the cut sides up, repeat until the pieces are tightly twisted. Pinch the ends together then transfer to one of the prepared loaf pans, cut sides up. Press any exposed raisins gently down into the dough. Repeat this process to form a second loaf.
Cover the loaves loosely with plastic wrap and move them to the oven. Let rise for 45 minutes, then remove from the oven along with the pan of water on the bottom of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 F. Let the loaves rise at room temperature for another 45 minutes, or until almost doubled in size (they should rise about 1 inch over the top of the pan).
Brush the loaves with the egg wash. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the crust is brown, then reduce the oven to 325 F, tent the loaves with aluminum foil, and continue baking until the loaves register 200 F on an instant read thermometer (about 15-25 minutes longer, though I had to go even a little longer on the loaf I baked in a glass Pyrex pan).
Remove the pans to a wire rack and let the loaves cool for 5 minutes, then turn them out and let them cool completely (about 2 hours) before slicing. Store the bread at room temperature well wrapped for up to 2 days, or freeze for up to 1 month.