Walnut-Raisin Bread

I love to bake bread.  There is something very elemental in the entire process.  Simple ingredients, combined with yeast, work their magic and a delicious and beautiful loaf is the result.  This bread is a symphony for the senses:  a soft and tender crumb, crunchy walnuts, chewy raisins, and the fragrance of cinnamon.  It’s a handsome bread that can be shaped into a loaf or a boule, and I’m sure it would make great breakfast rolls too.  You can put this recipe together quickly and have your walnut-raisin bread the same day or let it rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight.  Either way, it’s a keeper, and a simple bread you will want to make time and again.

Walnut-Raisin Bread
(makes 2 loaves, shaped as you choose)
3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread flour
4 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tablespoon walnut oil
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
3/4 cup water, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (9 ounces) raisins, rinsed and drained
1 cup (4 ounces) chopped walnuts
Additional melted butter*
1/2 cup granulated sugar*
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon*
Stir together the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.  Add the egg, butter, walnut oil, milk, and water.  Stir together with a sturdy spoon until the ingredients come together and form a ball.  Adjust with flour or water if the dough seems too sticky or too dry and stiff.  Sprinkle flour on your work surface and begin kneading the dough.  The dough should be soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky.  Add flour as you knead, if necessary, to achieve this texture.  Knead by hand for approximately 10 minutes.  Sprinkle in the raisins and walnuts during the final two  minutes of kneading to distribute them evenly and to avoid crushing them too much.  (They may want to fall out of the dough, but just keep pushing them in and eventually they will stay put).  Butter a large bowl and place the dough into it, turning to coat all sides.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough ferment at room temperature for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.  (Or place the bowl in the refrigerator and let the dough rise slowly overnight.  Allow it to come to room temperature before you attempt to shape it).  Divide the dough into two equal pieces and form into loaves.  You can use standard loaf pans or fashion a free-form round (or boule), as pictured above.  If you use loaf pans, butter them well before placing the dough.  Proof the shaped dough at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough is once again almost doubled in size.  Preheat the oven to 350Β°F with the oven rack in the middle position.  Bake the loaves for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating the pans half-way through, until golden brown.  The finished bread should register 190Β°F in the center and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom surface.  Remove the breads from the pan(s) and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour before slicing. 
*To apply the cinnamon sugar coating combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 2 tablespoon cinnamon.  As soon as the bread comes from the oven, coat it generously with melted butter (3 to 4 tablespoons) and roll the loaves in the cinnamon sugar.  As the bread cools the topping will become crunchy.
(gently adapted from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart)

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