It’s the middle of summer in the North Country, and we’ve been plagued with intense humidity for past few days. Being a curly-haired gal, humidity is not my friend. My tresses will be confined to a braid for the foreseeable future. But they say, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Well, when life gives you humidity, make bread. Yeast love humidity. If you can even fathom turning on the oven–I made my bread in the evening when things started cooling off outside–then whip up this Whole Wheat Raisin Bread on a humid day and watch it rise faster and higher than you thought possible.
I decided to make my bread artisan style. For my birthday last year, my husband gave me two brotforms. One of his buddies told him this was a bad idea. “You have to get women jewelry,” he said. “You don’t know my wife,” my husband responded, “I promise you, this is what she wants.” His friend scoffed, but he is a bachelor and so must be excused. He hasn’t had the pleasure of navigating marriage and the question of what to get one’s wife for her birthday.
My husband was right, of course. He had paid attention when, months prior, we were in the King Arthur store in Vermont and I had fussed over brotforms in the artisan bread section.
Isn’t it nice when spouses do that? Pay attention, remember a random moment, and then produce a perfect birthday gift?
Brotforms are cane baskets that give artisan breads their distinctive shapes and flour-ridged crust. I have a round one and an oblong one. I use both frequently. I love the look of brotform bread, and I really like the flavor and texture of the crust as it bakes free-form instead of in a pan.
If you don’t have a brotform, you can still make this bread. Just do a free-form loaf directly on a baking sheet or baking stone. Or put it in a bread pan. Or make it into a braided loaf. Do anything you like.
As usual, I did a 50/50 split with whole wheat flour and bread flour. I used brown sugar for a little sweetness, but you could just as easily sub honey or maple syrup. I also included a little cinnamon. Not enough to make it taste like dessert, but enough to make it taste like proper raisin bread. The resulting loaf is excellent for just about anything. It is equally at home as sandwich bread, toasting bread, or dinner bread. In fact, most of the bread I bake multitasks in this way. I ask a lot of my loaves, and they must rise to the occasion (pun intended).
Here’s what I did:
WHOLE WHEAT RAISIN BREAD IN A BROTFORM
2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. yeast (or you could just use one 1/4 ounce packet, it will be enough)
2 c. very warm water (about 125 degrees)
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. brown sugar
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 1/2 – 3 c. bread flour
1 c. raisins
First, I mixed the whole wheat flour, yeast, and water in the bowl of my stand mixer. I let this stand for 15 minutes until it was spongy. I did this in order to give the whole wheat flour a chance to absorb some liquid. Whole grain flours take longer to absorb liquid, and doing this helps to prevent adding too much extra flour later when it seems like the liquid isn’t getting absorbed. This is also a good way to test your yeast–if it doesn’t get foamy and spongy, your yeast is dead. Mourn their loss and start over with fresher yeast or cooler water, depending on what went awry with the little buggers.
I stirred in the cinnamon, salt, sugar, and oil. I then added 2 1/2 cups of the bread flour and let my mixer do the work. I started with the paddle attachment until it was combined into a dough, then I switched to the dough hook and let it knead for about 10 minutes. During this time, I ended up adding the extra 1/2 cup of flour. It was really very humid and the dough needed the extra flour.
When it was nearly finished kneading, I added the raisins. By the time they were worked in, the kneading was finished. I shaped it into a ball and let it rise in a large bowl until doubled. This would normally take at least an hour, but it only took 45 minutes on my humid evening.
This is where the brotform enters the game.
I deflated the risen dough and shaped it into a tight ball for the second rise. I then floured the brotform thoroughly. I mean it. Flour is your friend here. You really don’t want your bread dough to seep into the cane basket and stick. This is where a lot of people go awry, resulting in proclamations of brotform hatred. This is a sad, sad thing. Brotforms are amazing, and incredibly easy to use if floured properly.
I turned the dough upside-down in the brotform. The part of the bread that will end up on top needs to be in the bottom of the basket. As you see, it was so humid I hardly had time to snap a picture before the bread started rising.
I then let it rise in the brotform. This took only 25 minutes. And you can see in the photo that it rose really, really high. Almost too high. But that’s the miracle of humidity. I’m telling you, yeast love it. On a normal day, this might take an hour. Either way, it’s a good time to start preheating the oven to 375 degrees.
If you have a baking stone in your oven as I do, you’ll flip your bread onto a pizza peel that has been thoroughly sprinkled with cornmeal. I flipped mine onto the peel and popped it into a 375-degree oven for 37 minutes. This bread should take between 35 and 40 minutes to cook.
If you don’t have a baking stone, flip the bread onto a baking sheet that has been really thoroughly sprinkled with cornmeal. Pop the whole thing into a 375-degree oven for 35-40 minutes.
The finished bread. A beautiful artisan loaf complete with concentric circles of flour and a crunchy cornmeal bottom crust.
As you see, this recipe makes a really lovely raisin bread. I’m about to eat a slice of mine toasted with hummus. It might sound strange, but raisin bread is my favorite vehicle for hummus. Yum.