As you may or may not know (or care), for the last year or so I’ve been baking my own bread. Sandwich loaves, mostly, although I’ve made plenty of quick breads and breakfast breads as well. I enjoy it, although my results are not as consistent as I may like; Sunday I had a loaf of jalapeno cheese bread just…deflate when I took it out of the pan. It still tastes fine – at least Beloved is working his way through it – but for sandwiches, it’s pretty useless.
Today, though, I decided to make a foray into the world of artisan breads, and OMG – am I glad I did. I’ve had my eye on the recipe this is based on for quite some time, and when it is all said and done, it was just as easy to make, if not a tad easier, than a loaf of ordinary sandwich bread. It is, all in all, healthier as well, having far less fat than the usual loaves I make, and contains some whole wheat flour, where the bread I’ve been baking is made with unbleached, all-purpose flour.
While it still needs tweaking – I’ll make a round loaf rather than a torpedo-shaped loaf to give it some height next time, and will bake if for a shorter period of time – this bread is heartier and sturdier than standard sandwich bread, and I can already tell it will make a better sandwich. I’m so impressed with it, as a matter of fact, that I’m going to try a plain hearth-type bread this weekend. If it turns out as well, it may be a long time before I make another loaf of soft sandwich bread again.
I don’t see why this can’t be mixed in a bread machine, although you wouldn’t be able to let it rise or bake in one. If you were going to make it using a bread machine or stand mixer, you’ll have to add the raisins and pecans after it’s been kneaded, working them into the loaf gently by hand, because the original recipe says kneading the bread with a machine will cause the raisins and pecans to break down, resulting in a denser, heavier bread with too compact a crumb.
Pecan Raisin Bread
makes a 2 pound loaf
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup raisins
8 ounces chopped pecans
1/4 cup hot water
water to make 1 cup
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 1/4 teaspoons, or one packet, active dry yeast
Place the raisins in a small bowl and add the 1/3 cup hot water; stir, cover with plastic wrap and let them sit for about 30 minutes. Drain the raisins, reserving the liquid in a 1-cup liquid measuring cup – there should be about 1/4 cup. Add enough warm water to equal 1 cup. Recover the raisins with the plastic wrap and set aside.
Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the chopped pecans into a small bowl and set aside. Place the remaining pecans in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. You should have 1/2 cup finely ground pecans; set aside.
Pour the 1 cup water into the bowl of a stand mixer; add the honey, salt and vegetable oil. In a large bowl, whisk together the bread flour, whole wheat flour and ground pecans. Add to the water in the stand mixer, then add the yeast to the top of the flour. With the dough hook, mix until all the ingredients are blended and a rough dough forms. Scrape down the side of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and all the dough to rest for 20 minutes.
Knead the dough on medium speed for 7 – 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Sprinkle the counter with a little more flour, turn the dough out on top of it, cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit for another 10 minutes.
Roll or pat the dough out into a rectangle about 10″ x 15″ and sprinkle the raisins and pecans evenly over the surface. Starting at the short end, roll up the dough, jelly-roll fashion, then form the dough into a ball and knead it lightly by hand util the raisins and pecans are well incorporated. The dough will become a little tacky, so you may need to add a little more flour, a teaspoon at a time.
Place the dough in a large, well-oiled mixing bowl, turning it until it is coated with the oil; cover with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and press down on it gently to form a rectangle. Fold it like a business letter, set it back into the oiled bowl, and allow it to rise again until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and press it gently into a rectangle. Lightly shape either into a torpedo or round shape, and set it on a lightly oiled baking sheet that has been lightly dusted with cornmeal. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and allow it to rise until doubled, about an hour.
Preheat the over to 400F 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it, and a cast iron skillet or sheet pan on the floor of the oven before preheating. When the bread has risen, remove the plastic wrap and allow the dough to dry for about 5 minutes.
Quickly toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes onto the skillet or sheet pan on the bottom of the oven, then quickly but gently place the pan with the bread on the baking stone or baking sheet and immediately shut the oven door. Bake at 400F for 5 minutes, then lower the heat to 375F and bake for another 40 to 50 minutes (I found 50 minutes was just a tad too long), or until the bread is golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Halfway through the baking, turn the pan around so it will bake evenly.
Remove the bread from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours.