The second half of January seemed to pass in a flurry of home organization projects, unseasonably warm weather, a really busy month of work, and an unfortunate bout of the flu. An unexpected consequence of the flu was a complete and utter disinterest in cooking of any kind. The only upside was that I had a few days at home during which I watched my first episodes of Downton Abbey. How have I not been watching this show all along? I'm hooked.
I'm finally back in the kitchen and comfort food seems to be the name of the game. Last week it was Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon and this Cinnamon Raisin Pull-Apart Bread. I love cinnamon raisin bread of any kind, but there is something about how this is baked in layers that makes it even better. I think it is that the bread is essentially pre-sliced for you, making it easier to sneak a piece of bread each time you pass through the kitchen. Trust me, you won't be able to resist.
Cinnamon Raisin Pull-Apart Bread
Makes: One 9x5x3-inch loaf
Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker
For the Dough:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
1/8 cup water
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the Filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted until browned
1. Active your yeast by whisking the yeast into 3 tablespoons of warm water (between 105 and 115 degrees Fahrenheit). Add a pinch of granulated sugar and allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is foamy and frothy. If the mixture does not foam and froth, toss the yeast and try again with another package of yeast. Add the activated yeast when you combine the wet and dry ingredients.
2. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer, whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, and salt. Set aside.
3. Whisk together eggs and set aside.
4. In a small saucepan, melt together the milk and butter until butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and add water and vanilla extract. Let mixture stand for a minute or two, or until the mixture registers 115 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit.
5. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients. Add the activated yeast and mix with a spatula. Add the eggs and stir the mixture until the eggs are incorporated into the batter (I did these mixing steps using my stand mixer). The eggs will feel soupy and it’ll seem like the dough and the eggs are never going to come together. Keep stirring (or mixing). Add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and stir with the spatula for about 2 minutes (or mix until combined with stand mixer). The mixture will be sticky, which is how it should be.
6. Place the dough is a large, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm space and allow to rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour. If you are making your dough the night before but plan to make the rolls the next morning, let the dough rise until doubled in size, then refrigerate overnight for use in the morning. In the morning, let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes before following the roll-out directions below.
7. While the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg for the filling. Set aside. Melt 2 ounces of butter until browned. Set aside. Grease and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan.
8. Deflate the risen dough and knead about 2 tablespoons of flour into the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes. On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out. The dough should be 12-inches tall and about 20-inches long. If you can’t get the dough to 20-inches long, just roll the dough as large as you are able to (I had to work really hard to get mine to be close to 12x20, but you can see from the photos above that it certainly wasn't rectangular). Use a pastry brush to spread melted butter across all of the dough. Sprinkle with all of the sugar and cinnamon mixture - it will seem like a lot, but you won't regret it. Finally, sprinkle the dough with the raisins, redistribute them as necessary, and push them down slightly into the dough.
9. Slice the dough vertically, into six equal-sized strips. Stack the strips on top of one another and slice the stack into six equal slices once again (if the raisins fall off, just stick them back on top of the strips before you stack them). You’ll have six stacks of six squares. Layer the dough squares in the loaf pan like a flip-book. Place a kitchen towel over the loaf pan and allow in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size. Some of my pieces rose more than others (see the crazy large pieces on either end). I'm not sure whether it was our chilly house or something else, but I had trouble getting the loaf to rise at this stage. To solve this problem, I set the oven to preheat to 350 degrees, turned it off once it had preheated, and put the loaf in the oven to rise with the door slightly ajar. This did the trick!
10. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is very golden brown. The top may be lightly browned, but the center may still be raw. A nice, dark, golden brown will ensure that the center is cooked as well. If the top starts to get TOO brown, cover it with tinfoil while the center continues cooking.
11. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes (if you can - I couldn't wait that long). The bread is most delicious still warm from the oven and the same day it was made, but I enjoyed pieces for the next 2-3 days, particularly if when toasted or warmed.