Raisin and sourdough this week


raisin bread disasterWhile I haven’t tried to make a sourdough raisin bread yet, that idea occurred to me while I was making my latest breads, this week. I’m sure it would be a good mix, but I’ll have to build my levain up again, since I used all my countertop levain in yesterday’s bread (about 350g).

I still have a culture in the fridge, however, and will take some out to get it going in the warmer kitchen, today.

I made a medium-sized sourdough loaf, and two smaller raisin-cinnamon loaves, Friday. Somewhat ambitious of me, but with mixed results.

raisin bread disasterTwo? You ask. Yes, because my first loaf was a mess. It stuck in the pan and broke at the cinnamon-spread layer when I attempted to get it free of the pan. Very disappointing. I decided to try another while I still had the ingredients on the counter. I wanted to offer Susan a good-looking loaf, Saturday morning. Presentation matters.

I’m trying to determine the best way to make a raisin-cinnamon bread that combines the nicest combination of  texture, flavour and structure. I have the flavour down pretty well, and the texture is close, but in most of my efforts, the bread has de-laminated where the layers of cinnamon spread are rolled into the dough. Sometimes just a bit, sometimes more. An elegant structure eludes me somewhat.

raisin bread disaster

My first effort at raisin-cinnamon bread was a recipe from the 300 Best Canadian Bread Machine Recipes book. It combines everything in the machine, but used only a small amount of cinnamon (1 tsp). It didn’t make the bread very flavourful. While edible, it wasn’t spectacular.

I like more cinnamon, but because it’s a yeast inhibitor, I chose to put more (1 Tbsp) into a spread that could be used in a swirl in the bread itself.  I tried that in a bread a couple of weeks ago, with modest success. The idea works; the technique needs refinement.

I used molasses instead of sugar in the recipe, but otherwise used the book’s basic 1.5 lb. loaf recipe as presented for Friday’s loaves.

raisin bread 2

I decided this time to put the raisins in the dough, not placed on the layer of cinnamon-molasses-butter spread as I tried previously. I’ve seen how the raisins in that spread can create pockets in the bread that aid the break-up. I also noticed that my previous effort had somewhat too thick a layer of spread that encouraged separation.

Both raisin breads were started the same way: the dough cycle in the bread machine. In the first batch, I used a full cup of raisins (not soaked), but less – about 1/2-3/4 cup – in the second. The first was baked in the oven after rising (at 350F), the second in the bread machine (one hour, temperature undetermined). The raisins in the second loaf were understated and probably should have been more.

With both, before baking, I flattened the dough and put the spread on it, then shaped it and let it rise again.

raisin bread 2

The first one had a layer that was spread thinly but rather evenly over the flattened dough, then the dough was rolled and shaped into the loaf and put in the pan. The second I spread the mix in vertical stripes, in the hope that the dough would bind at the spaces where the spread wasn’t, and so make the structure stronger and less prone to separate. Perhaps I should have made diagonal stripes.

I also brushed some of the spread on the top of the second loaf, hoping it would encourage a crispy crust with caramelized sugars. And I hoped it would enhance the overall cinnamon flavour.

I didn’t grease the pan or use parchment paper for the first loaf baked in the oven – probably should have. When it came out of the oven, some of the sides and bottom stuck to the pan and the whole loaf pulled apart when I tried to shake it out. The bread de-laminated at the layer of cinnamon spread.

raisin breads

Damn. It smelled so good – and it tasted excellent. But it looked, well, see the photos at the top of this post. Not very attractive, I’m sure you will agree. A bit like a car crash.

I was disappointed, but put on a stiff upper lip and moved on.

The second loaf has a better, more consistent shape, somewhat squarish (as some bread machine loaves seem to have), but the spread on the top was a mistake. It doesn’t really add to the flavour, and makes the loaf look rather unpleasantly mottled.

I seem to have used more molasses in the second loaf than the first, because the colour of the second is somewhat more yellow. The photo at right shows the two, with the first loaf at the top.

After the failure of the first loaf, I decided to try baking the second loaf in the bread machine. I put it in the machine’s pan and let it rise a bit first, but perhaps not as much as I should have, before baking. The result was a little smaller than I hoped for – it doesn’t have that dome that you get when baking in the oven, but it’s not bad, with not egregiously dense areas.

sourdough micheThe first loaf is a little lighter and airier, and the crust is chewier (which I prefer). But both taste very similar – the second is a tad less sweet and the cinnamon imparts a slightly metallic/bitter taste (I may not have used enough molasses or honey in the spread mix for the amount of cinnamon).

Both loaves toast well – aside from the problem of the first loaf de-laminating when it’s cut because some of the bottom and side crusts pulled away. But the first is tastier, by my own sense. Still some work to do on this type of bread.

My sourdough miche was another combination of levain and poolish that I’ve tried in the past, but this time with no extra yeast – just what was in the levain and poolish. It was mostly unbleached white flour, with 40 or 50 grams of Osprey organic. After it rose for a couple of hours, I baked it at 350F for about 45-50 minutes. I normally bake my breads at 450F, but wanted to try a lower temperature to see how that affected the result.

sourdough micheThe crust is nice and crisp, not too much so, and the bread rose well in the oven. i used the oven as a proofing box again, and it seems effective. Just have to make sure it doesn’t get too warm or the bread surface gets too dry (oil on the top?).

The temperature was probably too low for this type of bread. I’ll push it higher next time – 425 or back to 450F. It didn’t get quite the oven spring it should have. It baked well, but the crust didn’t darken very much, so the loaf is rather light in colour.

Coming out of the oven, it smelled wonderfully aromatic. I think the smell of freshly baked bread should be made into a scent we could spray in our cars or homes.

sourdough micheThe crumb is nice and firm, without any noticeable uncooked spots, with a modest amount of aeration. I based the water amount on my calculation of how much was in the poolish and levain, aiming for about 65-67% hydration, and it seems to have worked.

I tasted a sample last night and was again delighted by the combination of poolish and levain. Rich flavours come from both: the acidic tang of the sourdough, with the fullness of the pre-ferment. I think in future, I will increase the poolish and decrease the levain to see how that balances the flavours.

Still working on a good recipe for Irish soda bread, but I believe I have some good choices to work from after a week of looking at some online recipes.