Thanks to Shirley Corriher, Baking Yeast-Leavened Bread is Problem-Free (Almost)

Yeast-Leavened Sweet Bread with Raisins

I love all yeast-leavened sweets/breads, because it brings up the warm and fuzzy memories of my Mother’s kitchen. Most holidays she would work in the kitchen tirelessly and churn out an array of baking goods that turned our home into a “dream bakery” without using any recipes, guide books, TV shows or consulting with Shirley Corriher.

The aroma from a yeast-leavened dough baking in the oven is intoxicating. I used to sit next to the oven and watch the sweet bread inside it patiently. I definitely did not want to miss the first slicing ceremony. Once the bread is sliced, there is a burst of aromas that fills the air, not only in the kitchen, but in the entire house.

For instance, if the bread is filled with cocoa powder, the entire house would overcome with the aroma of “chocolate.” I also love the fragrance of poppy-seed. I was always wondering if perhaps we are getting high from the opium in the poppy seeds? Poppy seeds are the perfect filling for yeast dough; I do not know why, but the combination creates an unmatched tantalizing effect on your taste buds (I should ask Shirley)

Just a brief note here: You do need to have the right recipe for the poppy-seed filling, otherwise it can taste bitter, or be unpleasantly grainy.

As you know, I am, like Shirley,  coming to cooking and baking from a science background, which means I always want to know why, how, what if…and more. So over the years I developed an advanced understanding in the process of baking. However, if I would draw a graph after reading Shirley Corriher’s BakeWise cookbook from cover-to-cover, you would see a line shooting straight up the sky. The reason for this introduction is that despite all this, errors and mishaps can still happen; the only difference is, that now I do not panic.

If you like baking and would like to better at it day-by-day or enhance your confidence, minute-by-minute, then please come visit this blog often, because I love to share my knowledge with my readers.  I derive great contentment from my students’ success.

I know that Easter came and gone, but the traditional yeast-leavened breads baked for Easter, are here to stay. Unfortunately, I did not have a great weekend health-wise, so I started to bake late. Then add to it the errors I made; so here I am posting a recipe for the sweet bread I baked on Saturday. “Better late then never.”  As I said before, you do not need to wait for next Easter; just bake this refreshing yeast-leavened sweet bread anytime you feel like you want to treat your family and friends.

Unfortunately, I forgot about the dough in the microwave after the second rise (I find it the best place to keep the dough for rising) so it has over-risen. It is not the end of the world; it is still taste good, looks OK (not great, but OK) and we will not throw it out, but I thought I will use it for another educational post. Actually, I made two errors: one I just mentioned: I let the dough rise too long and the dough actually fall back after risen. The second error I just realized after I decided that I will bake another bread and found the yeast that I was supposed to use in the bread (the active dry yeast) in the refrigerator. It appears that I used the instant, rapid-rise yeast instead; meaning I created a double jeopardy for the bread.  Oh well. Life goes on…and hopefully we will bake many more yeast-leavened breads.

Yeast-Leavened Sweet Bread

Ingredients for the sponge
5.5 ounce/150g warm whole milk
0.5 ounce dry active yeast
5.5 ounce/150 g all-purpose flour

Ingredients for the dough
5.5/150 g ounce raisins
5 ounces/140g unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoon/8 g confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoon/8 g vanilla sugar
1 teaspoon/1.25 g salt
Zest of 1 lemon
2 large eggs at room temperature
pinch of nutmeg
pinch of allspice
1.75 ounces/50 g whole milk, warmed

Other Ingredients
1 egg for egg wash

Equipment

Baking sheet prepared with either buttered parchment paper, or Silpat
A large bowl greased with butter

Note: I usually have vanilla sugar on hand by dropping vanilla pods (after the content was scraped out) into a bowl of sugar. If you do not have home-made vanilla sugar you can buy it from specialty shop, or use vanilla paste.
For the raisins, you can use cognac, or sherry or any other liqueur for soaking. Pour the liqueur to cover the raisins, about 1 inch over the top. You could drop the liqueur all together and soak the raisins in orange juice or any other fruit juice. Make sure to squeeze the raisins well before incorporating them into the dough.

Method
1. Place the raisins in a bowl and pour the liqueur over the raisins to cover them about 1 inch/2.5 cm above the top and set aside.

For the Sponge
2. In a saucepan, heat the whole milk over medium heat to lukewarm. Pour the warm milk into a bowl and add the yeast and the flour and mix them until they form a sponge.  Cover the bowl with a plastic  film and let it rise in a warm, draft free place (I usually use the microwave) for 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the environment in your kitchen.

For the dough
3. Place the softened, unsalted butter into a bowl and  beat it at low-speed with either the paddle attachment of a standing mixer, or use a hand-held mixer until the butter becomes soft and creamy.

4. Add the confectioners’ sugar, vanilla sugar,  lemon zest, and salt and beat the mixture for about 4-5 minutes, until it becomes very light and fluffy.

5. Start to add the eggs, one at a time and make sure it is well incorporated before adding the second egg.

6. Add the sponge (which by now must have doubled in volume) to the creamed mixture and incorporate it well.  Add the remaining flour, nutmeg, allspice in an alternate fashion with the whole milk. Beat the entire mixture for about 4-5 minutes to allow the gluten to develop.

7. Drain and squeeze the raisins, pat dry with a paper towel and incorporate them into the dough with a spoon, not by beating.

8. Place the dough into the prepared, greased bowl, cover it with a plastic film and place it in a draft-free, warm spot in your kitchen and let the dough rise for about 40 to 50 minutes.

9.  After the dough doubled in volume, “punch it down” to deflate, and let it rise two more times, punching it down thoroughly each time. Depending on the environment in your kitchen, these three risings can take from 30 to 45 minutes total. (This is the stage when I forgot about the dough in the microwave)

10. Turn the dough on to a well-floured surface. Knead the dough, adding some flour if needed to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands and/or to the table, until the dough is smooth and soft and only very slightly sticky. Note: Since my dough deflated on its own, its appearance was wrinkled (instead of being smooth) and due to the lost elasticity, the dough was weak and sensitive to tearing).

11. Divide the dough into three equal balls, and roll each ball into a long, sausage-form. Then gather and pinch the three sausage-shaped dough together in one end and braid the entire dough.  (You can wrap this braided dough in a plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight.)

12. Press the end together, as you did the top (at the beginning of the braid). Prepare the egg wash and brush the entire dough with the egg wash. Let it rest again for about 30 to 40 minutes.

Prior to baking, the braided yeast dough was brushed with egg wash

13. About 10 minutes before the time you are ready to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 350F/177C.  Place the dough on the lower third rack in the oven, and bake it for 40 to 45  minutes, or until it is warm brown in color and a knife inserted into the center of the loaf is withdrawn clean.

14. When the bread is cooled, you can prepare an apricot jam glaze (3 tablespoon apricot jam mixed with 1-2 tablespoon liquor of your choice and cook it for 30 seconds). Then press it through a strainer and brush the bread with the resulting mixture. It will add a nice shine and softens the crust.

Note: the dough will be lightly sticky and soft most of the time, but the gluten structure will be apparent. You can test it by taking a piece of the dough and stretch it in your hand. A well-developed gluten will not allow the dough to be torn apart. When you slice the bread, the crumb should be fine and even-sized.

Your questions/comments are welcome. I would love to hear about your experiences with yeast dough.