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Cynthia Stone: Sweet yeast bread

Warm, crusty and tasty, sweet bread is great plain or toasted.
Warm, crusty and tasty, sweet bread is great plain or toasted. - Cynthia Stone photo

Whether you buy or bake, this is the time of year to enjoy sweet and fruity breads. If yeast intimidates you, think about giving one of today's recipes a try — the hardest part is waiting.

Spiced Mixed Fruit Bread

This tender and tasty mixture relies on the traditional flavours of mixed spice. I’m not sure you can even buy it in a bottle anymore, but you don’t have to—you probably have the components in your cupboard.

Fruit bread is fairly sweet and often iced. If you forego the sweet glaze, this toasts perfectly and is delicious with a scrape of butter. With the glaze you can serve it as a pull-apart braid or as a pan of buns.

Substitute raisins, currants or any other dried fruit you like but the colourful mixed fruit looks especially festive.

This recipe makes two loaves or one loaf and one braid.

¼ cup granulated sugar, divided
1 envelope active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
1/3 cup milk
¼ cup butter or margarine
2 eggs
4 cups all-purpose flour, approximate measure, divided
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. each ground cinnamon and ginger
½ tsp. ground allspice and nutmeg
¼ tsp. ground cloves
1 cup mixed candied fruit

You can make delicious sweet bread with or without glaze and pick the appropriate fruit of your choice.
You can make delicious sweet bread with or without glaze and pick the appropriate fruit of your choice.

Stir 1 tsp. of the sugar along with the yeast into the warm water and let it sit for 10 minutes until it gets thick, foamy and creamy. You don’t have to take the water’s temperature but if you do it should be around 100 degrees F. You want it baby-bottle warm — too hot and it will kill the yeast.

While the yeast is blooming heat the milk until it is just short of boiling and stir in butter and remaining sugar until everything dissolves. Cool to lukewarm then whisk in the eggs.

Combine 1 cup of the flour with salt, cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Beat in the yeast mixture and the egg mixture to get a loose batter. Allow to sit for 10 minutes then start adding the flour half a cup at a time, working it in completely before adding more. You can knead the dough in your mixer with dough hooks but finish it up by hand. The dough will be silky and slightly soft but should not be sticky. It will take 8 or 9 minutes of kneading to achieve the right texture.

Spread the dough out on your work surface and sprinkle the mixed fruit on top. Roll it up and knead another minute to distribute the fruit evenly. Place in a well-oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise about an hour but up to two. It should be doubled in volume. I like to use a big measuring cup to take the guess work out of the rising time.

Gently punch down the dough and shape it into two loaves or braids or one of each. Cover with oiled plastic wrap or a clean cotton towel and allow to double again—an hour or so, depending on how warm your kitchen is.

Bake at 375 degrees F 30 minutes or until golden brown. When you tap the bottom of the loaf it will sound hollow. Brush the tops with butter and allow to cool.

Glaze with ½ cup icing sugar combined with 1 tbsp. milk if you wish.

Molasses Raisin Bread

This is the one everyone’s mom made for every special occasion and sometimes just because we all loved it. The smell of it baking will remind you of family gatherings and late breakfasts.

You’ll get two large loaves from this recipe.

2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 cup warm water
1 envelope active dry yeast
1/3 cup milk
¼ cup butter or margarine
2 tbsp. firmly packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground nutmeg
1-1/2 cups raisins, any variety you like or a mixture
5 cups all-purpose flour, approximate measure, divided

Dissolve granulated sugar in warm water and stir in the yeast. Allow to sit 10 minutes or until thick, foamy and creamy.

Heat the milk with the butter until steaming hot and butter is melted. Stir in brown sugar, molasses, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Fold in raisins.

Put about 4 cups of the flour in a large mixing bowl and add yeast and molasses mixtures. Work with a spoon or your hands until you have a shaggy dough. Continue to add flour until you can turn the dough out onto a board. Knead about 10 minutes, or until smooth and not sticky. Place in an oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise until doubled in size, about an hour, maybe more.

Punch down gently and shape into two loaves. I like the three-bun style for this bread. Cover with a clean cotton towel and allow to double again, another hour to an hour and a half. Bake at 350 F for 30 minutes or until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped. Brush the tops with melted butter and cool before slicing — if you can wait.

Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at cynthia.stone@nf.sympatico.ca.

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