Buttered Raisin Bread: the luck o’ the Irish for 2012

raisin

La na gCeapairi.

No, my fingers didn’t get lost on the keyboard. This is Gaelic for “Day of the Buttered Bread.”

(Or “Day of the Sandwich,” depending on which translation tool I use. Any Gaelic-speaking reader out there who can set me straight?)

These days, the Irish celebrate New Year’s just like most of us, I imagine – with bonfires and parties on New Year’s Eve, a verse of Auld Lang Syne at midnight, and church on New Year’s Day.

But 100 years ago and more, when hunger was always just one failed potato crop away, many Irish New Year traditions involved food. Like the rich barm brack (fruit cake) baked especially to be smashed against the door by the man of the house, to banish hunger from the land in the new year. (Luckily, the family was free to gather the pieces and eat them afterwards – apparently in Ireland there wasn’t the bias against fruitcake there is here in America!)

In County Cork, crumbs were thrown out the windows and door to prove that no one inside was hungry. Similarly, many families placed buttered bread, or bread-and-butter sandwiches, outside the door on New Year’s Day, again to show an absence of hunger. Thus, January 1 and its designation as La na gCeapairi: Day of the Buttered Bread.

Bread and butter might just be my ultimate comfort food. Perhaps it’s the Irish in me – my grandfather came to America from Donegal, a county on the wild Irish northern coast.

But maybe it’s simply that my mother’s homemade white bread was a special treat. Our daily bread was Pepperidge Farm or Sunbeam; but occasionally Mom would break out the big mixing bowl, knead a batch of yeast dough, and bake a couple of plain white loaves. Simple as they were, their aroma, hot from the oven, drew us all into the kitchen, where we’d eat hot buttered bread – much as our Irish ancestors may have, hundreds of years before.

I’m celebrating New Year’s this year with a loaf of Irish Raisin Bread. An amalgam of two cultures, Irish and American, it adds raisins and a touch of cinnamon to a simple white/wheat loaf. I figure fruit-stuffed barm brack gives me permission to use raisins, both golden and dark; and combining all-purpose flour with the usual Irish whole wheat lends the bread a celebratory air.

As we get ready to greet 2012, let’s not lose sight of our past, and the many wonderful cultural traditions we hold dear. Especially around bread, that most venerable of all foods. Bhliain nua sásta!

Let’s get started – with a starter.

Why use a starter to make this bread? It’s not sourdough, not particularly “artisan…”

We find that a simple overnight starter both enhances bread’s taste AND its keeping qualities. The short amount of “extra” fermentation raises the bread’s acidity level just enough that it stays fresher longer; and the organic acids and alcohol released during that fermentation add wonderful complexity to the loaf’s flavor.

Place the following in a bowl:

1 cup (4 ounces) King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour, organic preferred
1/2 cup cool water
1/8 teaspoon instant yeast

Can you use non-organic white wheat flour? Of course; we like to use organic flour in yeast bread, as it seems to rise better, but regular white wheat is fine.

Can you use Irish-style wholemeal flour? Yes. What about regular whole wheat flour? Yes – preferably King Arthur!

Combine the flour, water, and yeast, mixing until all of the flour is moistened. Cover the bowl, and let the starter rest overnight (or for up to 20 hours or so), at room temperature; it doesn’t need to be placed somewhere warm. It will expand and become a bit bubbly.

When the starter is ready, mix it with the following:

2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons potato flour or 1/3 cup instant potato flakes
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter
1/2 cup lukewarm milk

Mix and knead to make a smooth, soft dough. The dough will seem dry at first, but as you knead it’ll soften up.

Place the dough in a greased bowl or greased 8-cup measure, cover it, and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until it’s noticeably puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk.

Gently deflate the dough. Knead in 1 cup golden raisins, dark raisins, or a combination; or currants. Your hands are the best tool here.

If you use currants instead of raisins, you’ll have a greater distribution of fruit throughout the loaf, due to currants’ smaller size.

How about if you simply increase the amount of regular raisins, for more fruit in each bite? We tried that, and found increasing the raisins slowed fermentation considerably, and also affected the bread’s final rise, due to sugar leaching from the raisins into the dough. It made a nice loaf, for sure; but it was denser. If that’s what you’re after, double the raisins or currants to 2 cups, and bake in a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

Shape the dough into a log, and place it into a lightly greased 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ loaf pan. Cover the pan with a large overturned bowl, or tent it lightly with greased plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise until it’s crowned about 1/2″ to 3/4″ over the rim of the pan, 60 to 90 minutes.

Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Combine the following, and brush over the loaf:

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon cold water

Now, you can omit this cinnamon topping, if desired; it’s not critical, but adds a nice hint of spice. The topping amounts as written make more than enough; we did it that way simply because it’s easier to measure a tablespoon each confectioners’ sugar and water than 1 1/2 teaspoons each. Drizzle the excess over your morning oatmeal!

Bake the bread for 20 minutes. Tent it loosely with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, until it’s golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers at least 190°F.

Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool.

Cool completely before slicing.

Wrap airtight, and store at room temperature for up to 5 days; for longer storage, wrap well and  freeze.

Here’s a delicious, traditional way to serve this bread: with a smear of unsalted butter, and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Or simply spread with salted butter, and enjoy. The sweet raisins, rich butter, and touch of crunchy salt play wonderfully well together – my Irish eyes were definitely smiling as I enjoyed this New Year’s treat!

Oh, and one more thing: if you find yourself with leftover bread starting to get stale – recycle it. Check out our post, “Raising a toast to toast.”

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Irish Raisin Bread.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. xbaber

    I love my Tupperware measuring spoons because they come with a 1-1/2 teaspoon. Much easier than dirtying a 1 teaspoon and a 1/2 teaspoon or trying to eyeball it with the 1 Tablespoon.

    The bread looks great. I don’t have any raisins, but I do have prunes. How do you think dicing the prunes would be here?
    Using diced prunes should be just fine. Sounds like a nice variation. ~Amy

    Reply
  2. Sarah

    “How about if you simply increase the amount of regular raisins, for more fruit in each bite? We tried that, and found increasing the raisins slowed fermentation considerably, and also affected the bread’s final rise, due to sugar leaching from the raisins into the dough. It made a nice loaf, for sure; but it was denser.”

    Well, now I finally understand why my cinnamon-raisin bread sometimes does not rise as I expect, and comes out rather dense – it’s because I get carried away with the raisins. Now I understand!

    Thank you!!

    Live and learn, right, Sarah? :) PJH

    Reply
  3. Sandra Alicante

    Mmmmm. Must be the Irish ancestry but I can’t resist a good fruit bread. I mean literally. I’ll just keep going back till it’s all gone….no one else gets a look in!

    I just made this again today, Sandra – there’s something about the starter that gives this bread superb, moist texture, and keeps it fresh longer. YUMMY. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  4. Janee

    This looks delicious! Can I substitute active dry yeast?

    Absolutely, Janee – just make sure it’s nice and fresh, preferably from a jar, not a little packet. The packets tend to be less fresh. Enjoy! PJH

    Reply
  5. hobbit

    It seems the KAF bakers are really keeping me busy. Tomorrow I’m making the yellow cake……..Friday is bread baking day so I may as well give this a try. Looks like the perfect bread for homemade applesauce. When I was young my mother also made her bread and it was a treat for us to be given the heel of the loaf slathered with fresh butter and sprinkled with brown sugar. We are Franco/American in this household and of course I thought this treat must be french. Also my mother couldn’t make a sandwich without putting butter on one side and some other condiment on the other. How about you?

    We usually had butter on one piece of bread, mustard on the other, and filling in between. How about you, readers? PJH

    Reply
  6. hasoleymani

    Happy New Year to all at KAF and readers too! I love this blog (and everything KAF!) I’m wondering if one could use some unfed/fed sourdough starter in place of the poolish to simplify and use up some starter? Do you think that would work?

    Thanks for all the great recipes and support! Amy

    Some bakers use starter to get more sourdough flavor in their loaves – When using starter for flavor, use 1 cup starter in place of 1/2 cup water and 1 cup flour. The poolish has a different flavor than the sourdough -so it may be best to use it as the recipe is written. Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  7. "Teresa F."

    I’m looking forward to making this for visiting family on the 1st. Would there be any problem with adding a tablespoon or two of flax meal to the dough? I’d like to add some more nutrition to my bread, but don’t want to affect the texture too much.

    You’re spot on! Adding a tablespoon or two of flax will be fine! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  8. lindadv

    Ahh, butter on both sides for me please. Any sandwich. Our ancestry is Dutch, we like dairy products! Also, raisin or currant bread or buns. The recipe I have for Dutch currant bread has 10.5 oz currants to 16.75 oz flour. There is buttermilk in the dough and even with just the two of us, it doesn’t have time to get stale. I haven’t had a problem with the rise or density, but I am baking at 7000′ so the yeast always goes crazy!

    In the Netherlands, they say that in America you get a bike with your loaf of raisin bread. You ride the bike to get from raisin to raisin.

    Oh, we love the exchange of ideas from continent to continent – Thanks for sharing your tips and recipe! Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  9. Evening Hérault

    Hi PJ,

    Lovely recipe, and we’ll try to set you straight about the Irish. (I don’t mean to sound picky but here goes…)

    You’d never say “La na gCeapairi” for buttered bread in Irish, because bread is “arán” and butter is “im”, so “the buttered bread” would be more like “An t-arán im”.

    “La” has to have an accent (“lá”) to become day (otherwise it would probably be more like la-la-la).

    “Ceapairí” would be sandwiches (plural).

    Finally, in Hiberno-English we’d probably say something along the lines of “The Day of the Sangwedges”!

    Thanks so much! I knew someone would be able to set me (and my fractured Gaelic) straight… :) PJH

    Reply
  10. Irene in TO

    ALL raisins come with chemicals. These are sprayed to prevent fementation during drying. That also happens to inhibit the yeast rising…

    I buy raisins and currants in bulk, and I ALWAYS give them a bath. Dump them into a large bowl and give 3 washes with warm/hot tap water. Use your hands to rub well and you will see just how much junk starts to colour the water. Dump and repeat. Then do a final rinse without rubbing.

    Spread a clean towel onto a cookie sheet, and squeeze the water gently out of handfuls or raisins, and spread them on the towel to air dry. You can crowd them about a finger deep. Put the dry raisins into zip bags for storage or use as soon as dry. You will be able to load raisins into dough if you like, using these clean raisins.

    Irene, that’s very interesting – thanks for letting us know. PJH

    Reply
  11. kettlesmith

    But, 1 1/2 teaspoons is 1/2 tablespoon. Three teaspoons to a tablespoon. I thought all measuring spoons sets came with a 1/2 tablespoon.

    None of my three sets of measuring spoons contains a 1/2 tablespoon measure… I must be missing the boat! :) PJH

    Reply
  12. mbmitchell

    I love what you said about your Mom’s bread – it made me laugh.

    My Mom had a huge crank style bread maker that she pulled out every Saturday without fail. She would make about twenty loaves each week, selling a few to supplement her income. Our birthday wish always included a loaf of Sunbeam bread! Anything store-bought was a treat to us!

    Of course now, I make bread whenever I can. My six year old grandson loves to help me.

    Reply
  13. jean18724

    Loved your story about your mom’s bread. Although we rarely had home-baked bread, we always had “bakery” bread so the mass-marketed loaves were a treat for us too. So squishy! Can’t imagine eating “Wonder Bread” today. And, we longed for margarine because we never had anything but butter. Sigh. What a deprived childhood.

    Can’t wait to try this with the left-over dried cherries and apricots from the lovely Golden Fruitcake recipe. Thanks again for another wonderful recipe. Happy New Year.

    Reply
  14. fdlsjl

    Can I cut back on the butter ..possibly using part oil instead? I found eating the wonderful Christmas goodies with loads of butter did not agree with my digestive system!! Also, what would be the best substitute for the milk in these bread/rolls recipes?

    Thank you for the great recipes, helpful tips, and blog pictures!!
    Can’t wait to visit your NEW facility when I’m in VT in the spring!!
    Thanks for helping make our Christmas delicious! Happy New Year!
    Yes, you may substitute oil for butter and you can use soy or rice milk in this recipe. ~Amy

    Reply
  15. waikikirie

    This sounds like a great recipe. Will run out and get the raisins today. mbmitchell brought back a great memory…..We lived in a two family house in the Bronx. My father’s parents downstairs, my folks, big brother and me upstairs. Grandma was a great cook and baker. Some days on my way home from school I would get a “whiff” of something good a few houses from mine. By the time I hit the stoop (said I was from “da” Bronx) I would realize that Grandma made her bread. She too had the big, black buckets with the hand cranks. I’d walk into her kitchen to see all these loaves of bread covered with tea towels. She’d take one, slice the heel, spread some butter on it and give it to me. Better treat then candy or chips!!!!! I laugh when I get complimented on my homemade bread. I am fortunate to have a stand mixer and a Zo (the “magic box” my DH calls it.) I think of what it took for Grandma to make bread. It’s a snap compared to her task. LOL Happy New Year to the wonderful staff at King Arthur, and all who read your blog.

    And a very happy new year to you, too – thanks for sharing your sweet memories… PJH

    Reply
  16. mstucker

    Made a loaf for New Year’s to share with family! Didn’t make it up to see them so I’m munching on a slice (or two!) toasted with butter. Sooo good! I noticed that my yeast has gotten a little old so the rise is probably not as high as I’d like. But a fresh batch should be on it’s way from Vermont soon. This bread is delicious! Next one I’ll make without the dairy and see how that works.

    In the meantime – just up the yeast to a tablespoon, or let the loaf rise longer. You kneaded the raisins in AFTER the first rise, right? That helps. Still, as you say, even if a bit dense – wonderfully tasty. I just had a slice for breakfast 10 minutes ago! PJH

    Reply
  17. jttrautwein

    Can this recipe be used in my brand new ZO miracle, beautiful bread machine? Your raisin bread looks like my Grandmas with the 2 different raisins and more than 2 in the bread. She would let it rise on a small counter in a large heavy, dark yellow striped ceramic bowl, (I still have it) and we would swipe a “good knuckle full” to taste. That was over 50 yrs ago and we probably wouldn’t suggest doing that today. I tried duplicating her recipe–cup of your hand is a difficult measurement to copy. My Grandma would say, when it either feels or looks right–add this or that. As I helped her, and learned by her side, she would make me re-do many things that she thought weren’t good enough. She had a gift that she shared, and I enjoyed. She had no formal schooling but was a cook at age 11 for a doctor–that was in 1912 and has passed but my memories remain. My ZO machine allows me to make a delicious bread and do my quilting, etc., and “fresh bread” smell in my home is delightful. Thank you for this recipe. Have a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012.

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful memories; I’m so glad your grandma passed her talents along to you. I’d suggest using the machine to make the dough, then baking in the oven; however, if you’re willing to risk it, try baking right in the machine. It’ll probably work, but I haven’t tried it, so can’t guarantee… Good luck – PJH

    Reply
  18. bampam1

    My overnight starter is “resting”. Can I use my beloved “Zo” for this recipe? My plan for dinner tomorrow, Irish raisin bread, and the White Bean and Sausage Soup from the Winter 2012 Baking Sheet.
    Going to get some colder weather with a flurry or two tomorrow…….Finally!!!!!

    You mean, can you bake in the machine? Not guaranteed, haven’t tried it. Can you use it to mix up the dough? Absolutely. Sounds like a heckuva good meal on tap! PJH

    Reply
  19. bampam1

    Well……………..the raisin bread was really good. It took just a bit longer to bake. I did all of the mixing and kneading in the Zo, turned it out, deflated it, and folded in the raisins. The White Bean and Sausage was magnificent. My husband loved it, and we’ve enough leftovers to share. I only changed the recipe by adding 28 oz. of diced Polish Kielbasa, and thickened the soup with a bit of cornstarch mixed with cold water because
    we like thickened soups better than thin. Tomorrow it will be even better. And yes, we got lots of flurries, howling winds, and super cold temps!!!

    Reply
  20. gaitedgirl

    Woohoo! I’ve been looking for something new to do with my Irish Style Wholemeal Flour! And my best friend is Irish so I know she’ll be all over this! Thanks so much PJ!! Brilliant!

    Reply
  21. "Cheryl in Texas"

    Finally made this first time last week – a teensy bit dry (could not find potato flakes or flour! Not buying a box of instant mashed potatoes), but dee-lish.

    Trying again today; the starter looks better to me (I used to bake a lot, getting back to it) this time, and it was easier to mix with the rest of the ingredients. Possibly because this time I did get the White Whole Wheat, and last time used regular WW (KAF, of course). Don’t know, but it is now rising and I expect good results. Thanks for the recipe! Love all the stories here on the blog, too.

    Reply
  22. cindyoldenkamp

    The starter seemed too dry compared to the picture. It tastes great before rising. I used the dough cycle on my bread machine to mix and rise and then baked in oven. I added dried plums in as part of the raisins. Great!

    Cindy, it could be your overfilled your flour cup a bit; check out tips on how to measure flour. Also, flour can be considerably drier in the winter, which makes a difference. Anyway, glad it turned out well for you – PJH

    Reply
  23. I_Fortuna

    I love this recipe. I think I will do as I did with the no knead recipe. Mix it all together, except for the fruit, let it rise in the bedroom where it is the warmest overnight. Then punch it down, knead in the fruit and let it rise again for 1 to 2 hours or as long as it takes, no rush. I could not believe how good my no knead bread came out. This makes it so easy. My yeast in the small packets was a powerhouse and I was supposed to use 1/4 tsp. but I think I used at least a half a teaspoon and no baking powder or soda. It came out awesome. To me this is a no fail method and the bread comes out tender and delicious. It is a little like sourdough as I let it rise about 12 hours and it does have a lovely tartness. This may work well for this bread. I will try it. I love King Arthur Flour. I will use glace fruits and golden raisins as well. Thanks so much for this recipe.

    Reply
    1. PJ Hamel , post author

      Best of luck – I’m so glad you’ve found a yeast bread method that really works for you. Let us know how it goes, OK? PJH

  24. DonChaCha

    Whenever I add fruit to bread by folding in just before the second rise I end up with big sir pockets in my loaf. Would it be okay to mix the raisins in while kneading?

    Reply

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