Warning: The happy creation of this bread may force you in to the golden rut of making it every week. If you are a fervent bread baker, your longing artisanal loaves could go unbaked for months as the crowds clamor for the following. Unless, of course, you become a Secret Midnight Baker.

Be a hero to your loved ones. Make your kitchen smile.

Utensils

  • Eight-quart or larger bowl, although a clean plastic bucket will work as well
  • Your favorite measuring spoons
  • Your favorite measuring cups, 1 cup, 1/3 cup and 1/4 cup, specifically
  • A rather large and sturdy mixing spoon or wooden spatula (the latter being my personal fave)
  • Food thermometer
  • A fork
  • A spoon

Ingredients (in order of appearance)

  • Water -- three cups at around 105 degrees, no more than 110, otherwise, you will upset the...
  • Yeast -- two full tablespoonfuls, the dry active kind (alas, I can not find cake yeast anywhere)
  • Brown sugar -- 1/4 cup, packed
  • Dry milk -- one cup, no more, no less
  • Whole wheat flour -- approximately four cups
  • Unbleached white flour -- again, approximately four cups
  • Sea or kosher salt -- four teaspoons, and not a grain more
  • Butter -- 1/3 cup (that's 5 tablespoons), melted, but not too melted, a couple of unmelted blobs are OK
  • Cinnamon -- two heaping tablespoonfuls, at least
  • Raisins -- an overflowing cup, oh OK, another handful too
  • Vegetable oil -- two tablespoon, honest
  • Egg wash -- crack an egg in to a cup, add a little water, swish it around, and that's it

Becoming Spongeworthy

Get out your bowl or bucket. Rinse it out if it's a little dusty. Turn on the hot water and get the temperature right using your handy thermometer.

Add the brown sugar. Stir it around with the fork until it is mostly dissolved. Sometimes brown sugar gets stubborn and refuses to release its grip on the material state. Don't worry. Dry the fork.

Sacramentally sprinkle the yeast over the water. The yeast will give its life for your bread so be grateful. Add the cup of dry milk and mix everything together.

Hopefully, you keep your flour in some sort of container, like a large tin or plastic bin. Using your dry fork, lightly fluff the flour. Flour has a tendency to settle while sitting around waiting to be transformed in to something yummy. Incorporating some air contributes to a lighter loaf.

Spoon the whole wheat flour in to the cup. If you've fluffed correctly, you should barely feel the flour fill the spoon. Add four cups of whole wheat flour, thoroughly combining after each cup. By this time, you should have what resembles a thick pudding.

This is called a sponge. With the spatula or spoon of your choice, whip the sponge about a hundred times, until it becomes stretchy and smooth. Dip the spoon just to the surface of the dough and lift up in a circular motion. Turn the bowl in the opposite direction of your whipping. If you're a lefty (like I am), you'll mix right and turn the bowl clockwise. Righties just switch this. As with the flour earlier, you are incorporating air in to the batter.

Cover the bowl with plastic and cover with a clean kitchen towel and place the dough in a warmish, quiet place where the yeast and sugar and flour can get busy. Leave it there for about 45 minutes to an hour.

Sponger Note: The sponge method of setting the dough can be used with any bread recipe. Simply start with all the water, add the yeast, sweetening agent and half the flour. Proceed as above. Sure, it adds a little time to the whole process, but much of breadbaking is about patience. Besides, salt is yeast's buzz killer. With salt not added until later, the yeast can begin a more robust blooming, forming gluten as the sponge rises.

Folding and Kneading

Remove the towel and plastic wrap. See how the sponge has risen? See those tiny holes at the surface of the dough -- the yeast's early silent cries of sacrifice? More may be forming as you watch. Yes, you agree, living bread.

Time for everyone else to join the party.

Add the salt. Say goodbye to your fine, airy sponge as the dough implodes and sighs as if watching a rainbow disappear.

Add the cinnamon. Did you spill a little extra accidentally on purpose? Good for you.

Introduce the raisins, doing your best to unclump them as you spread them around the top of your now-droopy dough. Those raisins, they are so cliqueish.

Pour on the butter, the dough's social lubricant. Now everybody's happy.

Time to fold everything together while adding the remaining flour. Pay attention. The operative word is fold. You mix the sponge; you fold the dough. Got it? At no time will you cut through your precious.

Pick up your loyal and trusty spoon or spatula, slide along the inside of the bowl under the dough -- whistling all the while so they suspect nothing -- and gently fold bottom up and over. Spin the bowl a quarter turn. Fold again. Do this two or three times.

Add a cup of flour. If you are mixing white and wheat, start using white at this point. Do not add more flour until the previous cup has been thoroughly combined and the dough returns to its sticky state. As more flour is added, it will take longer for the dough to accept it. Also, your mixing forearm and hand might get a little tired. It's OK to take a break and shake them out. Remember, breadbaking is a celebration, not a chore.

Once about three cups of flour have been added, and the dough is a somewhat dry lumpish blob no longer sticking to the bowl, it's time to dump it out on to a board or counter to knead it.

If you have been using white flour in this stage, stop. Put it away, and use wheat for kneading. I use wheat when I knead any bread, even white. I feel it adds a little texture and interest.

If you have small children around the house and have the constitution that doesn't mind them in the kitchen with you, enlist their help now. It's only for a minute. Have them dust the counter with flour. They may look at you a little oddly since you are asking them to make a mess. It may take several tiny handfuls to do the job, but believe me, they do it with relish. They can cover the dough also. If they want to poke holes in the dough or press escaped raisins back in to the dough, that's delightful.

After your assistant is finished, wash their hands, pat them on the fanny and send them to Legoland. Time to knead.

Gather the dough together so it is not so spread out. Flour your hands. Put one on top of the other and with the heel of one hand press in and down through the dough. Turn the dough a quarter, fold the front of the dough toward the back and push again. Push, turn, fold. Push, turn, fold.

A couple of tips: Use your body, not your arms. Rock against the dough and pull back, building a rhythm. You must knead the dough 300 times. Pay attention, and do not lose count. I always go back ten if when I do. Kneading dough is moving meditation.

At the beginning, you'll probably have to stop every few pushes to add flour (roughly a cup total, maybe more) and scrape the counter. Although dealing with sticky dough can be frustrating, keep at it. You will eventually be adding less flour and kneading more. If your hands get too gummy, rub them together over the dough. Contemplate as you do this that you are adding cells of yourself to your bread.

Keep kneading and adding flour until the dough feels like it is pushing back. It should barely stick to the counter and should pull dough from your hands.

... 297, 298, 299, 300. There. You're done. Give it a couple more for good measure. Tuck the dough underneath itself so it is more of a ball. Pour a tablespoon of veggie oil in the bowl. Place the dough in and flip it so it is completely coated with oil. Wrap and cover the bowl as before. Leave it alone and let it work in peace. Allow the dough to rise for an hour.

The Rising

After an hour, once you're done being impressed with how well the dough has risen, press it down. I know, it is tempting to punch it, but don't do it! It is disrespectful to the bread. Instead, press gently, allowing the dough to exhale. Do this several times all over the dough. Your assistant from earlier may want to help if she hasn't gone to play outside.

Rewrap and recover the dough. Let it rise for another 45 minute to an hour.

Uncover and unwrap the dough. It will not have risen as much as the first rise, but that's OK. Respectfully push down the dough. Roll it out of the bowl and push the dough in and under so it becomes a nice big ball.

Cut the ball in half. Do the same tucking under thing with each half. Let them rest and get over their separation anxiety for five minutes.

A Bun in the Oven

Prepare your bread pans. Pour the last tablespoon of oil in to one of them. Roll it back and forth, side to side. Set it upsidedown and at an angle in to the other pan, letting any excess drain. Give the second pan the same back and forth, side to side treatment.

Flatten one of the doughs in to a squarish shape. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll it up as you would a towel, a carpet or a magazine with which you'd playfully swat the tushie of your sweetie. Once rolled, pinch the seam together until it is fairly seamless. Pull and tuck the ends toward the seam and pinch likewise.

Place the dough seam side up in to a now-nicely-greased pan. Flatten it with the back of your hands. Flip it over and repeat. Set it aside and do the same with the remaining dough.

Cover them for the last time with the kitchen towel. They should rise for at least 20 minutes. Their little round crowns should peek over the pans by then. If not, give them a little more time.

With a sharp knife slash the loaves once lengthwise or a few times diagonally to allow steam to escape while baking. Liberally brush on the eggwash. Put them in the oven for an hour.

Within about 15 minutes your kitchen with smell delicious.

After an hour, take out the loaves. Twist the ends of the pan to release them easily. Tap the bottom of a loaf. It should return a hollow thump. If not, you can put them back in the oven without the pans for a short time.

You might be thinking: These look too good to eat! You're right. Hands off, buster, for at least an hour. If you have a cake rack, rest the loaves on their sides. This way, more surface area is exposed and they will cool more evenly.

Atkins Be Damned!

After an hour (or the next morning if you are a Secret Midnight Baker), slice and enjoy.

A Brief Note on Slicing: Instead of slicing the bread upright, leaving it on its side facilitates a more even slice. Make sure you use a real bread knife.

This bread is wonderful by itself, and it makes an outstanding peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Based on a recipe from The Tassajara Bread Book, Edward Espe Brown, 1995

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