The story behind this loaf is a recent encounter with a similar loaf at a supermarket. Many would ask why would I buy bread, when I make so many at home. The simple answer is I love to try specialty breads once in a while for inspiration and also for the sheer joy of eating bread without having to break a sweat.
So, a raisin & pecan artisan loaf caught my eyes recently while I was browsing through the bread isle looking to grab a simple carb for dinner! The bread smelled nice, and I loved the fact that it had my favorite nut in it. I though this will be perfect for the brunch next day.
But as I was eating the bread, I could get raisins but not many pecans, which was a bit disappointing but nonetheless the bread was delicious. So as you might have guessed already, I set off to make my own version of the bread. So this bread was born.
Okay so for my loaf, I use a lot of raisins (majority of it will be soaked) a lot of pecans, honey (some beautiful local honey) and a bit of spices just to make it interesting. Now, if you are not into cinnamon or nutmeg, just skip them, this will still be super delicious!
This is free formed( I decided to braid but you can do whichever the shape you fancy), I used my inspiration plus imagination to create the flavor and most importantly this is naturally leavened (and a same day bake!). You can still retard the dough, which will add more flavor to the bread. Simply refrigerate the bulked dough ( in an air tight container) over night and shape, proof and bake the following day.
I hope, you will take this recipe, use your own imagination and make it your own true artisan loaf! So let’s get started. Step by step instructions as usual and I will mention ingredient substitutes where necessary.
Fist things first! You need fed, active starter ( usually 100% hydrated)
A lot of questions about what ratio to feed and that really depends on how fast you want the starter to be ready.
eg: 1:5:5 ratio will be ready in 6-7 hours whereas 1:10:10 will take longer to ripe (10-12)
What I usually do is, feed my starter (1:10:10 or 1:15:15) the night before around 10 p.m. so it will be ready by morning next day, say 7-8 a.m
Soak the raisins in luke warm water for about an hour. This will re hydrate the dried fruit and they will look swollen and plump. Do not discard the soaking water, we use all that in the dough!
Give these a rough chop once fully soaked
The soaked raisins will smash easily while mixing and add sweetness and color to the dough, so does the soaking water!
Roughly chop the pecans. Again, I like big chunks, but you can chop them finer too.
When you are ready to make the bread, weigh the 130 g of water and starter in a bowl. Add the honey to the same and give it a good mix
Let’s talk about what honey does in this bread. It adds sweetness and flavor. I prefer to add honey instead of refined sugar as long as it doesn’t conflict with other flavors.
You can substitute the 2 tbsp honey with 2 tbsp of any of the following;
brown sugar (dark/light)
If using sugar, add extra 2 tbsp water
Weight/measure flour, salt, spices, soaked sultana, starter mixture into a bowl of a stand mixer. Start mixing using the dough hook, on low speed. Add raisin soaking water gradually as you mix. The dough will come together to a sticky mess. You may have some water left, but that’s okay.
Keep kneading for about a minute more and them add soften butter a tablespoon at a time and keep kneading/mixing on medium speed.
Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as you go.
Once the dough get to this stage and all your butter is added, mix for an additional 1-2 minutes. Use a little flour to help release the sticky dough from the sides of the ball.
The dough will be sticky but manageable. You will feel the dough has started to get stronger
Get the semi developed dough onto a bench (flat, non-stick surface) Use water to lubricate your hands and use slap and fold to finish kneading the dough. Once done you can use a little dusting of flour to round up the dough. This will not take more than a minute or two.
The kneaded dough will be a lot firmer and smoother. Use a little flour to mold it into a dough ball and place this in a container. Cover loosely and let sit for 30 minutes (an hour is fine too) This is to relax the dough, as we are going to stretch it to incorporate pecans and the rest of the raisins.
Take the rested dough onto a bench and stretch the dough as wide as you can without tearing it. There is no particular size, we just want to fold through the pecans as evenly as possible and this is the easiest way to do it. Once stretched, spread the pecans and the remaining 20 g of raisins. Roll the dough starting from one side (like a cinnamon roll) to a cylinder and then to a ball again like shown in the next picture.
Place this dough ball in a lightly greased bowl, cover loosely and place in a warm place to bulk. This will take about 4-5 hours ( roughly at 27°C) We are looking for a dough that is doubled(almost) in size.
This is the bulked dough. It will look a lot airy and silky.
Get this onto a floured surface and punch down.
I wanted to shape this into a platte, but you can actually shape this in anyway you like. You can also bake it into a pan loaf using a 9 by 5 loaf pan.
If you want to do the braid, divide the dough in to three pieces.
Shape each piece into a log, by rolling the dough on the bench while applying pressure with your palms.
If the dough is too sticky, place the dough back in the container cover and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Cold dough is much easier to handle.
Plait the three strands, squeeze and tuck the end bits underneath. Do not plait too tightly, leave some room for the dough to expand. It is okay if the dough infuses together. As it is a stickier dough, it is likely that the braid will disappear when proofing/baking, which is fine.
Place this on a tray lined with a parchment, cover loosely and place in a moist, warm place to proof
This bread took 4-5 hours to proof ( roughly at 27°C). Be patient! at first you will not see any movement, but after two hours or so it will start to grow rapidly.
Once ready, bake for 40- 45 minutes @ 350 °F / 180 °C
Make a light sugar syrup by boiling equal parts of water and sugar for 2 minutes. As soon as the bread comes out, apply a thin coating of the syrup. This will help keep the loaf moist for longer.
Leave on a wire rack to cool.
Store the completely cooled bread in a air tight container for up to two days at room temperature.
Best eaten on the same day!