Wednesday, December 4, 2013

cinnamon raisin bread

When we visited my parents over Thanksgiving, my mother had cinnamon raisin bread on hand for the breakfast toast. Thursday morning (or was it Friday?) she snuggled in bed with the littles to read library books while my father trotted back and forth between kitchen and bed, bearing plates of cinnamon raisin toast. The children scarfed it as fast as he could make it.

I watched the toast-making marathon from my corner in the kitchen where I was curled up in the red chair sipping coffee and reading An Inconvenient Truth. After my younger son came running out to the kitchen with the empty plate yet again, I pointed out, “You know, Dad, you can say no to them.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said as he spread butter on yet another golden brown slice, taking care to keep his fingers out of the sticky, hot icing. “This is the last batch.”

Year after year, my mother makes enormous loaves of cinnamon raisin bread topped with a rich butter frosting for holiday breakfast toasting. Cinnamon raisin bread belongs to Christmas. I never make it any other time of year. It’d be like playing Christmas carols in May.

But despite my love of the bread, I almost never get around to making it. It could be because my December obsession with all things cookie allows so little time for other baking, or it could be because the cinnamon raisin bread is my mother’s specialty. She provides the traditions and I do the weird new stuff.

But this past weekend when my mother sent home a partial loaf and we polished it off in no time flat, I decided I wanted a big batch of that bread all for us-eses. If my kids liked it this much (and raisins in bread is something they’ve had to grow into), then now was the time to be baking—and icing, toasting, buttering, and eating—it, claiming the tradition for ourselves.

Hot: waiting for its slick of butter.

This bread makes excellent gifts (and one year I gave mini loaves to all the neighbors as Christmas gifts), but I’m always a little nervous that people won’t fix it proper. I worry they won’t heed the instructions written on the attached card and will eat it without the toasting and buttering and, if doing it up all the way, the cinnamoning and sugaring. And then they’ll never know the bread’s full glory and all will be for naught. With so many variables, maybe it’s not the most excellent gift after all?

Which is fine. I can make cashew brittle and crack and butter cookies for everyone else. The cinnamon raisin bread will belong to us. (And, in all honesty, the cookies will, too. But never mind that.)

See how the icing got gooped up where I held onto the loaf to cut it? It happens. No biggie.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread
Adapted from my mother who adapted it from The Mennonite Community Cookbook, or so says she.

1 medium potato, peeled and chopped in cubes
1 quart water
2 tablespoons butter
3 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons yeast
1 cup warm water
1 cup sugar
11-12 cups bread flour
1 pound raisins
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
vanilla frosting (see below)

Put the potato pieces and the quart of water in a saucepan. Simmer until the potatoes are fork-tender. Drain, reserving the liquid. Mash the potatoes with the butter and salt. Add the reserved liquid.

In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and 1 cup of warm water. Let rest for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, stir together the potato-water mixture, 6 cups of flour, and the sugar. When the mixture has cooled to lukewarm, add the yeast. Stir until smooth. Cover with a towel and rest for about two hours.

Work in the spices and remaining flour (or as much as is needed to make a nice dough). Add the raisins. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and satiny. Return the dough to the unwashed bread bowl and cover with a towel. Let rise until double. Shape into loaves (three large, four medium, or a bunch of mini-loaves) and place in greased pans. Let rise, covered, until doubled in size. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes (for big loaves—if making smaller loaves, reduce the oven time accordingly). Cool completely.

To serve: spread the top with vanilla frosting. Slice, which can be tricky since it’s hard to hold onto the bread thanks to the frosting—persevere. Toast, making sure to put the bread in the toaster with the icing facing up. Thanks to the high sugar content, the bread toasts quickly, so watch it closely. Carefully remove from toaster. Butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

To give as gifts: frost the bread and then slip it into the fridge, uncovered, for about 15-30 minutes so the frosting can harden up a bit. Then wrap the loaves in plastic wrap. Lay out several strips of plastic flat on the table (overlapping, in an x shape), set the loaf in the middle, and carefully pull up the corners until the whole loaf is encased in plastic. Tie a bright ribbon around the plastic. What you'll end up with is a loaf of bread with a sprout of plastic on top. Confused? Here's a picture (not of raisin bread).

To freeze: Bag up un-iced loaves of bread and freeze. Store the frosting in the fridge. To serve, thaw and frost.

Vanilla Frosting
1 stick butter
3½ cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cream the butter. Beat in the sugar, a cup at a time. Add the vanilla. Beat in the half-and-half, starting with a couple tablespoons and adding a little at a time until it’s a spreadable consistency but still thick. Extra frosting can be stored in the fridge for a couple weeks or in the freezer indefinitely.


  1. I know that every time you mention your mother, I make the same comment. I just can't help myself. *Your mother is a marvel!!* (Of course, I've eaten this bread, and it is a marvel, too)

  2. Ooh! This DOES sound like it would make a nice teacher gift, about this time of year. May I ask, at the risk of sounding foolish, how you suggest bagging the bread to give away as a gift? Do you frost it? Leave the frosting off and send it along in a side dish?
    Thanks for the idea!!

    1. Jennifer, this is an excellent question, and I'll be incorporating my answer into the post. To give as gifts, I frost the bread and then slip it into the fridge, uncovered, for about 15-30 minutes so the frosting can harden up a bit. Then I wrap the loaves in plastic wrap. I lay out several strips of plastic flat on the table (overlapping, in an x shape), set the loaf in the middle, and carefully pull up the corners until the whole loaf is encased in plastic. I tie a bright ribbon around the plastic. What I end up with is a loaf of bread with a sprout of plastic on top. Confused? Here's a picture (not of raisin bread):

  3. I adore raisin bread toast! But I make scone (too lazy to link to my blog recipe), and I make it year round when I have extra sour milk or buttermilk. If I iced it, my kids would love that. I'm going to keep my grandma's Russian kulich bread the Christmas tradition (again, too lazy to link) - I've already plotted the day on the calendar when I'm going to make it!

    and, I wanted to say, I love the idea of toast in bed with books and a grandma. that is lovely.

  4. This looks so yummy, thanks to your photos! What if you slice it first and then get someone to hold the thing together to frost it? Or put it back into the pan to frost after slicing? Just throwin' ideas out.

  5. Used to see frosted raisen bread in stores, and I loved, always not toasting it, and eating the frosting piece last. Just seeing your bread brought back the taste and memories, I am sure willing to try it home baked! Thank you very much!

  6. Well this is genius! I've only ever seen cinnamon raisin bread done the swirled way and whenever I make it, the slices fall apart due to large gaps that formed between the swirls when it baked. Mixing the raisins into the dough? Again, genius!

  7. This looks delicious! I'd love to make it, but my kids won't eat raisins, so I'd have to eat the whole loaf. It may just be worth it after all!

  8. maybe it’s not the most excellent gift after all?

    No. It is. Seriously. My address is . . . ;-)

  9. I know this is an old post and you may not see this comment... but I finally got around to baking this bread after thinking about it off and on for 3 years. LOL The loaves look gorgeous, I frosted one loaf, and sliced it up for dinner. The problem is that most of my icing is now in the toaster :( Any tips on how to toast the bread without the icing melting off? My bread didn't even get halfway toasted before the icing was gone. Now my toaster is smoking. Ooops. Darn good bread though! :)

    1. You can see in the photos that my icing runs, too, though a good bit stays on. It's just how it is.... Perhaps err on the side of a thicker frosting? (With this bread, my toaster smokes, too.)

    2. Okay, good to know that it's normal for some to remain in the toaster. I'll try thicker frosting next time. Thanks!