The very first time I had raisin bread was back in 1974 – the summer of ’74 when I had just turned 7 years old and I embarked with my mom on my first trip to Greece. I was nervous and excited at the same time: it was my first time flying and that means there’s always fear of the unknown. I would be meeting grandparents that up to this point I had only seen in photos or heard of through storytelling from my mother. I would meet aunts, uncles but no cousins. From my mom’s side of the family…I am the oldest so all of my 1st cousins in Greece were born later that 1974. The extra attention as the lone grandchild/nephew was not something to harp about.
One morning, my Pappou (grandfather) asked me to go to the bakery and buy some raisin bread. He have me a fifty drachma note and reminded me that I should also be receiving some change with the bread. My grandparents ( lived in the Neapoli area of Thessaloniki) and off I went to the bakery and and I was easily distracted by the toy store that I passed on the way to the bakery. I stopped and noticed a display of toy soldiers in the store front. They were those small plastic ones and the box (if purchased) would contain an army of blue and red soldiers.
Back in 1974, Greece had just ousted a Junta-run government and in the summer of ’74, Greece was embroiled in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The mood between Turks & Greeks was not good and I was even dressed by one uncle in camouflage fatigues and plastic machine gun. I thought to myself, this toy set of plastic soldiers would be the perfect complement to my military attire and another outlet for me to play-out slaying “bad Turks”.
I reached into my pocket, told the shop-owner I wanted the toy soldiers and handed over the 50 Drachma note. The transaction was complete and I headed back to my grandparents’ home with toy soldiers in hand – but no raisin bread. Oooops! I could do no bad in the eyes of my grandparents but my mom was none too pleased. I remember feeling the wrath of the pantofla (the sharp sting of a slipper) and I followed instructions thoroughly when sent on future errands.
My grandfather went to the bakery and bought the raisin bread that I was supposed to buy. I had it for breakfast, still warm from the bakery and unsalted butter smeared on the slices. I loved that rustic bakery-style bread and it’s been a fave of mine ever since. Back here in Canada (and likely where you live), one can easily find loaves of raisin bread that resemble slice bread with raisins in them. If that’s what you’re looking for here – sorry.
This raisin bread recipe pays homage to that raisin bread I had in Greece (Thessaloniki) back in ’74 with a nice crust, soft inside with some good chew. What you have here is a riff on your usual crusty bread one buys from a good bakery or…if you’re like me – you bake your own. There’s a few departures here: the first and obvious one being the inclusion of raisins….lots of raisins. Second, the bread has to be a little sweet and being a Greek guy, I chose honey rather than sugar to make this bread as wholesome as possible. The final ingredient I’ve added is milk powder, something many of us can buy at the supermarket or bulk stores.
The milk powder’s function is to help impart a sweeter flavour to the bread, a more tender crumb) and it helps the bread achieve the warm brown colour to the crust. Powdered milk is often used in bread recipes instead of milk so as it doesn’t interfere with the rising process of bread making. The end result was outstanding: a lovely aroma wafted out of my kitchen, the texture of the bread (tender crumb with good crust) was a delight and smearing unsalted butter on some lightly toasted raisin bread took me right back to Greece in 1974. Who woulda’ thunk that an oven could also double as a time machine?
For this Raisin Bread (Σταφιδόψωμο) recipe and more, please buy my Everything Mediterranean cookbook.
2 Tbsp. active dry yeast
3 1/2 cups tepid water
1/2 cup of honey
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. of coarse sea salt
3 Tbsp. of powdered milk
6 1/2 cups of unbleached (or all-purpose) flour
1 1/2 cups of dark raisins
cornmeal for crust and topping
- In a large bowl or plastic container, add the tepid water, yeast and honey and stir and for the yeast to foam & activate for 10 minutes. Now add the salt, olive oil, milk powder and add in the flour – one cup at a time mixing with a large wooden spoon, your hands.
- At about the 3 to 3 1/2 cups of flour stage, add your raisins into the dough while the dough mixture is still soft. Once the raisins have been mixed in, add the remaining flour and mix until well-incorporated (no dry patches of flour). If the dough mixture is too dry, add a bit of water, mix in. The dough should be smooth, not too tacky (sticky) or wet.
- Cover but leave the lid slightly ajar (allow gases to escape) and place and allow to rise for at least 6 hours (or overnight). You may also place in your fridge but allow the dough to come to room temperature (about 1 hour) before working with it.
- Your dough should at least double in size when ready. Empty your dough on a lightly floured work surface and cut the dough into three equal pieces. Ensure you have some flour on your hands and shape the dough into three loaf shapes. Sprinkle the tops of your loaves with flour and allow the dough to rise for an hour to 90 minutes.
- Place your pizza stone on the middle rack of your oven and pre-heat to 425F. Sprinkle cornmeal on your pizza peel/paddle and place one or two loaves on top (your bread should not stick anymore) and sprinkle tops of the bread with cormeal as well. Allow your oven to heat for another 20-30 minutes after it’s signaled that it’s reached 425F. Fill a baking tray with hot water from your tap and place on a rack set to the highest position in your oven.
- Slash the tops of your dough and slide into your oven and bake for 30 -35 minutes or until golden-brown. Remove the loaves and transfer to a wire rack to cool. Bake your next batch in the same fashion.
NOTE: If you want the same results with your bread, then use a pizza stone to bake the bread on and a pizza peel/paddle to form your bread and slide into the pre-heated oven. Go on splurge on these two items – a couple of the best investments in the kitchen.
* Omit milk powder and this raisin bread is Lent-friendly.
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© 2007-2011 Peter Minakis
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