I bought me a lifetime supply of yeast from BJs almost 6 months ago. Price of these got my attention and ultimately place in my pantry and freezer; 2 lbs of yeast for half the price of 1 lb (or even less in some cases) at any other specialty online store or grocery store. So I went right with my common sense and bought these thinking that I can start baking and use them up in no time. Well that didn’t happen, so I froze one of the bags that I opened and kept the unopened one safely in the pantry.
The impending yeast expiration date motivated me to borrow Peter Reinhart’s: Bead Baking Apprentice from the library. It is more of a text book than a cookbook and read all the introductory chapters before I started baking. The author describes in detail the science of bread baking and how each step in the process affects the final result. It is a great reference book for anyone who’s new to baking breads like me.
My first bread from the book is this Cinnamon Raisin bread and I’m happy to report that it came out very well for my first attempt. One thing to remember if you have frozen yeast is to make sure that it brought to room temperature before using it. I left the amount needed in the recipe out on the counter for couple of hours.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk flour, yeast, sugar, salt and cinnamon until well blended. Add buttermilk/milk, egg, shortening and water.
Mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a ball, add more water if needed (I didn’t have to add any extra water).
Turn the dough ball on lightly floured counter and knead for about 10 minutes. Author suggests having a timer set, so you don’t compromise on kneading which is THE major step in bread baking.
In the last 2 minutes of kneading, add the raisins and nuts (if using) and make sure they are evenly distributed throughout the dough.
At the end of kneading the dough should pass the windowpane test and should register a temperature of between 77°F - 81°F.
Lightly grease a large bowl and slide the kneaded ball and roll around to coat it with oil. Tightly place a plastic wrap on the bowl and proof/ ferment for 2 hours until the dough puffs up and doubles in size.
After about 2 hours, divide the dough into 2 halves and form them into loaves (see here for detailed pictures on how to form a loaf. Place each loaf in a lightly oiled 8.5" x 4.5" pan, mist the tops with cooking spray, and cover loosely with plastic wrap.
Proof at room temperature for another 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough crests above the lips of the pans and is nearly doubled in size.
Preheat oven to 350F with the rack on the middle shelf. Place the loaf pans on a baking sheet, making sure that they are not touching each other.
Bake the loaves for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes. The finished breads should register 190F in the center and be golden brown on top and lightly golden on the sides and bottom. They should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom.
Immediately remove the breads from their pans and cool on a rack for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours, before slicing or serving.