FRUITS, NUTS, AND SEEDS IN BREAD
No one needs to be told that raisins, and walnuts and caraway seeds have a special place in the world of breads. Every homeland and almost every holiday boasts some particularly wonderful fruited or seeded or nutted bread all it's own, with the fragrance of tradition to enhance the enjoyment of every bite.
Making breads that are laced with fruits is a sure way to win high marks with the eaters, but it can be tricky, and what promises laurels, if not glory, can betray you with a weighty, gooey, or holey loaf--not at all what you had in mind. I hope that the tips in these next few posts will help you produce exactly the bread you DID have in mind, or at least one that pleases as much as it surprises you.
In these days of soaring prices and shrinking hours, I would personally rather make sure the loaves that I am going to lavish my time and money on are going to be light as well as tasty, edible as well as incredible, free from holes and goo, and sliceable, even toastable and sandwichable---though none the less special for that when there are raisins and nuts on the scene. I have made many raisin loaves over the years and have spotted some quirks as well as some of the special talents of natural fruits, nuts, and seeds. I want to talk about how to use them to their best advantage, giving some recipes that work well with the Bosch Universal Plus machines, that will serve both as examples and springboards to your own creations. I am talking about them in this months posts, altogether not because they have much in common but because as ingredients they compliment each other so beautifully. When one is included, adding another is simply the logical thing to do.
One Word About Cinnamon (Which is not a fruit, not a nut, not a seed) : Though it is probably the favorite of all the sweet spices, cinnamon is after all made of ground-up tree bark, so DON'T add it to dough along with the flour, or it can tear up the gluten and reduce the bread's rise. In addition, cinnamon reacts with yeast dough in a mysterious way, producing a metalic flavour that is extremely unpleasant to those who are sensitive to it. As you'll see, I like to add cinnamon when the loaf is being shaped, either as a dusting on the crust, or rolled into the loaf in a delicate swirl.
Fruits: When we think of fruit in bread, raisins come instantly to mind, and in fact they are hard to beat. Other very flavourful fruits shine too like dates, apricots, prunes and currants. Fruits with subtler flavours like apple or pear can make a less showy but very good contribution when as juice or stew, they can provide the bread's liquid measure and it's sweetener naturally. Any addition ofr fruit improves the keeping quality of the bread.
If you have experimented much baking with fruits you will have observed that sometimes they seem in interfere with the normal rise of the yeasted breads. I don't know of any research that pinpoints the exact reasons, but it is not unlikely that fruits contain acids, active enzymes, and reducing sugars, any one of which could affect the quality of the dough. It is hard to be general, but there are a few tricks that can help insure good results.
First Time Baking With Certain Fruits: If you are baking with a new fruit whose effects on the dough you don't know, take a few precautions. Later, when your are more familiar with it's ways you may decide that this fruit doesn't hurt the dough and so abandon these techniques and just throw it in.
1. The fruits should have about the same moisture content as the dough, or be just a little drier, to prevent its juice from being drawn into the dough.
2. For raisins and currants that are tender but not so soft they fall apart, steam or simmer for a few minutes, drain immediately, and let them cool before using. (When you don't mind darkening the colour of the bread, use the broth as part of the liquid in the recipe.) Cooking the fruit also deactivates stray enzymes in the fruit that coukd affect the dough.
3. Currants need to be washed. Prunes and dates need to be pitted. (this is easy to forget) There is more variation in the flavour of prunes than in most fruits and the good ones are better than you could think. Pitted dates should be checked for inhabitants.
4 Unsulfured dried fruit is dark brown, tart, and often leathery: it needs to be steamed briefly--but not too soft please. For example soft apricots can disappear into the dough and make the bread unpleasantly tart.
5. If you buy fruit that is already quite soft, it is worth baking it a half an hour or more in the oven on low heat, so that it can develop the toughness required to stand up and be noticed when it is time to eat the bread. Even if the exterior becomes somewhat crusty in the process of drying out in the oven, the flavour improves.
Gloom and Doom on the Dried Fruit Front: It is no secret that the bright-coloured dried fruits get that way because some form of sulfur has been used to preserve them. Many questions are being raised about the safety of this ancient technique, and more information seems to be coming every day. Some people are allergic to sulfur, and they shouldn't have these fruits at all. The rest of us might do well, especially if we eat a lot of fruit, to choose the less colourful, unsulfured kind or even dry our own fruits in a home dehydrator, until we know more about the long-term effects of the residues left by this kind of processing.
My next post will deal with how and when you add the fruits to the bread.