Fruit bread holds a certain healing power in my mind. It must be heavily spiced and laden with fruit. These sorts of breads, whether buns or loaves, speak of comfort and cups of tea, a sunday afternoon wrapped in a blanket watching movies. A few weeks ago I received two text messages in less than a hour from friends telling me how their days had been improved, or could be improved, with fruit toast. Not even chocolate has the same capacity to bring such homely comfort.

It may seem I have missed my opportunity for spiced fruit bread immediately after Easter when I am sure many of us have eaten our fill of hot cross buns. Though, in saying that, I could live on spiced fruit bread. Every Easter I gorge myself on hot cross buns. I can’t get enough. Cut in half and toasted, slathered with butter and jam. Or heated in the microwave with thin slices of butter already inside the bun so the slightly salted butter melts within the bread. I like the hot cross buns that are so loaded with fruit and candied peel they appear almost undercooked and soggy.

Hot cross buns come and go so quickly, like other autumnal delights – feijoas, quince, radish. When Easter is over I wonder why hot cross buns aren’t available year round, knowing full well that hot cross buns hold such magic only because of their brief appearance. But dried fruit embedded in heavily spiced bread can be eaten any time of year. Think of this raisin bread as a hair of the dog type treatment to get us over Easter, and if you are this way inclined, this bread may keep you going until next year’s buns roll around.

Lois Daish’s raisin bread is from her beautiful book A Good Year. This is a book I have written about before; a book that appears rather plain until you start flicking through and realise you could quite easily make every recipe. It is a book I turn to often, sometimes just to read, because not only are the recipes wonderful, so are the words which describe them.

Daish makes this raisin bread in April which is rather fitting, not only for its Easter connotations but we are also just beginning to get cold here. The leaves are starting to change and the wind has a bite to it. The next time it rains the gutters will flood, the water bursting its dried-leaf banks. It is a nice time of year to make bread.

There is something quite special about making bread, coaxing the dough along, keeping it safe and warm, only then to knead and pummel it, lovingly so, but pummel it nonetheless. Bread making is a soothing process and the home-maker in me revels in it.

There is also something in the taste of home made bread, something quite different to store-bought or bakery bread. The yeast taste is a bit like the malty, hoppy after taste of home brewed ginger beer. The yeast has some weight to it, it seems to anchor all the other flavours of the bread, sort of rounding them out. I imagine yeast to be like the little baker within the bread, kneading and pushing all the actors together, the flour, spices, currants and sultanas, rallying the troups so to speak. I guess that’s the role of yeast in any baking but the flavour of the home baked variety is lovely.

I took two thick slices to eat on my way to work the other day. They barely fit in the toaster but crisped up wonderfully. It was the perfrect start to my day. I thought about texting my friends about my bread, but it was not yet 7am. Even in the name of fruit bread, that might have been too much.

Thank you dear Georgie for the lovely photographs.

Lois Daish’s Raisin Bread
Adapted from A Good Year

The original recipe made two loaves so I halved the quantities but added more spices and more dried fruit. Next time I will add even more, perhaps some candied peel too. Daish made her bread in an electric mixer, using dough hooks and beaters but I do love hand kneading.

2 tablespoons Surebake yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup milk
85 grams butter, cut into thin slices
1 egg
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
425 grams high grade white flour
1 to 1.5 cups raisins, currants or sultanas (or a mixture of these)

To Glaze:
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon sugar

Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a small bowl and set aside for about 10 minutes. Put the milk in a pot and heat unitl lukewarm. Pour the milk into a large bowl, add the chopped butter. When the butter has almost melted add the egg, sugar, salt, spices and yeast mixture. Whisk to combine. Add about half of the flour and continue to whisk until a smooth batter forms. Add the remaining flour and the dried fruit, mix until just combined then turn onto a lightly floured bench. Knead until smooth. Cover the dough with a damp towel and place somewhere warm to rise for 3 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured bench and lightly knead. Form dough into an oblong shape and place in a large buttered loaf tin. Cover the loaf tin with the damp cloth and leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. While the dough rises preheat the oven to 220°C. Put the risen loaf in the oven. After 15 minutes, lower the heat to 190°C and bake for a further 25 minutes or until the loaf is deeply browned. (I covered my loaf in tin foil for the last 5 minutes.)

While the bread is baking make the glaze by heating the milk then stir through the sugar until dissolved. Remove the bread from the oven, tip onto a cooling rack and brush on the glaze.

Eat fresh or toasted. This loaf freezes well and can be toasted straight from the freezer.

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