Baking Afternoons

Periodically, my daughter has a single day or afternoon off of school. When it's a longer period, like winter or spring break, we'll often clear our work calendars and plan family vacations, day trips, or special outings. Does that mean those single day or afternoon breaks are ignored? Not at all. She and I tend to make those Mommy-Daughter Time and plan projects together, whether it's creating fun new snacks or finding fun ways to transform ordinary household objects into the newest work of art. And then there are our baking afternoons, in which we tackle a fun project that will take most of the afternoon and work a baking project (often bread) into the gaps created by that project. This time around? We made delicious cinnamon-raisin bread while reading a 100+ page chapter book together:

As far as I can recall, this was the first time my daughter had gotten so engrossed in a book that she wanted to read it cover to cover in one sitting. I did some of the reading too, but she read 40-50 pages of it and sat quietly, listening attentively as I read. That might not sound like a major accomplishment, but anyone out there with a seven-year-old will understand my marveling at this. And there was also a bit of realization that my little girl is growing up. I don't know how many more books we'll read like that: together, taking turns, pausing to knead raisins and spices into warm bread dough, rushing back to the book to read a bit more, smelling the amazing aroma of the bread baking, finishing the book and planning to read another in the series, and finally slicing into one of the loaves and enjoying the fruits of our labor as we discuss what we've read. It's a gift we gave to one another and I recognize that there's not an unending supply of experiences like that for us to share as she rushes toward independence.

But that afternoon was ours to enjoy and the memories are ours to treasure. And, at least for now, she's already excited about digging into the next book in the series. And there's absolutely the proud momma thing happening here. I remember when I first began pausing most other interests for an afternoon, an evening … even an entire day to read a book that had captured my interest. I hope she holds onto her love for books as she grows and I hope our baking afternoons hold the acquisition of life-long skills and fond memories of baking and reading with Mom. Maybe someday, she will have baking afternoons with her kids and reading will take an important place within them. One can hope.

Before I leave you to investigate the recipe below, let me share a few notes about it. I have gotten into the habit of including a little mayo in bread recipes that normally might include eggs. The result is nearly identical, but the mess factor is so much lower, particularly when having little ones help with assembling things. If you wish, you could beat together 2 eggs and use them in place of the mayo in the recipe below. You could also replace the raisins with any other similarly-sized dried fruit (you could even chop larger fruit to a similar size and use that). During particularly festive times, I might even opt to use a blend of regular raisins, golden raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, and dried blueberries. Wouldn't that be a pretty slice of bread to enjoy alongside your loved ones? Enjoy!

Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

For the dough:
  • 1 c. lukewarm milk
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. melted butter
  • 1/3 c. mayonnaise
  • 4 c. flour (more as needed)
  • 2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
For the cinnamon-raisin mix:
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/2 c. raisins

In a bread machine, add the first six ingredients (milk through mayonnaise). Carefully sprinkle the flour evenly over the other ingredients and then form a small well in the flour. Add the yeast to the well, set the machine on the dough setting, and start the machine.

While the dough mixes and rises, combine the remaining ingredients (2 tablespoons butter through raisins) and set aside.

When the dough cycle has finished (usually about 1 1/2 hours), carefully remove the dough to a clean silicone baking mat. Carefully press the dough into a large rectangle and then sprinkle the reserved cinnamon-raisin mix evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1-2 inch border around the edges. Lift one edge of the rectangle and fold it over to the opposite side, pressing lightly. Repeat the process, choosing alternating edges (top, bottom, left, and right) until you've worked the cinnamon-raisin mix through the dough. It's okay and even desired for there to be some clumps of the mix in the dough.

Split the dough into two even portions. Shape each portion into a loaf and place in a greased loaf pan. Bake the loaves for 25 minutes at 375° F. Remove the warm bread from the pans and cool completely before slicing or wrapping in plastic for storage.

  • Yields: 2 medium loaves
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours (with about 10 minutes of hands-on time)