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The taste of Christmas past and present

My family's most 'cinnfull' baking tradition

Cinnamon Raisin Buns
It wouldn't be Christmas at my house without my grandmother's Cinnimaon Raisin Buns

Grandma's Cinnamon Raisin Rolls / Raisin Bread

Of all the various Christmas traditions, those involving food have a special significance for me. And although I treasure all of them, there is something about baking – bread, rolls, cookies, squares and pies – that seem to warm up the house the best.

Number one on my list has to be my Grandmother Decaigny's recipe for raisin bread and cinnamon raisin buns, handed down by my mother to me on a faded 3" x 5" recipe card. Although very similar to cinnamon buns, the addition of raisins creates a touch of intrigue for your taste buds.

This year, I'm making a few batches, one just buns, the other raisin bread loaves.

You can keep these simple, or take it up a notch or two, by adding a gooey base of chopped nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans, etc.) and a generous layer of melted butter and brown sugar on the bottom of your baking dish. Or, pour heavy cream over them before baking for something as sinful as any self-respecting cinnamon bun as have been.

But eating the plain version, warm from the oven, cut in half with a little butter is pure heaven and does not require you to sell your soul to anyone.

The Recipe

3/4 cup butter

1.5 cups water

1 cup granulated sugar

2 cups of raisins

10-12 cups of flour

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons salt

2 packages dry yeast

1 tsp. sugar

1.5 cups scaled milk

Cinnamon (lots)

Get all the individual components ready first.

• Cover raisins in room temperature water and let soak.

• Dissolve yeast and sugar into lukewarm water and set aside.

• Melt butter, sugar and water until clear and remove from heat.

• Beat eggs in a bowl.

• Scald milk and remove from heat.

Drain the raisins and scoop about 6-7 cups of flour and the salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix the raisins into the flour and then begin adding the liquids; starting with the butter and sugared water and then the scalded milk.

Stir these together well, and then add another cup of flour. Mix together and add the yeast, and then another cup of flour and finally the eggs. Add a generous sprinkle of cinnamon when no one is watching.

Add more flour until the dough is firm. Roll onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes until the dough is elastic. Give it a triumphant pat, and then place the dough into a large buttered bowl, cover it with a towel and let rise until double in a warm spot for one to two hours.

Now the fun part! I usually cut about a quarter of the dough for raisin bread. Form into a loaf and place it in a greased baking loaf pan and let rise for about an hour or more. It seems to rise best to Christmas music.

The rest of the dough I make into cinnamon rolls. Take about half the remaining dough, and roll on a floured surface until it is very thin, about a quarter inch thick. With a pastry brush, cover this with melted butter and then sprinkle a mixture of cinnamon/granulated sugar all over the dough until you're just a bit worried.

Roll this up and cut every 1-2 inches depending on how thick you want the rolls.

Cinnamon rolls and bread
Cinnamon Rolls and Loaf ready for the oven

Bake at 350F (175C) for about 30 minutes. During the last 10 minutes cover loosely with aluminum foil to avoid the buns getting too dark. The raisin loaf will need an extra 10 minutes for a total of about 40 minutes baking.

Let cool on a rack for a few minutes before testing a roll or two... or three.

You can eat them fresh, or freeze some for Christmas morning. Thaw for an hour and then heat up in the oven (wrap in foil first) for about ten minutes.

And if all of this baking puts you in the mood for a Christmas story, check out my new book, A Guitar for Christmas. It goes great with your home baking!


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