Rosemary Raisin Bread

As you can tell from the title, this isn't your typical, every-day raisin bread: instead of cinnamon, this recipe calls for rosemary! The usually pungent rosemary adds a subtle rather than dominating accent to this bread and places - together with the olive oil - a harmonious counterpoint to the moist dark raisins. A symphony of flavors!

As you know, I do not typically dedicate recipes to people. However, when I first tried this bread, I couldn't help but think of Bruce, a very, very sweet and utterly charming friend of mine, who just loves baking his own bread. (Hi, Bruce, handsome! Would you like to share your favorite bread recipe with me in return?! ;-) Love always, Eike)

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves):

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
pinch of sugar
1 cup warm water
5 1/4 to 5 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 heaping teaspoons dried rosemary leaves
2/3 non-fat dry milk powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
4 eggs
2 cups dark raisins
extra olive oil for brushing

Preparation (about 45 minutes plus 2 1/2 hours rising plus 35 minutes baking):

1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast and pinch of sugar over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. In a blender or food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine 1 cup of the flour and the rosemay. Process until the rosemary is pulverised.

3. In a large bowl, combine the rosemary flour, dry milk, sugar, salt, olive oil, and eggs. Beat until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the yeast mixture and about 1 1/2 more cups flour. Beat 1 minute longer. Let stand for 30 minutes.

4. Add the raisins and the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until a soft dough is formed that just clears the sides of the bowl. (This dough can soak up a lot of excess flour during the mixing, so take care to stop adding flour when the mixture clears the sides of the bowl and is no longer wet looking!)

5. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and springy, about 3 minutes, adding only 1 tablespoon flour at a time as necessary to prevent sticking.

6. When finished kneading, immediately devide the dough into 2 equal portions. Form each portion into a tight round loaf and place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops with a bit of olive oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

7. Let rise at room temperature until coubled in bulk, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The loaves will spread and look slightly flat while rising, but they will dome during baking.

8. Using a serrated knife, slash the tops decoratively with an X no deeper than 1/4 inch. Bake in the center of the pre-heated oven (350 degrees Fahrenheit) until the loaves are nicely domed, evenly light golden brown, and sound hollow when tapped, 35 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool completely before slicing.

Offer this bread toasted to accompany a cup of tea. It's also delicious with just a thin spread of plain cream cheese or mere butter ... enjoy!