Gather the following ingredients (again, this is a double recipe yielding four 5" x 9" loaves, or several small ones, as I'll show you here)
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 1/2 cup honey plus 2 tbs.
- 1 cup butter (two sticks)
- 3 cups of raisins, currants, or dried cranberries - I like to use a combination
- 4 tbs. of yeast
- 3 tsp. of cinnamon
- 2 tsp. salt
- 6 cups whole wheat flour
- 7-8 cups white occident flour
Combine the honey and buttermilk in a heavy saucepan and stir over medium heat until the milk is hot to the touch, but not scalding or boiling. Adjust the temperature to simmer and add one stick of butter and the dried fruit. Continue stirring frequently until the butter melts, then turn off the stove. Let cool until if needed, until you can put your finger in the mixture comfortably. It should feel like hot bath water.
Meanwhile, in a small mixing bowl add 2 tbs. honey and 1 cup very warm water (again, the water temperature should be the same as described for the milk above). Stir quickly with a whisk or fork, add four tablespoons yeast, stir to combine and set aside.
In a few minutes the yeast should foam and bloom, rising quickly. This proofing is will reassure you that your temperature is hot enough but not so hot as to kill the yeast. If you are uncomfortable with not knowing more accurately, purchase a candy thermometer. The liquid should be 120-130 degrees.
Grease a large mixing bowl with olive oil spray, then add half of the whole wheat flour, the milk mixture and the yeast mixture and stir with a wooden spoon to combine thoroughly. I like to use a large, heavy crock I've had for decades, as it holds in the warmth and stays put while I'm mixing such a large batch.
Gradually add the rest of the whole wheat flour, and some of the white flour until the dough will hold your spoon standing up and pull loose from the sides of the bowl. It will will still be a bit sticky.
Spray the countertop with olive oil spray and generously sprinkle flour over your kneading space.
The mound of dough may look a bit daunting at first, but this is where the real work and satisfaction begins!
Knead the dough by hand, pulling it from the far side back toward you, and shoving the heels of your hands deeply into it, slide a quarter turn around and repeat - over and over. You will be adding in more and more flour as you go along - enough to keep your hands from sticking, until the dough is soft and pliable to the touch and no longer sticks. This should take five minutes or so - and don't cheat it! The success of good bread is in the temperature and the kneading. It loves to be worked.
Spray the large bowl once again with olive oil, return the dough, cover with a light towel and place in a warm place, free of draught. This is a good time to clean up after yourself, as it will need an hour or two to rise to double the size. If you get distracted and busy and aren't ready when it does, simply pound it down, or knead it a bit more, and by yourself the time of another rising.
Once the dough has risen, put it back on the counter and knead it again for another 2 minutes or so. Divide into four equal parts, placing three of them back in the bowl with the towel over them to keep warm.
Divide again into equal parts based on the pans you have. I have several 3" x 6" bread pans that I like to use for gift giving sized loaves, and one quarter of this recipe will make four of these small loaves - or eight wee ones, three 4" x 8" or one regular size loaf.
Pound down and knead the dough once more and shape it into a elongated oval, tucking edges under so it is relatively smooth, and ready to roll out.
Roll the dough out flat and long, about the width of your pan and 1/4" thick. Melt your remaining stick of butter and spread a thin coat on the dough with a pastry brush, all the way to the edges.
Sprinkle the dough liberally with cinnamon and sugar and rub it lightly with your fingers into the butter to cover evenly.
Begin to roll up the dough tightly starting at the end closest to you, tucking in the sides as you go so in the end it will fit inside your pans nicely. Place the loaves in a warm place free of draught, cover with a light towel, and let them rise to double the size. Preheat your oven to 375. I typically let me bread rise right on the stovetop while the oven is warming up, as long as I'm not using any burners that could catch fire to my towel!
Bake loaves this size (3x6") at 375 degrees for about 15-20 minutes, or longer for larger loaves. You can brush them with egg white and water (1 white per 2 tbs water) if you want a nice, glossy finish. I usually skip this, because I like to ice them.
You'll know the loaves are done when once released from the pan they sound hollow if you tap on the them and have a golden brown color. If they don't seem quite ready, simply put them back in the pans and the oven and bake a bit longer.
A festive finish, especially on the holidays, is to simply make a sweet drizzle icing. Put about a 1/2 cup of confectionary sugar in a 2-cup pyrex measuring cup and stir in enough water that once you mix it rapidly with a fork, it will drip like honey when you pull the fork out.
These loaves make delicious french toast if you find there is any leftover!