The bread has no salt, but the fennel and zest give it plenty of flavor. Damian Sansonetti knows from experience that bread doesn’t always turn out the way you hope it will. He says that if this bread does not proof (or rise) properly and the loaf is dense, underbake it a little, then slice it and bake the slices on a baking sheet at 250 degrees F to turn it into delicious biscotti. Allow plenty of time to make this recipe, as the bread must rise three times.
Makes 2 loaves
3¼ teaspoons dry yeast (about 11/2 packets)
3/8 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)
1/8 teaspoon anise oil (double or triple if using anise extract, or to your taste)
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup whole milk
½ cup golden raisins
2½ tablespoons unsalted butter
3½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, optional
Zest of ½ lemon
Zest of ½ orange
1 egg, whisked well with splash of milk, for egg wash
Place the yeast in a small container or bowl, add the warm water and mix. Let the mixture sit about 10 minutes until it begins to bubble.
Whisk together the 3 eggs, anise oil and sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.
Scald the milk (bring it to just under a boil). Stir in the raisins to “plump” them. Add the butter to melt. Set the mixture aside until it is cool to the touch.
Attach the dough hook to your electric mixer. Put the flour in the mixer bowl. With the mixer on low/medium, add the egg-sugar mixture. Next add the yeast mixture and continue mixing, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed to incorporate.
Add the milk-raisin mixture, and the fennel seeds if using. Add the orange and lemon zest. Mix, scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula, as needed. Continue to mix on medium until the dough is incorporated and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes. This develop the glutens, which is what gives bread its structure.
Remove the dough from the mixer and finish kneading by hand on a clean surface for 5-8 minutes until smooth.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a large bowl, stainless steel preferred, that has been sprayed with pan spray or olive oil.
Roll the dough ball in the bowl to coat it lightly with the oil. Cover both dough ball and the container with plastic wrap.
Proof in a warm place for about 11/2 hours until it doubles in size. Punch the dough down and proof again until it doubles again, another 11/2 hours or so. The second proof can also be done overnight, in which case leave the dough to proof on the kitchen counter.
Divide the dough in half to make 2 loaves. Cut each half into 3 equal portions for the braids. Roll each portion into logs 11-12 inches long. (To speed up proofing and baking, roll them longer.) Braid the loaves, pinch ends together to seal, transfer the 2 loaves to baking sheets, cover with plastic and let rise 30-60 minutes, until almost double.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven (avoid a convection oven) to 325 degrees F. Brush each loaf generously with egg wash. Bake for about 20 minutes or until golden. Let cool to the touch and enjoy warm, or toasted with butter.