The high, cylindrical baba or babka, sometimes over a foot high, originated in Poland and the Ukraine. (The word means grandmother or woman.) It is related to the Russian Easter bread, kulich, and the krendel, both made with raisin-laced doughs. The square-shaped, musically named mazurka (or mazurek) is a Russian and Polish meringue-type feast-day treat made with egg whites, sugar and raisins.
Italy's panettone is a cylindrical bread that appears on Easter, Christmas and other festive occasions. Baking technicians experimenting with California raisins in Italian panettone formulas discovered that the California raisins plumped more than other dried vine fruits in finished products.
The Welsh make bara brith, a moist raisin studded bread often sliced and slathered with butter for afternoon tea. Its name means speckled bread, thanks to the raisins. Tea time in Ireland is the time for barm brack, also a speckled loaf that has symbolic meaning at New Year and Halloween feasts.
In Britain, tea is taken with raisin-rich tea breads called malt breads (a cake-like bread flavored with malt) and the Yorkshire favorite, fat rascals. Likewise in Britain, spotted dick and spotted dog are two oddly named rolled pastries referred to as suet puddings. The raisins are rolled up in the dough and are visible after baking, which may account for the name.
Formulating with RaisinsIn the U.S., the FDA lists a Standard of Identity that says “raisin bread” must include more than 50% of raisins by weight compared to the flour. Many types of bread contain far more raisins to give weight and extend shelf. However, some breads also contains “invisible” raisins. Raisin juice concentrate, a product of the raisin process also known as raisin syrup, is used at around 2% or more since raisins contain high levels of natural propionic acid (500-600ppm), a preservative. Other bakers use ground raisins, or raisin paste, in bread products. When the paste is incorporated into the dough it can provide subtle sweetness and color. Whole grain bread manufacturers use raisin paste.
Research at the American Institute of Baking, Manhattan, Kan., has shown that the addition of California raisins to bakery products actually slows the migration of water to the starch granule that causes staling in breadstuffs. Raisins help keep products in a state of equilibrium, allowing a baker to reduce or eliminate the use of preservatives and additives. Bakers know that the pocket of moisture in the raisins inside the loaf will slow down staling of the bread keeping the loaf fresh and tasty. A naturally occurring organic acid in the grape called tartaric acid actually enhances the flavor of the bread and makes the spices and flavors taste crisper and more flavorful. Raisins also allow bakers to reduce or eliminate the amount of salt needed to keep the bread from tasting bland. They add interest, taste appeal and texture to cookies, cakes and breads and help keep them moist and fresh.
Raisins are 77% carbohydrates, the most efficient and readily available source of body energy and, generally, the least expensive. Essential trace elements and vitamins such as iron, potassium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium and certain B vitamins are found in raisins. Raisins contain virtually no fat, no cholesterol and are low in sodium.