Raisin the Bar
By Deborah Cassell

You might have heard it through the grapevine that the raisin is staging a comeback. Truth is, it never left, and the California Raisin Marketing Board (CRMB), Fresno, Calif., is taking steps to ensure that the dried fruit remains top-of-mind for bakers, snack producers and consumers in 2007.
According to Larry Blagg, senior vice president of marketing for the CRMB, raisins are fat- and cholesterol-free, making them “the perfectly portable fruit for busy people.” They’re also the lowest cost dried fruit for use in baked goods and snacks, he notes. Therefore, it’s the board’s goal to “make California raisins the dried fruit and sugar substitute of choice for manufactured foods and for home consumption,” Blagg adds.
So far, very good. Chicago-based researcher Mintel reports that retail sales of California raisins were up 9.6% in 2005 versus 2004. And the board’s own consumer and industry research reveals that export tonnage is up 8% for the first eight months of the fiscal year.
Those numbers are bound to escalate after the publication of “Natural Indulgence,” a recipe booklet the CRMB developed in conjunction with Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest producer of high-quality cocoa, chocolate and confectionary products. The book will feature 12 recipes — such as “Raisin Ganache” and “California Raisin and Chocolate Chunk Muffins” — for chocolatiers and confectioners. The booklet was created based on recent CRMB research, which found that California raisins and Callebaut dark chocolate share such health attributes as polyphenols and other natural antioxidants that can help protect the body against certain illnesses.
“We’re honored to work with the California Raisin Marketing Board to provide this first-of-its-kind recipe collection that is sure to inspire creative chocolate professionals to incorporate California raisins and Callebaut chocolate in their culinary creations,” says Eric Martinet, vice president of Gourmet North America for Barry Callebaut, Chicago.
A number of manufacturers and advertisers — such as Kellogg’s and Subway — seeking more healthful product offerings now are featuring raisins in their ads. And the CRMB is in the second phase of its own innovative new advertising campaign, currently running in both trade and consumer publications. The theme: “California Raisins: The Wise Choice.” Ads feature recipes by Craig Ponsford, owner and president of Artisan Bakers, Sonoma, Calif. The campaign is supported by the CRMB’s Web site, which includes a Recipe of the Month, a Chef Spotlight and the board’s newsletter, The Way of the California Raisin.
In 2008, the CRMB will sponsor both a commercial and an amateur category at the American Pie Council’s National Pie Championships. Eligible recipes will contain at least one cup of raisins.
Next year, the California raisins will hit the big screen, as well. Shhhhh! You didn’t hear that here.
For more information about raisins and the California Raisin Marketing Board, visit www.CalRaisins.org or www.LoveYourRaisins.com
Sweet Potato Bread with Raisins
Formula by Craig Ponsford, owner and president of Artisan Bakers, Sonoma, Calif. Wholesale bakers can use this formula in their test kitchens to see if the product is good for them.
Sponge (Pre-Ferment):
240 g.All-Purpose Flour
156 g.Water
.24 g.Fresh Yeast
Final Dough:
560 g.All-Purpose Flour
124 g.Water
240 g.Milk
7.76 g.Fresh Yeast
17 g.Salt
40 g.Butter
320 g.Sweet Potatoes (roasted with oil, salt and pepper)
280 g.Macerated Raisins (soaked overnight; liquid is about 28% of weight)
8 g.Cinnamon
8 g.Nutmeg
Total dough weight: 2000 g.
12 hours before final mixing:
Mix your sponge ingredients together, gently cutting them together with a bench scraper or wooden spoon until the mixture forms a shaggy dough. Cover with plastic or a damp towel and leave at room temperature (around 75°F) for 12 hours.
Soak raisins in tepid water (or orange juice) overnight. Liquid should just cover the top of the raisins.
Roast sweet potatoes by cutting them in half and baking them for 1 hour at 350°F with salt and pepper and oil. After they are cool, peel and cut them into small chunks (about 1/4”).
Final mixing:
Drain raisins well.

Break up pre-fermented sponge into smaller pieces and place in the bowl of the mixer.

Add flour, water, milk, yeast, salt, and butter and mix on 1st speed for 3 minutes.

Add sweet potatoes and continue mixing on 1st speed for another 2 minutes.

Mix on 2nd speed for 2 minutes.

Fold in Raisins and spices on 1st speed until they are fully incorporated. Desired dough temperature is 75°)

Remove dough from mixer and place in a covered container to bulk ferment for 2 hours, folding dough after one hour.

Divide into 500g pieces and premold into batards. Let rest for 20 minutes.
Shaping:
Pan out batards a little and point ends of dough to look like a sweet potato. Place on a couche dusted with flour, seam side up, and proof for 1 hour.

Bake at 410°F with steam for about 45 minutes.

Yields 4 loaves.