Is there anything more comforting than a cold glass of milk with a warm oatmeal-raisin cookie? How about thickly sliced, toasted cinnamon-raisin bread (with lashings of butter)? Raisins have been a pantry staple in Canada for more than a century — and California Raisins have been the raisin of choice. In foodservice, raisins are the most economical dried fruit available; they also have the power to transform food items without overcomplicating ingredients lists.
Dr. Klaus Tenbergen owns California-based Knead-to-Know Consulting and is a chef consultant for California Raisins. He’s been working with raisins for some time, having tested more than 1,000 recipes (all of which can be found on the California Raisins website). He says there will always be a place in the hearts of consumers for comforting, raisin-laden baked goods.
“There’s the traditional ways of using raisins — in cookies, breads and at Christmas time,” he says. “For an example of a less-traditional bake, we recently developed a bread in a can with raisin concentrate and raisins — the tin gives it a unique shape and [the raisin concentrate] adds depth of flavour. You can also use the concentrate with sparkling water for a European-style soda.”
For those making healthier versions of our favourite baked goods, California Raisins make an excellent binding agent and easily replace conventional sugars. Try them in raw brownies by combining raisins, maple syrup, cocoa, walnuts and vanilla in a food processor. The soft, chewy textures also make them an ideal fat replacement.
When baking items such as bread and cakes, avoid common problems by conditioning the raisins before use (see exact directions for raisin conditioning in our Tips and Tricks section). California Raisins’ skin has excellent integrity and doesn’t easily tear, but it’s considered best practice to gently fold raisins into doughs and batters, adding them in as the very last step.
Panettone, stollen, scones and Danish pastries are some classic examples of European-style raisin bakes, but how about something a bit closer to home?
Toronto-based pastry chef Lindsay Haddock spent ample time in Europe before leading her way through the pastry sections of some of Toronto’s best restaurants. She now works with Baxter’s Bakery, producing high-volume (and high-quality) baked goods for cafés and retailers throughout the Greater Toronto Area. She says there are two particular raisin recipes which come to mind when she thinks about classic Canadian treats.
“We use raisins for a lot of the old classics, including our butter tarts,” she says. “People still love raisins — my kids love them; especially cinnamon raisin toast. But something that definitely divides households — and the nation — are the butter tarts. You either hard-core love raisins in your butter tarts, or you don’t.”
Whichever side of the fence you’re on in this argument, no baking business can deny the 50 per cent of the population who demand raisins in their butter tarts.
“For a lot of people, it’s a texture thing,” Lindsay adds. “If you like that bit of chewiness, you get that from the raisins. Another favourite raisin dessert of mine and many other Canadians is rum raisin ice cream — I just love it; it’s an iconic flavour and just so delicious.”