I can definitely get behind a whole month dedicated to that wonderful, sweet raisin bread! It may sound like a normal kind of bread, but raisin bread always held a special place in my heart as a kid: you only got cinnamon raisin bread as your toast on special occasions. (“Special”, now I realize, meaning that my mom bought the bread at the store. Ha!) There’s something about raisin bread that makes it taste a million times better than regular bread for toast: the cinnamon swirled into the batter, the sweetness of the raisins offsetting the spices in the bread. Just thinking about it makes me warm!
There are tons of name-brand raisin breads out in the market today, but who wants a plain, mass-produced piece of raisin bread when there are so many great, local bakeries out there putting their unique spin on an old classic? One of the most highly-rated cinnamon raisin breads hitting the New York markets these days comes from an old recipe: over a century old! Orwashers Bakery uses their tried-and-true recipe to make a delicious, dense loaf of bread stuffed with raisins and spiced with lots of cinnamon. You can order their bread with or without walnuts, for the nut-obsessed. But make sure to get there early! Orwashers may still be a family business, but they’re far from the mom-and-pop store of yesteryear, and everyone in the neighborhood knows they’ve got one of the best cinnamon raisin breads in town.
308 E 78th St (between 2nd Ave & 1st Ave)
“Our Cinnamon Raisin breads have sweetened weekend breakfasts for nearly 100 years, and are the ultimate Sunday morning ritual. This dense white loaf is dripping with cinnamon and sugar and bursting with juicy raisins. We also bake a decadent version loaded with walnuts. This loaf lifts French toast to new levels.”–Orwashers Bakery
“Of the two dozen-odd varieties—including challah, cinnamon-raisin, marble, potato, whole wheat, rosemary garlic, and raisin-walnut—the raisin-walnut is the most achieved. It’s made with seven grains, rye and wheat flours, and sesame seeds, which makes it not only the tastiest, with the correct walnut-to-raisin ratio, but the healthiest.”–New York Magazine
“The lumpy-crusted raisin walnut pumpernickel is dark and dense with a faint caramel sweetness (this isn’t a sour European pumpernickel) that turns it into an excellent breakfast bread.”–Serious Eats
“Founded in 1916 by Abraham Orwasher in the thriving immigrant enclave of Yorkville, the bakery had a history of innovation. According to legend, the founder’s son, Louis, invented raisin pumpernickel bread during World War II, and took pride in using the same brick ovens and sourdough starter that his father used decades before. (Cohen inherited and uses one of the ovens.)”–Edible Manhattan
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“Since I am a carb fiend and have no patience, I broke into each type of bread on the way home. 5/5 for all 3 varieties. I got the ciabatta, which was airy and soft but could definitely yield into a nice crispy texture for bruschetta. I also got the seeded bread (I can’t remember what it’s called) and that has the perfect crunch on the outside and density on the inside. For a sweet bread she recommended the cinnamon raisin walnut and it was PERFECT. Not too sweet, just the nice amount of nutty flavor paired with chewy raisins…I probably ate half this loaf on the subway home. On top of all this, she gave me a hamantash for free just because she is so nice!! It was the best hamantash I’ve ever had in my life (and trust me, I’ve had many seeing I have a strange addiction to them). SO GOOD.”–Jenny W.
“The RAISIN PUMPERNICKEL ($4.75) was soft and has a rich and roasty flavor. The raisins are juicy! I loved it especially after spreading a bit of preserves on it. The CINNAMON RAISIN is also a winner; the raisins are again juicy. The cinnamon is encapsulated in happy collections of brown sugar.”–Eva G.
But the competition in New York for the best raisin bread is definitely heated. It’s old versus new, traditional styles versus new, unique flavor combinations. Orwasher’s versus Amy’s Bread! It should come as no surprise that such a great all-around bakery like Amy’s Bread would make a mean cinnamon raisin bread, but it’s the uniqueness of their mix that keeps everyone coming back for more. Baker and owner Amy Scherber makes her raisin bread out of semolina, where Orwasher’s has raisin pumpernickel and white, and she uses golden raisins for their extra sweetness. But the most interesting part about Amy’s Bread’s bread is the fennel seed added to the mix. What? Fennel?! You read that right! It’s Amy’s signature loaf, and it blends sweet and savory in a way that you didn’t think could be possible in a simple slice of bread. It’s absolutely perfect for Raisin Bread Month–the bitterness of the fennel and the sweetness of golden raisins go really well with leftover Thanksgiving turkey for sandwiches. But if you’re like many of its fans on Yelp and beyond, you’ll have trouble not wolfing down the whole loaf plain!
672 9th Ave (between 46th St & 47th St)
“Semolina-raisin-and-fennel bread, Amy’s signature loaf, catapults a moist roast turkey sandwich into the comfort-food stratosphere.”–New York Magazine
“Nearly 20 years after Amy’s Bread opened, you can still taste why that bread was so popular–and why Amy’s has risen to the top rank of city bakeries. A loaf of her semolina with golden raisins and fennel is pure pleasure from outside to inside. Many competitors have tried to copy it, but they just don’t measure up. The crust is thickly coated with cornmeal, giving it an extra crunch. Inside you find plump golden raisins and whole fennel seeds and a dense but moist crumb. The only problem is what to eat it with, because I find the pungent fennel overpowers most fillings. If you’re not going to eat it plain–and once you start, you can’t stop–I say keep it simple, with a smear of butter and honey or a slice of soft Gouda.”–Serious Eats
“One bite of the Semolina Raisin and Fennel roll, and it was easy to see why this bread is their signature offering. The pairing of flavors is excellent – sugary-sweet raisins, nutty semolina, and the clean, clear taste of fennel (which I love) permeating throughout. I don’t know too much about bread tasting (although the Amy’s website offers a handy guide) but I know enough to recognize good bread – and this was good bread! The crust was golden with a dusting of semolina that only hinted at the amazingly yellow color of the crumb inside. The roll was chewy, without being tough or rubbery, and I imagine this bread would toast up wonderfully – I always love the flavor of toasted fennel – if you can manage to save any for later!”–The Traveling Spoon
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I envy those that work in the neighborhood of Amy’s Bread. Sandwiches are delicious, the salads are great (a little small, but great) and I dream about the fennel, raisin semolina bread. When I find myself in the area, I take two loaves to go and put them in my freezer for a rainy (or not rainy) day.”–Carla M.
“Bread – the signature semolina with golden raisins and fennel. Neither my husband nor I like fennel, but being the “signature,” I had to try it. Truly, it didn’t disappoint. We didn’t dig in until the next evening, and even the day after (and again today, in fact), a few slices toasted and spread with butter is a treat.”–Taryn L.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!