Italian

Meet the Bread That's Half Raisins, Half Flour

by:
January 10, 2017

Pantramvai may look like ordinary raisin bread, but there's one major, noticeable difference: It's loaded with raisins. In fact, the loaf's about half flour, half raisins.

I first read about this Milanese bread in Carol Field's wonderful baking book, The Italian Baker. Fields calls pantramvai ("pane tramvai"), or Tramway bread, as it's known, “outrageously delicious.”

It's also outrageously easy to make and ideal for a beginner baker or anyone who doesn't have fancy kitchen equipment—a pair of hands is all you need.

Yep, 50% raisins seems about right. Photo by Emiko Davies

Born in a bakery in Monza, on the outskirts of Milan, at the turn of the century, pane tramvai is called so because the bakery was at a tram stop for a long and slow (it went about 9 miles per hour) steam tram that took people to and from work in the centre of Milan. To keep hunger at bay, this fruit-filled bread was breakfast for many a commuter. In fact, it was often bought together with the tram ticket.

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After World War II, and with the advent of technology, that old, slow tram disappeared—and with it, its namesake bread almost did, too. But it was saved for the fact it was so loved. Today, a large number of bakeries in both Monza and Milano make pantramvai. It's story and heritage are so proudly protected a committee was established to oversee the production of this specialty. If you want to sell pantramvai in your bakery, you need authorization from the Technical Committee of Master Pastry Chefs of Brianza (the area of Monza) first. They also maintain a list of bakeries where you can find the real deal.

Yes, the crust is supposed to be that brown. Photo by Emiko Davies

Enriched with an enormous quantity of raisins, there's a mandatory proportion of at least 40% raisins to bread dough. The sweetness of the fruit is balanced with the slight bitterness of the dark brown crust—which means, it's essential to brake the bread until it's well-done.

Pantramvai keeps very well. If you can manage to wait as long as a week (highly unlikely), you'll find out it's still just as soft and delicious as when it came fresh out of the oven.

Tell us: Have you had pantramvai before?

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

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16 Comments

Nicomedian January 15, 2017
I have been baking a similar raisin and currant breakfast-tea bread for ages, I use mix of wholemeal rye and wheat flour but no sugar and instead of commercial yeast i use sourdough starter. It tastes delicious when it is toasted and buttered.
 
Newpat January 15, 2017
Years ago I worked for an upscale eatery in Chicago. We made this bread and because of the difference mentioned in Italian vs American flour, we did not soak the raisins. The raisins were a mixture of dark and light varieties, very fresh (not dried out) so the soaking was not necessary. The bread was dense, a little sweet, and made the most delicious toast. I personally don't even like raisins and I love this bread.
 
mstv January 13, 2017
I looked up the proportions of flour to water from Carol Field's recipe and I used that ratio. I found that 1 1/2 cups of water from the soaked raisins was enough for a full two loaves. I started out making the dough per this recipe but the dough was so incredibly wet. I then went and looked up the proportions from the other recipe and ended up doubling the other ingredients, soaking more raisins, and adding all that in. Made 2 lovely loaves of bread. Very nice toasted. If Using American all purpose flour - I would not recommend trying 1 1/2 cups of water. If you want one loaf perhaps start with 3/4 cup of the liquid and add more as needed.
 
Author Comment
Emiko January 13, 2017
Thanks for the feedback!
 
mrslarkin January 11, 2017
Hi Emiko! I made this bread last week and substituted chocolate morsels for the raisin (my family hates raisins.) I used 1 1/2 cups water, instead of the raisin liquid. Dough was very wet and I had to add 2 cups more of flour to get a kneadable dough. I used King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour. It's a delicious bread and it makes excellent toast. Thanks for the recipe!
 
Author Comment
Emiko January 11, 2017
Oh wow! Chocolate bread sounds wonderful. Carol Field also suggests using this for one of the cake recipes she has that uses leftover bread (I imagine a bread and butter pudding would be good too, it's just that it never lasts long enough in our house for it to get to the stage of being "leftover"!). Interesting that you had such a wet dough, I was used a stone-ground type '1' organic flour from Italy. I actually used more liquid than in Carol Field's recipe but had a quite soft, dough (as in the photos). I wonder if it would have been fine to just keep it wet, mix through the raisins and bake it in a tin?
 
Valentina S. January 12, 2017
Hello girls! Sorry to butt in, but I wanted to say this is totally normal. Italian type 1 flour and AP american flour are NOT interchangeable. Stone-milled Italian flours, if they are type 1, 2 or whole, suck up liquids like crazy compared to american white flour which needs very little water to knead. <br />Just thought I'd point it out :)
 
mrslarkin January 12, 2017
Thank you! I was thinking that might be the problem. I do experience the same thing with American whole wheat flour. I may cut back on liquid next time, and I will let you know if it works. I love this bread!
 
Author Comment
Emiko January 12, 2017
Valentina, you're so right! I was going to say that too! I re-did the bread today with spelt flour and *half* the liquid and it still very soft/wet (actually stickier dough than when I used all the liquid but farina 1). Just the different way different flours absorb the liquid! I will include more of a description on how to handle sticky/wet dough though, so hopefully that will help as others have asked about this too!
 
mstv January 13, 2017
MrsLarkin - did you make Emiko's recipe or Carol Field's recipe? I am just wondering if anyone has made both of them. Thank you.
 
Author Comment
Emiko January 13, 2017
She made it from Carol Field's book the week before I posted this! "Mine" is not mine but also Carol Field's recipe with a few minor modifications (and additional descriptive/visual instructions), which I note in the recipe header.
 
mstv January 13, 2017
Thanks for the info! By "Emiko's recipe" I just meant with the few minor modifications that you made including the liquid amount and the malt. When I am looking at Food52 is shows your recipe had a posting date of January 4th (while the longer article showed a posting date of January 10th) so I misunderstood that perhaps she had made it from your version. Thank you for the clarification!
 
mrslarkin January 13, 2017
No, I made the food52 recipe. Emiko posted he recipe before this article. I have not tried the carol fields recipe.
 
Author Comment
Emiko January 13, 2017
Ah sorry mrslarkin, I misunderstood!
 
Anne C. January 10, 2017
There is a similar bread made in Selkirk in scotland which is called the Selkirk bannock. it usually has mixed peel and milk in as well as an egg yolk
 
Author Comment
Emiko January 11, 2017
How wonderful, this bread too is sometimes made with eggs.