This raisin bread is unlike any other. In fact, it's half flour, half raisins. I first read about this Milanese bread (sometimes called the "panettone of the poor") in Carol Field's wonderful baking book, The Italian Baker. Pane Tramvai, or Tramway bread, as it's known, is what that Field calls “outrageously delicious.” It's also outrageously easy to make and is ideal for a beginner baker or for anyone who doesn't have any fancy kitchen equipment—a pair of hands is all you need.
The bread is soft and pillowy. The sweetness of the fruit is balanced with the slight bitterness of the dark brown crust. It 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.
Many traditional Italian recipes for this include a step with a sponge (a pre-ferment) or call for sourdough starter. This recipe, which calls for active dried yeast instead, is much simpler and is based on Carol Field's recipe (major differences are that hers includes a teaspoon of malt and calls for doubling the recipe to make 2 loaves) from The Italian Baker, an excellent and well-researched baking book. This makes 1 loaf, roughly 12-inches long.
Note: I've added this note because some people mentioned that they found the dough to be quite wet. I have reduced the liquid but yes, it is a wet and rather sticky dough, though it also depends largely on how the flour absorbs the liquid (the flour I used for the photographs is an Italian flour, type 1, stone-ground and organic and it absorbed twice the amount of liquid here without being too soft or sticky). You can add more flour if you want a 'kneadable' dough, but you can also work with a soft, wet dough too. Don't worry too much about it in the beginning before the first rise. After the rise, the dough will be smooth and although still sticky and tacky (Carol Field describes it this way too), you can dust generously with flour and work it by folding it gently a few times and it actually becomes very easy to handle. Use your hands to flatten the dough, dust well underneath and on top, and dust between additions of raisins. It will work out quite fine. If you find it's too wet to sit up and flattens, you can try baking this in a loaf tin too, but it's quite all right for this to be long and flat, more like a ciabatta shape. That's one of the beautiful things about this very easy and delicious bread! Enjoy! —Emiko