Sponge: In a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the warm water and allow to stand for a few minutes to soften. Add the buttermilk and flour and mix until smooth. Cover and allow to rise until doubled in volume (about 45 minutes).
Dough: Stir down the sponge, then add the honey, butter, 2 1/2 cups of the flour, and the salt. Mix until the dough comes away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn out onto a floured surface and knead, adding more flour 1/4 cup at a time if the dough is sticky. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (8 to 10 minutes). The finished dough should push back when pressed down. Knead in the raisins and walnuts. Cut the dough in half, shape into rounds, cover, and allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes.
Shaping: Shape into 2 pan loaves and place, seam down, in 2 greased 8 or 9 inch loaf pans. Allow to rise, covered, until the breads come up over the top of the pans (about 45 minutes).
Baking: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake with steam until the loaves are nicely browned and they emit a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom with your fingertips (40 to 45 minutes). The loaves can be removed from the pans for the last 5 minutes of baking to firm up the crust.
Yield: 2 loaves
Reprinted with permission from ©George Greenstein, Secrets of a Jewish Baker, published by Ten Speed Press click for book review
In his excellent and instructive book Mr. Greenstein has kindly offered variations for this recipe for both food processor or stand alone mixer variations. We apologize that space does not permit those reproductions.
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NOTE: Sour milk...for baking can be made by adding 1 teaspoon vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup skim milk. Allow to stand until clabbered (about 10 minutes). This sour milk can be substituted for buttermilk in any recipe." George Greenstein