In a recent post I made an offhand comment about plumping raisins, and someone asked about this. This is such a basic little technique that I take it for granted, but when I first learned it it made such a difference! Here's what I do to my raisins, and why I do it.
Raisins are dried fruit, as we all know, and sometimes they can be very dry indeed. Most raisins are these tiny little shriveled lumps with hard ridges and a chewy texture. While raisins are almost invariably delicious, it can be pleasant to change that hard, chewy texture into something softer.
So whenever I use raisins in baked goods or salads (like this Swiss chard salad with raisins and walnuts) I plump up my raisins first.
This is very simple. Put your raisins in a small bowl, and cover with boiling water. Let them steep for 5-10 minutes (or however long you've got) and then drain them thoroughly. You will find that they are much plumper, juicier, and softer.
There are many variations on this. When I am making certain salads I will use hot orange juice instead of water, and heat the raisins together with the juice and a little honey in the microwave. Then I will put them in the fridge with the bowl covered by a plate. As they cool they soak up all the juices and become extremely sweet and juicy.
When I use raisins in baking I plump them up with a combination of hot water, butter, and rum or bourbon, which makes them sweetly boozy.
It's such a quick, easy little trick; just steep them while you're washing the salad or mixing the dough. But it's one of those little touches that can make a real difference in the final quality of the dish.
Do you ever plump up your raisins? How do you do it?
Related: In Praise of Raisins
(Image: Faith Durand)