Pour the warm water into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the yeast and let sit for 5 minutes, until foamy. Stir in the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.
Meanwhile, combine the milk, raisins, butter and vanilla in a sauce pan. Warm over low heat until the butter melts, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and cool until room temperature.
Pour the warm milk and raisin mixture into the mixing bowl and stir to combine. Add the flour a cup at a time until dough comes together and is no longer sticky. Knead in the pecans, if desired. If using a stand mixer, knead with a dough hook on medium speed for 5 minutes. If not, knead by hand for 5 minutes. Place dough in a large, lightly greased bowl and cover. Let rise for 45-60 minutes.
Punch down dough, divide in half and shape into 2 loaves. Place loaves on a baking sheet, cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
Bake at 400 degrees for 35-45 minutes. Bread should sound hollow when tapped. Loosely cover the loaves with foil if the bread starts to brown too much.