Friday, January 16, 2009

Count me cinnam-IN!

The title of today's entry was the enthusiastic RSVP of our friend R to last weekend's brunch. While everyone enjoyed the cheese scones and other items available for consumption, it seems somewhat obligatory to post a recipe that actually fit the cinnamon theme. After all, the reason cinnamon WAS the theme is that there's something magical about its smell wafting through the air, drawing onlookers in with their noses held high and actively sniffing, like in a Hanna-Barbera cartoon from many years ago. The scent makes you (or at least me, but probably not B) dream of a big mug of coffee. (Though not necessarily cinnamon-flavored coffee! A few weeks ago, I asked my dad via my mom to get me some coffee and something with cinnamon for breakfast. Some elements got lost in translation, and I ended up with a cinnamon latte. Not my favorite. And somehow I didn't manage to get anything more substantial than that very same latte for breakfast.)

But now back to the brunch. I purposely cooked the quiche ahead of time so that the last thing to come out of the oven as the guests began arriving was cinnamon-y. While the guests at our brunch may not have remembered (realized?) that I cleaned the baseboards in our apartment for them, hopefully they'll remember the mouth-watering cinnamon swirl bread.

I served it on a cutting board with a big serrated bread knife, so that the guests could cut their own thick slices.

This recipe for cinnamon bread stands out because of its delicious cinnamon crumble topping. My mom found this recipe when she purchased the Fleischmann's yeast cookbook in the 70s with twenty-five cents and a few proof-of-purchases (long before she moved onto designer mail-order yeast and harvesting her own, Michael Pollan-style). Cinnamon bread was quickly established in her repertoire, and became one of my brother's and my favorite weekend breakfasts growing up. The recipe makes two loaves, and a Saturday-morning debate always ensued about whether we could spare a fresh, warm, cinnamon-scented loaf for the neighbors; let's just say that what they didn't know they were missing out on wouldn't hurt them.

Bread in general is incredibly satisfying to make. You--you!--have awakened sleeping spores, allowed them to grow (up), and watched your mixture develop into a substantial and delicious loaf in the oven, all within a few hours. Some people, like my mom, even enjoy kneading and manage to get out a week's worth of aggression through kneading, but I actually find it sort of a drag; I can say with complete confidence that this bread will still turn out well even if you don't knead it for the recommended five minutes. The start-to-finish time is considerable, so take that into account when planning. You can even use the downtime while the bread rises (twice!) and bakes to do something useful, like clean the baseboards.

The bread is best right out of the oven, but it keeps well for 12-24 hours, tightly wrapped. It also makes great toast. B and I very much want to try it as French toast, but there's never enough left!

Cinnamon Swirl Bread
Adapted from the Fleischmann's Yeast Book

Makes: two loaves
Time: 25 min active time, 3 hours total

For the dough:
1 cup milk, heated
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup water, warm
2 tablespoons (2 packages) yeast
6 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 eggs, room temperature (save 1/2 of one egg)
6-7 cups unbleached flour

For the filling:
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons cinnamon

For the topping (all ingredients mixed together with fingers until crumbly):
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat milk until scalded; add butter and let cool until tepid. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, add yeast to warm water. Then add sugar, salt, and two and a half eggs, and let stand until bubbly, about 5 minutes. Add cooled milk to yeast mixture and gradually (1/2 cup at a time) add flour so that dough comes away from sides of bowl. The dough should be soft. Knead for 5 minutes or 300 turns. Let rise in oiled bowl for 1 hour, until doubled.

Make filling by melting butter and mixing it with cinnamon and sugar mixture. Punch dough down and turn onto a lightly-floured surface. Divide dough in half and roll one half out into a rectangle approximately 7-8 inches wide and 12 inches long. Spread with half of cinnamon sugar mixture and roll up like a jelly roll making sure to pinch ends and to seal so that it doesn't leak. Place in greased loaf pan; repeat with other half. Let rise 25-35 minutes until dough has almost reached top.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375. Brush each loaf with reserved egg and cover equally with topping. Make a tent with aluminum foil and place in oven. Bake for 55-60 minutes or loaf sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool on rack for 15-20 minutes before slicing. The bread is delicious on its own, but I enjoy it even more with an extra pat of butter while it's still warm.

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