The Cinnamon Bread Test
As a kid, I always looked forward to when our neighbor, Mrs. Anderson, gave our family a loaf of her homemade cinnamon bread. My favorite way to eat it was to broil thin slices with a little butter on top, and then unswirl my way through each piece so every bite had some of the cinnamon filling.
Before she moved away, Mrs. Anderson gave me this copy of her recipe.
As delicious as Mrs. Anderson’s Cinnamon Bread was, it took me several years before I dared to test her recipe. Why? It might be hard to see in the photos above, but her recipe is a little vague. Sort of like the incomplete recipes contestants are challenged with in the second round of each episode of The Great British Baking Show.
Maybe seven or eight years ago I decided to give it a try, and it actually turned out great.
First problem: I couldn’t tell from her handwriting if she wrote “a scant TB of dry yeast” or “2 scant TB of dry yeast.” I went with one packet of dry yeast. It worked.
Other question marks:
- “a little sugar”
- “2/3 to 3/4 C sugar”
- “enough flour to be able to knead”
- “roll dough into rectangles”
- “spread with softened margarine”
- “sprinkle brown sugar over dough”
- “..and then a mixture of sugar and cinnamon”
- “roll up”
- “[bake] 35 min or so – or until you think it looks done”
This is how I addressed these questions:
- pinch of sugar
- 2/3 cup sugar
- roughly 5 cups of flour
- roll the narrowest part of the dough slightly smaller than the pan I plan to use
- soften one stick of butter and use it to both grease the pans and spread of the dough
- sprinkle two generous handfuls of brown sugar over the dough
- dust about 1-1/2 Tablespoons of cinnamon sugar over the brown sugar
- tightly roll dough starting from one of the narrow ends and seal all edges
- bake at least 45 minutes, depending on the size of the pan
I quickly realized my pans are smaller than hers were, so I usually make two mini loaves as well. Once I started doing that I didn’t have to worry as much about the filling spilling out of the pans and burning in the oven. (Just to be safe I always cover the bottom rack with aluminum foil.)
Here’s a little photo journey of the bread I made this weekend:
Because this is a rich dough — containing sugar, eggs, vanilla, and butter — it tends to be wetter and a bit softer than traditional bread dough. After five or six minutes of kneading, the dough needs to rise until doubled in bulk.
Luckily, the radiators were just warm enough (without being too hot) to do the trick. I covered the bowl loosely with plastic, and topped it off—as the late great Julia Child might say— with an impeccably clean towel.
I love the idea of taking a photo before the dough rises to help gauge when it’s doubled in size. Compare this to the previous photo of dough.
Next is the fun part—hand kneading the dough, dividing it in half, and then trimming a little extra off each half to make the small loaves.
I don’t want to overwork the dough at this point. I just knead it for a minute or so to smooth it out. I knead until it feels a bit like soft bubblegum. Then it’s time to roll. I like longer rectangles, because they result in more swirls when then bread is sliced.
Next, brush with the softened (in this case over-softened) butter, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon sugar mixture, then start rolling it up.
Repeat with the rest of the dough and they’re ready to bake.
The smaller loaves were done after about 40 minutes, but the larger ones took 10-15 minutes longer, proving that even when you try to make sense of a vague recipe, you still wind up with inexact instructions.
This bread freezes really well. Because I made it ahead of time and froze it for our big family Thanksgiving, I don’t have a photo showing the inside of a loaf. I’ll try to get a photo of the swirled cinnamon goodness when we finally cut into these beauties. If I do I’ll add it to the post later.
I’m really glad I decided to try to decipher Mrs. Anderson’s recipe. My bread might not be exactly the same (I use skim milk and real butter instead of 2% or whole milk and margarine), but no one has complained about it yet. Not unless they’re complaining that someone else ate the last piece.