Monday, April 11, 2011

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

The only compliment/encouragment I ever got from my piano teacher is that I'm very "stick-to-itive".  I'm not sure if she thought that was a good or bad thing.  At any rate, my stick-to-itiveness came in handy when making this cinnamon sugar pull-apart bread.

I've never worked with yeast before.  I've always been a bit scared, as there are certain things you need to do when yeast is involved, like kneading, rising, and waiting, and those are three things that I am not very good at.  Plus, there are so many opportunities for things to go wrong.  For example, what if while the dough was rising, I left my apartment to run an errand and got distracted by a butterfly and chased it all around town?  The dough would just sit there, and it would keep rising and rising, getting bigger and bigger, until the confines of my apartment complex couldn't contain it anymore, and it would become so big that it gained sentience like The Blob and it would plop its blobby self around the city proclaiming, "Feed me!  Glluuurgh!" and it would just completely smother the entirety of California.  I do not want to be responsible for the destruction of civilization, no siree. 

Still, I knew that I had to conquer my fear of screwing up if I ever wanted to eat this cinnamon sugar pull-apart bread.  Seriously - how could you not persevere when the end goal is this browned-butter-and-cinnamon-sugar-slathered loaf that you pull apart, sheet by delicious sheet?  I love peeling things, like dried glue off of fingernails and sunburnt skin off my shoulder.  So this?  It's like having a sheet of scratch-and-sniff stickers that you can eat.  Plus, if cats can knead, then I should be able to do it, too.  Right?

As it turns out, maybe not.  After letting the dough rise for the first time, I tried kneading the dough, following the instructions given in an eHow article.  After a while, I realized that I still had no idea what I was doing.  It said to turn the dough, but was I supposed to make a quarter turn?  Turn it halfway around?  Flip it over?  And it said to push the dough forward with the palm of my hand, but how far forward?  So confusing!  Then I got the brilliant idea of checking YouTube, and found this very helpful video from Epicurious.  Note to self - check to see if  there's an Epicurious tutorial before trying anything new again. 

As I kneaded the dough, I realized that the dough wasn't becoming elastic, like the tutorial said it would.  Then it occured to me that maybe when the instructions told me to let the dough rise somewhere warm, it meant a place more warm and humid than my San Diego living room.  And you're probably thinking how I could possibly not notice that the dough hadn't risen, but like I said, I've never done this before!  I wasn't sure how it was supposed to look.  I was just glad that it hadn't gained sentience yet.

After reading some internet comment boards, I decided to bring some water to a boil in the microwave, and afterwards, stuck the bowl of dough in with the steaming cup of water, and let it rise for another hour.

So at this point, I had already messed up quite a bit.  I might have overkneaded the dough.  I added the last of the flour before the dough had a chance to rise.  I let the dough sit around for an hour at room temperature.  I wasn't sure if I had completely messed it up or not, but I figured I could try going through with the bread anyways, and try again if it didn't turn out.

I ended up rolling out the dough to 22 inches instead of 20 inches.  Instead of having pretty little squares to stack into the pan, I had crooked rectangles.  Oh well.

I let it rise again, using the same microwave technique.  I got distracted on the phone with my mom and let it rise a little too long.  I forgot to preheat the oven.  The loaf sat for a while before going in.

In the end?  It tasted the way it was supposed to taste (delicious).  Did it look pretty?  Not really.  Did I care?  Definitely not.  After all, it's not the outside, but the warm, soft, cinnamony, buttery inside that counts.

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread
Adapted from Joy the Baker


2 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons AP flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsalted butter (half stick)
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted until browned

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, and salt.  Set aside.

Whisk together eggs and set aside.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter until the butter has melted.  Remove from heat and add water and vanilla extract.  Let stand until the temperature of the mixture reduces to 115 - 125 degrees Farenheit.

Pour the milk mixture into the flour mixture and mix with a spatula.  Add the eggs and mix until the eggs are incorporated.  Add 3/4 cup flour and mix with spatula until incorporated.  The dough will be sticky.

Transfer the dough to a large, greased bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel.  Place in a warm space and let rise until doubled in size, about one hour.

*The dough can be risen then refrigerated overnight for use in the morning.  If you do this, allow the dough to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes before continuing to the next step.

While the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg for the filling.  Set aside.  Melt 2 ounces of butter until browned.  Set aside.  Grease and flour a 9x5x3 inch loaf pan.  Set aside.

Once the dough has risen, transfer to a lightly-floured surface.  Deflate the dough and knead the last 2 tablespoons of flour into the dough.  The dough won't be sticky anymore, and when you poke the dough with your finger, the indentation will stay.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes. 

Use a rolling pin to roll the dough out to 12 inches tall and 20 inches long.  Use a pastry brush the spread the browned butter across all the dough.  Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly over the dough.  Yes, it's a lot of sugar.  Yes, you should use it all.

Slice the dough vertically into six equally-sized strips.  Stack the strips on top of each other.  Slice the stack into six again.  You'll have six stacks of squares.  Layer the dough squares on the loaf pan like dominos.  Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and put it in a warm place to rise again for 30-45 minutes, or almost doubled in size.

While it's rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit.  When the dough has finished rising, place the loaf in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is very golden brown.

Remove from the oven and let the loaf rest for 20-30 minutes.  Run a butter knife around the edge of the pan to loosen the bread and invert it onto a clean plate.  Place your serving plate on top of the upside-down loaf and carefully flip it over again, so it's right side up.

The loaf can be wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for up to two days.  But it probably won't last that long.

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