Sunday, May 29, 2011

Simple Pleasure: Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

This morning I did something which, even now, I find very hard to believe.  Hold onto your hats - this might shock you a little.

I got up at 6:45 on a Sunday morning.

Here's the crazy part - I didn't even HAVE to.  Nobody was expecting me to.  I did this ON MY OWN FREE WILL.  Plus, it was rainy and cold!  Plus, I don't even have church until 2 pm!  PLUS, I go to early-morning seminary every weekday and so Sundays are one of my only days to sleep in.  Crazy!  I know!  And if you know me, I am not a morning person in the least.  If it were up to me, the day wouldn't even officially start until 10:30.  (And it would officially end at midnight.)

So why did I do this crazy thing, you might ask?  Well, a picture speaks a thousand words...
This amazing concoction is basically all the cinnamon-sugar-y, thin-layered goodness of a cinnamon roll baked into a loaf.  What's not to love?

Here's the recipe:

Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread

Makes: one 9x5x3-inch loaf

For the Dough:

2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 ounces unsalted butter

1/3 cup whole milk

1/4 cup water

2 large eggs, at room temperature (my eggs weren't room temperature, to be honest, and they seemed to work okay)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the Filling:

1 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg

2 ounces unsalted butter, melted until browned (I read about the wonderful nutty taste of browned butter, but I'm pretty sure you can't brown margarine, which is the most butter-like food we keep in the house. I just melted it and it was still good.)

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, melt together milk and butter until butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and add water and vanilla extract. Let mixture stand for a minute or two, or until the mixture registers 115 to 125 degrees F. (I definitely did not use a candy thermometer for this. I just let it sit for a couple of minutes until the pan was still hot but not too hot to touch and it worked fine.)

Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula. Add the eggs and stir the mixture until the eggs are incorporated into the batter. The eggs will feel soupy and it’ll seem like the dough and the eggs are never going to come together. (I didn't actually have this problem...they seemed to mix okay for me.) Keep stirring. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and stir with the spatula for about 2 minutes. The mixture will be sticky. That’s just right.

Place the dough is a large, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm space and allow to rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour. *The dough can be risen until doubled in size, then refrigerated overnight for use in the morning. (I didn't do this, but I wish I had! I got up at 6:45 and the bread still wasn't done when my parents left for 10:00 church.) If you’re using this method, just let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes before following the roll-out directions below.

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 that aside too.

Deflate the risen dough and knead about 2 tablespoons of flour into the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes. On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out. The dough should be 12-inches tall and about 20-inches long. If you can’t get the dough to 20-inches long… that’s okay. Just roll it as large as the dough will go. (I managed to get mine to 20 inches, but barely! It's worth it for thin layers, though!) Use a pastry brush to spread melted butter across all of the dough. Sprinkle with all of the sugar and cinnamon mixture. It might seem like a lot of sugar. Seriously? Just go for it. (I actually ended up with way too much sugar mixture! It was really hard to layer the strips without all the sugar falling off. My dad suggested as I was attempting to do this that next time I apply the butter and sugar mixture WHILE layering the strips (i.e., cut the dough into strips, and then do alternating layers - dough strip, butter/sugar, dough strip, butter/sugar, etc.). I think that's what I'll do next time.)

Slice the dough vertically, into six equal-sized strips. Stack the strips on top of one another and slice the stack into six equal slices once again. You’ll have six stacks of six squares. Layer the dough squares in the loaf pan like a flip-book. Place a kitchen towel over the loaf pan and allow in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Place loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is very golden brown. The top may be lightly browned, but the center may still be raw. A nice, dark, golden brown will ensure that the center is cooked as well. (My top was pretty dark at 30 mins, so I took the loaf out. Delicious, but some the middle was pretty raw! You're going to need the WHOLE top to be very dark!)

Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. (I don't think you actually need that much time...10 to 15 minutes should do :) Run a butter knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the bread and invert onto a clean board. Place a cake stand or cake plate on top of the upside down loaf, and carefully invert so it’s right side up. Serve warm.

This bread is best served the day it’s made, but it can also we wrapped and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days.

**I found this recipe at I recommend visiting for step-by-step pictures and commentary.

I've been thinking about why I went to such extreme measures to make this recipe - especially since I've been the picture of laziness for the past couple of days. I think it's a combination of a lot of things.

I remember there was one lecture in my TJYC class (a leadership class for teenagers) forever ago that really stuck out to me. It emphasized that we have the power and the responsibility to motivate ourselves when motivation isn't coming easily, and gave several ways of accomplishing that. The methods I was taught (unfortunately, I don't remember most of them) basically deal with reminding ourselves why we wanted to do something or accomplish something in the first place (in my case, all my summer goals). A couple of things lately have reminded me of my original motivation - all things that I sort of stumbled across, but finally culminated last night as I actually recalled and used them to motivate myself.

A few weeks ago I read Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. I really enjoyed all of it, but the Italy part particularly caught my eye - partly because I've been to Italy, partly because I really believe in small, simple pleasures (which is what that portion of the book is all about). There is a part in the book - well-illustrated in the movie, too - where the author prepares herself an amazing meal and enjoys it with a newspaper, all for the pure pleasure of it. Now, this might seem like a thing far too simple and easy to produce that much enjoyment. But for her, it was the most marvelous, warm-and-fuzzy thing she could possibly be doing at that point in time. When most Americans are looking for pleasure, they plop themselves in front of a television or computer screen, wave a remote, and demand obscene amounts of excitement, drama, and hilarity. (I have been guilty of this much more often than I would like to admit.) We declare that real life isn't enough for us, and we have to turn to fantastical depictions of life that aren't even remotely close to the truth - but supposedly much more amusing. There's something kind of disgusting about this. There are so many things in life that can inspire real excitement and pleasure in us, things that are already all around us, we just take them for granted.

Lately I have also been reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang. Reading about the beginnings of communism in China, I'm astounded and sometimes appalled by the differences in culture and principle. I've realized how lucky I am to live in a country where loving family relationships are openly respected and sought after. We live in a society where we all respect each other's efforts to secure individual happiness. So often we take these things for granted because they seem "obvious." But they are truly blessings, and realizing how blessed we are is particularly moving to me, inspiring me to take joy in all blessings regardless of their "obviousness" or their supposed universality.

Last night I was just hopping around online (I won't tell you for how long - like I said, the picture of laziness) and found some truly mouth-watering recipes. I'm just going to say right now that I absolutely love food bloggers. I think they are some of the most fun-loving, adorable people on earth. They get really excited about good food, and implore their readers to try their recipes (and "get your stretchy pants on!"). Food bloggers seem to believe that 95% of the world's problems can probably be solved with a great cupcake recipe. So, fired up by the excitement of the food blogging world, I decided to go forth and conquer - in the name of Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread.

I figured Sunday was the best day to have a fabulous breakfast, but I knew it would take some time to make and I would have to get up early in order for the bread to be done in time for my parents to try it before church. At first I dismissed the entire idea of getting up so early on a Sunday morning. But something inside of me said, "hey, why not?"

A few days ago I had an interesting little experience with myself. I promised myself I would do something, as I often do. Then I immediately thought, "But I'm not really going to do it. I never do."

This thought rang horribly true. How often I had lately made promises to myself that I broke, without bothering to repair the damage. I was losing trust in myself. I had come to the point where I didn't even believe myself in the first place.

Last week in church, I had a Sunday school lesson on honesty, and I've often thought about it during the week. Honesty seems like such a simple thing - just don't tell lies, right? And don't cheat or steal. I've never had much of a problem with any of these.

But we are often so preoccupied with showing honesty toward others that we neglect to be honest with ourselves. We have a relationship with ourselves, just like we have with anyone else. We deserve honesty from ourselves as much as anyone else deserves it from us. And breaking promise after promise to ourselves is no way to live.

I continued to think about this realization throughout the week. And when I came to this point, where I had to decide whether or not to get up 6:45 to make bread - it was a little thing, and it seemed so trivial. But it wasn't. This was really about two things: taking time to enjoy a small, simple thing in life, and making a promise to myself that I was going to keep.

When I woke up this morning, I wondered vaguely whether I would really get up. But in the end it wasn't a question. I got up and baked bread.

I don't think anything else I've done this month has made me this pleased with the world.


  1. Good for you! I think I may try this recipe, but I am definitely not getting up early to do it. Ken says he wants me to make it, but he's not normally big on bread recipes.

    I tend to make plans for the future and really hope I do them, but they seem difficult or overwhelming, so I'm not sure how it'll work out. Then when I get them done I'm so proud of myself! Touching up the paint on the front of the house was like that. I was really scared going up to the second story on the ladder, but I did it! But I did put it off for months first.

    I can't wait to see you in August!

  2. Wow, I didn't realize all that went into that bread. It was absolutely delicious though!