Tips & Techniques

Come, Let's Climb This Skyscraping Cinnamon Bread to the Moon

February  9, 2017

Maida Heatter ends the headnote of her aptly-named "Mile-High Cinnamon Bread" with a direct order: "Have your camera ready for this." Listen to Maida.

While there's a solid line-up of very good swirl breads out there (you'll find four at the bottom of this post), the first thing you'll notice about Maida's—a "spectacular loaf that deserves some special words of praise [emphasis my own]" in a book titled Best Dessert Book Ever—is its incredible height and staggering number of spiraling rings, as if the loaf were a sacred old tree.

I had some cellophane-wrapped brownies in my pocketbook, as I always do.
My hero Maida Heatter

That greater number of swirls means a smaller bread to cinnamon-cocoa-sugar ratio, which, in turn, means a higher chance of sweet-spiciness in every bite and more opportunity to unpeel the bread (preferably, toasted and buttered) lobe by lobe, from the crisp outside to the feathery core.

You also have the option of baking 2 more reasonably-sized loaves. Follow the recipe, but divide the dough in two and halve all the suggested dimensions.

How is that incredibly precise and plentiful swirl achieved? Maida uses a special Double-Sprinkle, Fold-n'-Roll Technique™ to maximize the bread's height and swirl count. You'll fold the dough before you jelly-roll it, sprinkling in the filling at both points and thereby creating two concurrent circles that follow the same path but never meet, like two strangers on the same commute.

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After mixing together the dough (this happens, breezily, in a food processor—more on that in future articles*) and allowing it to rise, you'll prepare an extremely large surface (clean your floor really well and you might even use that? I'm kidding). If you've got a small kitchen, the work space will seem practically as-seen-from-space huge, because you'll be rolling the dough out to a rectangle that's 12 by 22 inches.

*This recipe flings so many tips and techniques, we've just got to save some.
My edges should be square. Maida, forgive me. Photo by James Ransom

Next, you'll brush that smooth expanse with vanilla water, which, as it sounds, is a mixture of vanilla extract and water that helps the cinnamon filling (sprinkled over top with the utmost care) adhere, adds subtle flavor, and moistens the dough from the inside out.

Sprinkle it—"care beful!"—with a mixture of cinnamon, sugar, cocoa, and nutmeg. Photo by James Ransom

Once you've basted with vanilla water and dusted with cinnamon sugar, you make the fold by lifting the bottom long side into the center, like a bed sheet, then repeating with the opposite side, so that the two kiss in the middle. Pinch the seam to seal, then use the rest of the vanilla water and cinnamon sugar to cover the blank dough you've just exposed.

Like tucking a dollie into bed. Photo by James Ransom

Finally, it's time to jelly-roll the dough—now a thinner, slightly longer rectangle of 7 by 25 inches—into a squat, chubby loaf.

Just you wait: This will be the most satisfying feeling. Photo by James Ransom

Transfer it to a loaf pan (the standard 9-by-5 will work), hiding the seam, and sprinkle the top with a bit of sugar.

Goodnight, sweet angel. Photo by James Ransom

Once the dough has rested, you'll use a sharp knife (or a single-edge razor, if you've got one, a lame if you're fancy) to score the top, so that it rises higher and more evenly. Maida suggests six lengthwise slits, about an inch apart and only 1/4-inch deep, as to not expose the underlying filling. (Due to personal incompetency, I have not been able to follow this instruction any time I've followed the recipe, as you'll see from the eight slices above. And things have still worked out.)

So I didn't following the scoring instructions precisely... Photo by James Ransom

After all of this vigilant dough folding, and rolling, and sprinkling, and slicing, you'll bake the loaf for 45 minutes at 350° F and watch it puff with pride—that same pride you'll feel when you slice it open and see...

The holiest moly. Photo by James Ransom

And since the dough itself isn't extremely rich (closer to a delicious white bread than a buttery brioche), it's easy to cut (and to eat) thin slices, perfect for sandwiches—ice cream or otherwise.

More Twirls, More Swirls

P.S. If you haven't read this profile of Maida by Christy Hobart in Saveur, I urge you to do so. You'll learn, among other things, that when Maida met her husband, Ralph, he asked her to dance and she offered him a brownie: "I had some cellophane-wrapped brownies in my pocketbook, as I always do."

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Blanca Oliver
    Blanca Oliver
  • barbara960
  • Susan Davidson
    Susan Davidson
  • Natalia Jensen
    Natalia Jensen
  • Aysegul Sanford
    Aysegul Sanford
I used to work at Food52. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream.


Blanca O. June 13, 2017
This was my first foray into yeast bread (of course, I couldn't go for an easy recipe, LOL), and it turned out fantastic!
Thanks for the great recipe and for demystifying the yeast process for me. My next idea is to make this with powdered parmesan and black pepper instead of cinnamon and chocolate. Wish me luck...
barbara960 May 7, 2017
I have been making cinnamon raisin bread from assorted recipes for years. I love the folded dough method described here, but I think the true genius step is brushing the dough with vanilla water rather than butter before sprinkling with the sugar mixture. The butter used to allow the layers to not adhere to themselves, and I sometimes wound up with holes in my sliced bread. The water absolutely eliminates this issue, even with raisins in the layers. I love this recipe.
Susan D. February 12, 2017
I hate having to ask this, but yeast and me don't get along. I just don't have the hand for it. Would I be able to substitute canned dough or frozen pastry dough?
barbara960 May 7, 2017
You could probably use frozen white bread dough and use the folding/sprinkling technique described here. it would be a less rich than this dough without the egg and butter. This dough is really easy, though, and it rose LIKE CRAZY. Maybe give it one try?
Natalia J. February 10, 2017
Just popped my loaf out of the pan! It's absolutely perfect, and not only is it beautiful and impressive, but it's got some great flavor and textures! Thank you for passing along my new fancy party trick!
Aysegul S. February 10, 2017
How can I get the actual recipe for this?
Thanks for sharing. It looks delicious.
Sarah J. February 10, 2017
You can click on the first image, which'll take you to... Hope you like it!!
Nancy February 10, 2017
I've not yet met a Maida Heatter recipe that I didn't love. She's a master and a joy. I see where my Saturday morning is going to begin!
Amy P. February 10, 2017
I'd never heard of Maida Heatter beforehand but her comment about always carrying cellophane-wrapped brownies in her pocketbook had me laughing - I love it! And I've added this bread to my list of projects; it's stunning.
Fresh T. February 10, 2017
Her recipes are some of my favorites. I'll definitely try this one. Thank you!