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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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...
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."
For the dough:
- 1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar, divided
- 1/4 cup warm water (105 to 115° F)
- 1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
- 1 cup milk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut up
- 4 cups (500 grams) unsifted bread flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg
For the vanilla water, cinnamon sugar, shaping, and baking:
- 3 tablespoons water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon, for sprinkling the loaf pre-rise
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg