Maida Heatter's Mile-High Cinnamon Bread

February  7, 2017
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

While there's a solid line-up of very good swirl breads out there, the first thing you'll notice about Maida's—a "spectacular loaf that deserves some special words of praise" 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.

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. —Sarah Jampel

  • Prep time 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Cook time 50 minutes
  • Makes 1 skyscraping (or 2 smaller) 9-inch loaf/loaves
  • 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
In This Recipe
  1. For the dough:
  2. In a liquid measuring cup, stir 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar into the warm water. Sprinkle on the yeast, stir together, and let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes, until foamy.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the milk and the butter to 90 to 100° F, either in the microwave or in a small saucepan over medium heat or in the microwave. The butter doesn't need to melt completely.
  4. Place the flour, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, and salt in the food processor. Pulse to mix. With the motor running, add the yeast mixture, then the milk-butter mixture, and finally, the egg, through the feed tube. (Maida recommends adding the milk mixture into the cup with the yeast so that you get every bit of yeast into the dough.)
  5. Process the mixture until it forms a ball, and then continue to process for another 30 seconds. If the dough is too stiff, add a few drops of water. If the machine slows down, remove about half and then process the two halves separately and knead them together in the next step.
  6. On a board or work surface, knead the dough for about 1 minute. Then place it in a buttered bowl, turning the dough to butter all sides of the ball. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for about 1 1/2 hours: It should be well-risen and doubled in bulk.
  7. Then, lightly flour a board or work surface, keeping in mind that you'll need a lot of room. Turn the dough onto the floured area and press down to deflate it. Fold in the two opposite sides to meet in the middle, then fold in the remaining two sides to meet, so that you've formed the dough into a square. Press down to flatten it slightly, then cover loosely and let stand for 10 minutes
  8. Meanwhile, butter a 9-inch by 5-inch loaf pan, preferably one with a dark finish. Set it aside and prepare the vanilla water and cinnamon sugar, below. (You can also make two more reasonable-sized loaves by using two 9-by-5 pans. You'll follow the same instructions as below, halving all of the dimensional measurements.)
  1. For the vanilla water, cinnamon sugar, shaping, and baking:
  2. To make the vanilla water, mix the water and vanilla together in a small cup. To make the cinnamon sugar, whisk together 1/3 cup sugar and the cinnamon, cocoa, and nutmeg.
  3. With a floured rolling pin, rolling the dough to form a rectangle that's 12 by 22 inches. Make the corners as square as possible. If you're having trouble with the dough shrinking back, pause briefly before trying again.
  4. Use a big pastry brush to brush about 2/3 of the vanilla water all over the dough. Maida says to be careful not to miss any spots—"this is important." You can use a couple teaspoons of additional water if necessary.
  5. Then, sprinkle 2/3 of the cinnamon sugar slowly and carefully in a thin layer over the moistened dough. ("If you sprinkle too much in any one spot, you will not have enough to cover all the dough—so be careful.")
  6. Now fold the two long sides of the dough in one at a time, so that the meet each other in the middle. Pinch them together gently to seal the seam. Gently roll over the surface with a rolling pin to flatten the folded dough to about 7 by 25 inches.
  7. Use the remaining vanilla water to wet the dough and sprinkle the remaining cinnamon sugar over top.
  8. Now, the fun part: Making a very fat jelly roll. Starting at the narrow end, roll up the dough, making a thick spiral. When you get to the end, brush a little plain water on the loaf at the spot where the end will hit. Pinch the end a bit to seal it.
  9. Carefully and gently place the roll, seam side-down in the buttered pan. The roll of dough should nearly fill it.
  10. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of sugar over the loaf. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise for about 1 hour, until almost doubled and about 2 inches above the top of the pan.
  11. Meanwhile, adjust the oven racks so that you have one rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven. Heat to 350° F.
  12. Just before baking, cut slits in the top of the loaf with a sharp knife: Maida recommends six long slits, only 1/4-inch deep so that you don't expose the cinnamon sugar layer.
  13. Bake on a sheet pan for 45 to 50 minutes. You may need to cover the top loosely with aluminum foil towards the end of baking to prevent over-browning. Bake until the loaf, when removed from the pan, sounds hollow when tapped with your fingertips. Cool on a rack. Store, wrapped well in aluminum foil, for 3 to 4 days at room temperature.

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Sarah Jampel

Recipe by: Sarah Jampel

A (former) student of English, a lover of raisins, a user of comma splices. My spirit animal is an eggplant. I'm probably the person who picked all of the cookie dough out of the cookie dough ice cream. For that, I'm sorry.