Maida Heatter's Mile-High Cinnamon Bread

February  7, 2017
13 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 3 hours 30 minutes
  • Cook time 50 minutes
  • Makes 1 skyscraping (or 2 smaller) 9-inch loaf/loaves
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

What You'll Need
  • 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
  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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Rosalind Russell
    Rosalind Russell
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    Joy Huang | The Cooking of Joy
  • tanialicious
  • Bets Cooper Tidwell
    Bets Cooper Tidwell
  • Sara S
    Sara S

38 Reviews

Jae L. May 1, 2024
This turned out soooo well! I converted it to sourdough, and it’s out of this world. I’m making a second batch this week!
Anusha J. June 8, 2020
Has anyone tried this with the inclusion of raisins in the form of a paste? I am trying to see if including 1 to 2 TBSP of raisins (soaked in warm water and pureed/blitzed to a thick paste) will work along with the cinnamon-cocoa mix. I know to not make the paste very wet, so checking if anyone has tried it?
Rosalind R. May 25, 2020
I was sure I wrecked it - but I don't think I have! My bread is still in the oven but it is A MILE HIGH! And it smells incredible! I am not sure I'm going to live long enough to get it out of the oven and let it cool - I am so excited!

I used instant yeast, because that's all I've got (pandemic!), added it with the dry ingredients. I sneered at using the food processor because I'm an idiot. I was a bit concerned because the texture seemed a little grainy after the first rise but I powered through. It's not the best looking cinnamon bread that was ever made but it's my first, and I am delighted! I can't imagine that something that smells this good isn't going to taste delicious!
Cmacy October 18, 2019
I just made this & it’s a wonderful recipe! I especially like how the layers stuck together! Most bread layers in recipes like this usually open up so when sliced, they fall apart? These layers hold together perfectly! I think the vanilla water plays a huge part in making this recipe a success!
Rosalind R. May 25, 2020
From what I read in the notes to the cinnamon bread recipe at King Arthur, the liquid (in this case, water/vanilla; in the King Arthur recipe, egg/water) stops the bread from gapping. Glad it really works!
nancy B. February 9, 2018
I would like to make this to use a as the base for French Toast. Does the cocoa powder voice a significant chocolate taste? Would there be any issues if I omitted it?
Gibson2011 March 15, 2023
There's not a noticeable cocoa taste.
anonymous February 8, 2018
I’d love to make this for an out-of-state friend and wonder if it travels well. It looks amazing!
jpavlick March 13, 2017
Is there any problem with adding raisins to this? And if not, where might I do that? At the rolling part?
Sarah J. March 13, 2017
I think that should work, as long as you don't use too many (that could interfere with the rolling, I think!). And yes, I'd incorporate them in both stages of the shaping (steps 4 and 6) so that you have raisins in both swirls.
MrsWheelbarrow March 24, 2017
I added 1-1/2 cups golden raisins -- 3/4 cup for each of the rolling/sprinkling steps. I wish I had made the spiral a little tighter, but I'm glad I ran the rolling pin over the folded dough to stick the raisins into the dough. It's the best raisin bread I've ever made. The cocoa and nutmeg are GENIUS and I love the technique. It's a beautiful bread and made breakfast really happy.
Joy H. March 6, 2017
I love how this bread looks and was wondering if you think I could shape another kind of bread (say a babka) the same way and get a similar result?
indie February 26, 2017
If I want to make this in two loaf pans - is there a different technique for rolling the dough/ making the spiral? Thank you!
Bets C. February 26, 2017
Same technique but use smaller loaf pans
Sarah J. February 26, 2017
Yes, same technique. The loaf you see on a right (the shorter one) was made with half the dough but the same rolling method. Enjoy!
S G. March 17, 2017
If making 2 loaves is it the same baking time?
Sarah J. March 17, 2017
Yes, it is! But I always recommend checking early, for security's sake.
mary February 22, 2017
I made this beautiful bread and it turned out wonderful. The only change I made was using a stand mixer instead of a food processor.
Scott T. February 15, 2017
I should have said that I substitute a nut or soy milk, and Earth Balance for the butter, to keep it non-dairy. Comes out beautifully.
barbara960 July 10, 2017
Good to know. I will try that.
tanialicious February 15, 2017
What would you recommend to substitute for the egg? What function does the egg have in this recipe, if you know I can try to find a substitute myself :)
Bets C. February 15, 2017
Eggs are "binders". Makes bread have a cheesier texture. Not necessary for a bread recipe
Bets C. February 19, 2017
Ha! Chewier!
Carlin February 13, 2017
Would it be possible to do the final hour rise in the refrigerator over night and then bake in the morning?
Melanie J. June 15, 2017
I'm doing this tonight, I'll let you know how it goes... :)
mtully September 4, 2017
How did it go?
plotto March 28, 2020
How'd it go?
Bets C. February 12, 2017
Has anyone made this recipe using a Bosch? I've never made bread with a food processor.
Leslie V. February 26, 2017
Yes please. I have a BOSCH also.
Also wondering about a bread machine up to the first rise?
barbara960 July 10, 2017
Yes,when I am having a bread baking day, I throw everything in the bread machine up to the first rise, then shape and let it rise again. Works great.
Sara S. February 12, 2017
It's 2017. Please give weights - so much easier and more accurate than cups. Yes, I know that us Americans are used to cups, but we will never change if the circular reasoning that cups are more common hence measurements are given only in cups.
Sarah J. February 12, 2017
Hi Sara, I just added the weights using Food52's standards conversions, but there were no weights included in Maida's original recipe, and I've only had the chance to test with volume at this point. (So, I can't be 100% sure that it's correct, but it should work!)
Sara S. February 12, 2017
Thank you.
Isabel L. February 11, 2017
This bread is delicious, but I have done it twice and both times the bread cracked while cooking right by one of the long edges of the pan and pushed dough out through it... not sure why, I did score the top as indicated!
Sarah J. February 11, 2017
Woah, that's odd! Maybe your oven has a hot spot? Did you try rotating the loaf? Glad it tastes good anyway!!
Isabel L. February 11, 2017
It's possible... I did rotate when I noticed the crack and may have contained it a bit. I wonder if I could keep the layers a bit thicker, but then I would lose the wonderful thin layers!
Scott T. February 9, 2017
This recipe has been our family's Friday night Shabbat "challah" for many years, and the most popular/requested thing I bake. I cannot recommend it enough.
AntoniaJames February 9, 2017
Love this technique! ;o)