A few weeks ago, my boss came into my office with questions about a case that I was working on. After I gave him the run-down, he got up to leave, at which point, I asked him to take a seat and to close the door. I was leaving the job, I said, having accepted a new position.
The news did not come as a surprise, and he offered his sincere congratulations. He also encouraged me to make the most of my time-off. There are few instances, he noted, where you are truly off the clock. In this line of work, weekends get truncated and vacations get interrupted. There is always another case to read and another motion to file. There are few moments of true respite.
That time between jobs, however, was one of those truly serene periods, where there are no unanswered emails and waiting voicemails. There are no blinking red light while you are between jobs.
During my time-off, I did what I enjoy most — cooking.
I’m always making note of recipes that I think would great to try; recipes that look either creative or novel. In this case, the pull-apart bread looked like something really fun to make, a clever twist on a baking staple. I loved the creativity behind the idea. I especially loved the beauty of the finished-products that I had seen.
With that, I set about making the pull-apart bread. I ended up using a bit more flour than the recipe that served as the inspiration for this project. I needed the extra flour to get the right consistency before kneading. The extra dough also proved a special treat, since I had a few extra dough squares that I put into buttered ramekins. The dough that went into the ramekins produced a beautiful, flower-like shape.
The end product was equal parts stunning and delicious. The taste of the bread reminded me of a challah loaf, but with the cinnamon-sugar giving the loaf a little extra sweetness. I made the loaf sweet simply because that was my initial inspiration. That, and I do love the cinnamon-sugar combination in breads.
However, the basic technique for making pull-apart bread can be applied to any bread, and is an easy way to provide a dramatically different look to what could otherwise be just an average, run-of-the mill loaf!
Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread
Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker
PREP TIME: 1 hour
DOWN TIME: 2 hours
COOK TIME : 30 minutes
YIELD: One delicious loaf
FOR THE DOUGH 1/4 cup granulated sugar plus 1 tablespoon 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast 1/4 cup warm water 3 to 5 cups all-purpose flour, divided 1/2 teaspoon salt 6 tablespoons butter 1/3 cup low-fat milk 2 large eggs, at room temperature 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract FOR THE FILLING: 3/4 cup granulated sugar 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 2 tablespoons butter, melted
HOW YOU DO IT:
1. In a small bowl, stir together 1/4 cup warm water (105-115° F), the yeast, and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Let it stand until the mixture has doubled in size and is foamy, about 5 minutes. (If the mixture doesn’t foam, you’ll have to discard it and start over with new yeast).
2. In a large mixing bowl whisk together 2 cups flour, 1/4 cup sugar, the salt, and the yeast mixture. Set aside. Whisk together the eggs and set aside.
3. In a small saucepan, melt together the milk and 6 tablespoons butter until the butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract. Let mixture stand for a minute or two, or until the mixture registers 115 to 125 degrees. Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula. Add the eggs and stir the mixture until the eggs are fully incorporated into the batter (this may take a minute for the mixture to be fully incorporated). Working in 1/2-cup batches, add between 1 and 2 cups of flour, stirring until the mixture is firm and resembles a ball of dough, but it is still sticky. *You’ll want to err on the side of stickier and using less dough.
4. Place the dough in 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. If you’re using this method (and it’s what I did), just let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes before following the roll-out directions below.
5. Grease and flour a bread loaf pan, as well as a ramekin or two in case of leftover dough.
6. While the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg for the filling. Set aside. Melt 2 tablespoons butter. Set aside.
7. On a lightly floured work surface, deflate the dough and knead about two tablespoons of flour into the dough. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out. The dough should be 12-inches tall and about 20-inches long (or around there). Brush the melted butter across all of the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon-sugar-nutmeg mixture, so that all of the dough is covered. It’s okay if you have a little leftover cinnamon-sugar.
8. Slice the dough vertically, into six or seven (roughly) equal-sized strips. Stack the strips on top of one another and slice the stack into six or seven roughly equal slices once again. You’ll have between thirty-six and forty-nine dough squares.
9. Layer the dough squares into two neat rows until the entire loaf pan is filled with the squares. Place any extra dough squares into the ramekin. Place a kitchen towel over the loaf pan and ramekin, and store in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.
10. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaf for 30 to 35 minutes, or 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.
11. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 10 to 20 minutes. After that, remove the loaf to a wire rack to allow to cool further. Either pull the bread apart by hand or cut with a serrated knife into loaf pieces. Either option is delicious!
*Note: Any leftover slices can be toasted and eaten warm, or mixed with egg and milk for delicious french toast.