Cinnamon swirl bread has been, for most of my life, a treat. It wasn’t regular breakfast fare growing up, but it sometimes made an appearance in a bag from the grocery. In college dorms, when a toaster oven was the only appliance allowed, cinnamon bread was splurge. When I reached the age of buying my own groceries, it was part of weekend special breakfast plans. And it was always just grocery store bags of bread. I never really imagined it from a bakery, and certainly not as something I would make myself. But as my skill and interest in the kitchen grew, it made it onto my list of things to learn. And once I started reading and testing, I realized I have quite a few opinions about cinnamon swirl bread. So I have addressed them all and developed my own personal perfect loaf, with a spicy twist of my own.
First off, I consider this a sweet bread – I prefer that the main, white body of the loaf to be sweet, not just the swirl. This is a special treat bread for me, so I bumped up the sugar content of the dough. And as much as I love cinnamon, the complex mixture of spices really takes this recipe up a notch. The proliferation of stellar single origin, fair trade and previously hard to come by spices on the market has got me experimenting (I particularly like spices from Burlap and Barrel and Spicewalla). And many stores now have bulk spice jars, so you can sample as little or as much as you like. The mix I lay out here has the complex flavors found in chai. The hint of black pepper adds a touch of mystery, so don’t leave it out.
The structure of the bread is perfect to me as well. It slices beautifully and is sturdy enough to hold lashings of butter or dollops of jam, for toasting or to be used for French toast.
On the day it is made, the swirl is a tight little stroke through the bread, on the next day, the area around the swirl opens up slightly – which does not affect the flavor on the least.
Chai Spiced Swirl Bread
- For the Bread
1 packet active dry yeast
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup buttermilk (or whole milk)
½ cup water
4 Tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoons butter, melted
- For the Swirl
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon coriander
2 grinds black pepper
- Place the yeast and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir to combine. Put the buttermilk and water in a glass measuring jug and heat in the microwave for about 45 seconds (or on the stove in a small pan) until just warm, around 110 degrees. Add it to the yeast in the bowl and stir to combine, then lightly cover the bowl with a tea towel and leave for 10 minutes to bubble and foam. Cut the butter into small pieces and add to the foamy yeast, and with the dough hook, beat on medium low until the butter starts to break up. Add 2 ½ cups of the flour and the salt and beat on medium until it begins to come together, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add a little more flour until the dough is a cohesive, smooth dough. Beat for 4 minutes on medium high, stopping once to pull the dough from the hook and then finish the kneading. When the dough is a nice, smooth ball, pull it from the dough hook and hold it in your hand while you use the butter wrapper to grease the bowl, then shape the dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ hours. You can heat the oven to 150 degrees, then turn the oven off and place the bowl inside to rise or heat a 2-cup measuring jug with ½ cup of water in the microwave until boiling, the place the bowl in the microwave with the door shut (don’t turn on the microwave).
- Mix all the ingredients for the swirl in a small bowl. Break up any lumps of spice with a fork and thoroughly combined. Spray a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray.
- When the dough has risen, flour a surface lightly (I spread out a large flour sack towel on the counter held down at the corners with jars and such to ease clean up). Punch down the dough and transfer to the floured surface and use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out a rectangle about 9 by 12 inches – place the loaf pan at a short end of the rectangle to make sure the rolled bread will fit. Sprinkle the swirl spice mix over the dough leaving a 1-inch border all the way around. Starting at a short end, roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Pinch the seam together, then transfer the loaf to the prepared pan seam side down. Spray the plastic wrap with cooking spray and recover the loaf. Leave in your rising place until the dough reached the top of the pan, about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of the loaf with the melted butter, then bake for 35 – 40 minutes until the bread makes a nice hollow sound when tapped. You can carefully turn the loaf out and insert a thermometer into the end. 190 degrees will be perfectly done. Turn out on a wire rack to cool slightly before slicing.
- Eat warm or at room temperature on the day of baking, or cool completely and wrap it tightly in a tea towel and serve it the following day.
- You can make the dough and leave it covered in the fridge in the bowl to rise overnight. Bring it to room temperature the next day, roll it, sprinkle, rise again and bake.
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