Love bread? Love cinnamon bread even more? Always been slightly afraid of making it yourself, thinking it something best left to the professionals? Well, I've been there and I know your fear.
However, one day, depressed at the prospect of yet another store-bought loaf of bread that tasted like lightly-seasoned glue and was filled with who knows what kinds of preservatives, I decided to take the plunge. (I made sure no one was at home though in case my attempt failed miserably, trusting in the friendly yet voracious wild birds that visit my garden to quickly dispatch any evidence. And if even they turned up their beaks, I knew I could count
on the dog. He's very reliable that way.) How pleasantly surprised was I when the result of my labour was gorgeous, aromatic, and extremely edible!
And now I'm going to share the recipe with you, because I think everyone is entitled to a proper, chemical-free loaf of bready goodness. After all, it's the staff of life! ('Staff of life' is one of those phrases that I've used over the course of my life without really, truly knowing what it meant. So when I wrote it here I thought I'd better go look it up in case it actually had some other meaning and I was about to really embarrass myself. See, I'm a bit of a word geek, and I like to know these things. I mean, the uncertainty can keep me up at night! So I asked my trusty friend Google and was relieved to find that I hadn't been making an egregious vocabulary gaffe all these years. Basically, it means a staple or necessary food, which I believe bread to be. So there you have it.)
To Knead or Not To Knead
One of the things that always made me hesitate when it came to making bread was the kneading. I hate kneading, it's hard work, it makes me sweat and pant and I'd just rather avoid that unpleasantness. I have other ways of venting my frustrations. So I decided that instead I would stir. I have this sturdy wooden spoon that I use in just about all my cooking and baking endeavours and I was pretty sure I could count on it to get me through this. (And yes, I know about mixers with dough hooks - duh! But not everybody has one or if they do they may not want to haul it out of the back of the cupboard, disturbing years of dust accumulation.) To my great pleasure it worked just fine!
The one other thing that used to make my stomach flutter with trepidation was yeast. Its merest mention would send me scurrying back to my tried and true non-yeast-containing recipes. Because yeast was a mystery, and I'm no Agatha Christie. However, on that fateful day, the day that I decided to throw caution to the wind and grasp the bread-making bull by the horns, I discovered that yeast wasn't at all scary or menacing. It was in fact benign! Happy! Bubbly!
So, after that brief introduction, are you ready to bake? Great, let's go!
What You'll Need
- 1 big bowl
- 1 medium pan (to heat the milk)
- 1 medium bowl (for weighing out stuff)
- 1 small bowl (for melting butter)
- Strong wooden spoon
- Measuring spoons
- Tea towel
- 2-lb loaf tin
More Things You'll Need
- 400 millilitres milk - this can be either semi-skim or full fat, you choose. I suppose you could even use skim milk, but I've never tried it because to me, skim milk is just water that's white. I like a bit more oomph to my milk.
- 100 millilitres cool water
- 2 teaspoons fast acting yeast (that's the same as one 7 gram packet)
- 80 grams unsalted butter
- 650 grams strong white bread flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 50 grams caster sugar
- 1 tablespoon caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- softened butter - enough to cover your rectangle of dough (more on that later)
I find it useful to gather all my stuff together before getting started. That way I don't get partway through the process and discover someone's nicked the butter or my husband is using the loaf tin for a DIY project.
What To Do Now
Once you've assembled all the necessary bits, pour your milk into a pan, put it on the hob and turn on the heat. Now, you know that saying 'A watched pot never boils'? It may seem true as you're thinking of all the other things you could be doing instead of staring into a pot, watching for the signs of imminent boiling. However, and I know this from experience, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR STATION! Because as soon as you turn your back and divert your attention, that baby will boil. And trust me, you do not want the smell of burned milk to fill your house. It's vile. Even the dog will refuse to come in. And this is an animal that snacks on horse poo, so he's not that picky. Stay vigilant, and as soon as you see little bubbles forming on the surface of the milk, take it off the heat and pour it into your big bowl. And heave a big sigh of relief, as the danger has now passed.
Now add the water and leave it to cool down enough that you can stick your finger in without blurting out something rude. Once you can do that, gently pour in the yeast and stir it around a bit, then leave it for a few minutes to dissolve.
While that's happening, turn your attention to the dry ingredients, and here's where your medium bowl comes into play. Plop it onto the scale, measure in the flour and sugar and then add in the salt. Take the bowl off the scale, plop your little bowl on and weigh out the butter. (Here's a tip. Cut the butter up into cubes. It'll melt more evenly that way.)
The easiest way to melt the butter is in the microwave. Just make sure that, as with the milk, you keep an eye on it. I can't tell you how long it will take because there are a lot of factors involved, but it'll be less than a minute. If you're good at multi-tasking you can mix up the floury stuff while the butter is melting. If you're not good, just wait, it's not that long.
Okay, so, the milk has cooled a bit, the dry ingredients are mixed up, the butter is melted. Grab your wooden spoon and gently start adding the dry ingredients to the milk.
It'll be easy at first, but as soon as it gets hard going you can add the melted butter and things will get easier again. Just keep stirring until all the flour has disappeared into the milk/butter and you've got what looks like a big pile of gloop.
Now pop a tea towel over the bowl and go do something else for about ten minutes. You could be productive and start the washing-up or butter your loaf tin, or you could just have a cup of tea or a bathroom break or something.
The Bit That's NOT Kneading
Ten minutes have passed, so go back to your bowl and you will find that you now have a very slightly bigger pile of gloop. Take up your wooden spoon, flex your muscles, and stir like fire for about 20 seconds. Yep, that's what I said. 20 seconds. That's not even half a minute! If you like getting your hands messy you could even dispense with the spoon and do it manually. You know, become one with the dough. But that's too much like kneading for me, so I use the spoon.
Once that's done, put the tea towel back over the bowl and leave your gloop to rise for about an hour. It's good if you can put it someplace warm, as that really helps with the rising, but if you don't have a warm spot, don't worry about it. It's not often warm where I live and even with my husband refusing to turn on the central heating until actual icicles are forming on my nose, my dough still rises.
I have no suggestions for what you do with your free hour. That's up to you.
After the Break
Okay, an hour has passed so it's time to return to the kitchen and see what's happened while you were away. If all has gone according to plan, the yeast will have done its mysterious work and you will have a rather large pile of gloop, although it will look a bit less like gloop and more like dough. Yay, it worked!
This next bit is fun. It's not really necessary, but I like it. Punch your dough! That's right - bop it right in the kisser. Not too hard though, in case you end up cracking your knuckles on the bottom of the bowl. Just a light punch to get the air out. If you're not into such violence then a poke with your wooden spoon will do. Then use your spoon to scrape the dough out onto a floured surface and pat it out into a rectangular shape, roughly the same width as the length of your loaf tin. Confused? I just mean that the length of the short side of your rectangle should be the same as the length of your tin. So that the loaf will fit when you're ready to put it in there.
Now get your softened butter and spread it all over the surface of your dough rectangle. The softer the better, otherwise it won't spread very well and you'll end up tearing the dough and getting all mad and stuff. Then, mix the sugar and cinnamon together and scatter it over the buttered dough.
Once you've scattered to your satisfaction, very carefully roll up the dough, from short side to short side, quite tightly. If you didn't butter your loaf tin during your ten-minute break, do so now. Then lovingly place your rolled up dough into the tin, cover it with your tea towel, and leave it to rise again for 15 or 20 minutes. Now would be a good time to pre-heat your oven to 180 C (160 C for fan ovens).
After the allotted time, check on your dough. If it has risen by about a third, it's ready to put in the oven. If it's still looking low, leave it a bit longer.
Once the tin is in the oven, set the timer for 45-50 minutes. The timing will depend on your oven, which is something I always warn people about. As much as they would like to be, no two ovens are the same, so after about 30 minutes have a quick look to make sure the bread's not turning to charcoal or something. The way most people (and in this case I'm like most people) check for done-ness is to turn the loaf out of the tin and tap it on the bottom. If you get a hollow sound, it's ready! Put it on a wire rack and leave it to cool. Difficult as it may be,
resist the temptation to cut yourself a slice right away, because I'm telling you now, it won't end well. It's just as good cold, so make yourself wait.
And that, my friends, is how you make a loaf of cinnamon bread!