I adore surprises. I’m also really bad at them. THIS BREAD HAS A SECRET CINNAMON SWIRL ON THE INSIDE! Whoops. Meet my whole wheat Cinnamon Bread:
For as much as I relish the anticipation of unexpectedly popping by the home of two friends who have a newborn with a giant bowl of pasta to see their sleep-deprived faces glow, or attempt to act natural when Ben is bummed that we missed buying tickets to this weekend’s comedy show (guess who scored the last two!), I spoil the surprise every time. I become so darn excited, the surprise bursts out before I can stop it.
On the outside, Cinnamon Bread looks like your standard loaf: attractive, lightly golden, but nothing crazy—do not be deceived. On the inside, it’s studded with toasted hazelnuts and boasts a gorgeous, gooey spiral of cinnamon-sugar beauty that works its way into every bite.
Whenever I grocery shop, the commercially-produced cinnamon bread attempts to seduce me. “Buy me,” it croons. “I promise not to go near your thighs, and I am worth this exorbitant price tag.”
Tired of disappointing that persistent, pricey bread, I set out to create an affordable, healthy alternative for store-bought cinnamon-swirl bread that anyone can bake at home.
This Cinnamon Bread exceeded my every expectation. Carb lovers, cinnamon lovers, and celebrators of life, rejoice!
Since I’ve already done the surprise-busting damage, let’s go big. Allow me to reveal a few other key characteristics of our Cinnamon Bread that you discover when you bake it:
- Spoiler Alert #1: Cinnamon Bread is easy. Right now, you are thinking “Yeah right,” and that’s if your mother raised you to use only polite language. To be completely honest, I expected the swirl aspect of Cinnamon Bread to be challenging, but it was a cinch! Simply pat the dough into a rectangle, sprinkle generously with cinnamon-sugar fairy dust, roll that puppy up like a sleeping bag, and voila! You just formed a perfect cinnamon swirl for your Cinnamon Bread.
- Spoiler Alert #2: Prepare of the scent of sweet cinnamon intoxication. Cinnamon Bread smells so tantalizing as it bakes, I was torn between either never pulling out of the oven or risking third degree tongue burns, rather than wait for it to cool.
- Spoiler Alert #3: Heaven is about to hit your mouth. Toasty hazelnuts cuddle into a soft cinnamon-scented dough, and our thick cinnamon swirl makes every slice a little piece of paradise.
- Spoiler Alert #4: Cinnamon Bread is made with whole wheat flour. Trash the rumors that whole wheat breads are dense and leaden. Cinnamon Swirl Bread is fluff-tastic.
No matter your level or bread baking expertise (or lack thereof), with a little patience, you will be prancing around your home, perfectly swirled slice of Cinnamon Bread in hand (and in mouth.)
If you can resist demolishing the entire pan of Cinnamon Bread the moment it emerges from the oven, it makes crazy tasty toast.
Ben and I happily smeared multiple slices with butter and ruined our dinner. No regrets.
In fact, we loved Cinnamon Bread so much, I baked it a second time to create this heavenly make-ahead French Toast Bake.
Thick, decadent, and requiring only 8 minutes to prepare, this French Toast Bake the ultimate in luxury for the supremely lazy. Brunch this weekend? I think yes.
For the Dough:
- 3/4 cup water, very warm but not hot (110 degrees F—check your yeast packet for specific recommendations)
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
- 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 large egg slightly beaten
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 tablespoons shortening, melted and at room temperature
- 1 cup hazelnuts (toasted and roughly chopped)
For the Cinnamon Swirl:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- In a small bowl, combine the water and yeast. Let sit 5 minutes.
- In a large bowl or the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together the all-purpose flour, white whole wheat flour, vital wheat gluten, salt, and cinnamon.
- To the bowl with the yeast, add the egg, milk, and shortening and stir to combine. Add the yeast mixture all at once to the flour mixture. Stir together with a large spoon (or mix on low speed) until the ingredients come together and form a ball.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface (or switch to a dough hook if using a standing mixer.) Knead by hand (or on medium speed) for approximately 10 minutes (or by machine for 6 to 8 minutes), adding more flour as necessary. The dough should be soft, pliable, and slightly tacky but not sticky. During the final 2 minutes of kneading, gradually incorporate the hazelnuts, being careful not to crush them. (If you are using a machine, it may be helpful to knead them in by hand so that they are distributed evenly.) Place the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size. To check dough readiness, gently press the dough with two fingers. If the indent stays, the dough is ready.
- Prepare the cinnamon swirl: In a small bowl, stir together the cinnamon and sugar. Set aside.
- Lightly oil two 8×4-inch loaf pans. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces (use a kitchen scale if you have one). Place one piece on a lightly floured work surface and pat into a rectangle that is 5 inches wide by 8 inches long. Sprinkle with half of the cinnamon sugar mixture. Working from the short (5-inch) side of the dough, roll up the length of the dough, jelly-roll style as if you are rolling up a sleeping bag, pinching the crease with each rotation to seal in the filling and strengthen the dough’s surface tension. The loaf will spread as you roll, reaching 8 to 9 inches (the length of your loaf pan). Pinch the final seam closed with the back edge of your hand or your thumbs, then lift the loaf and rock it gently back and forth to even it out. Place the loaf in one of the prepared pans. Repeat with second piece of dough. Mist the tops of the loaves with spray oil, cover loosely in plastic wrap, then let rise at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, until the top of the dough crests above the edge of the pan and it is nearly doubled in size.
- Before the dough finishes rising, place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Once the dough has finished its second rise, place the loaf pans on a large sheet pan, ensuring that they do not touch. Bake for 20 minutes, rotate the sheet pan 180 degrees, then bake an additional 20 to 30 minutes (depending on your oven), until the loaves reach an internal temperature of 190 degrees F. The finished loaves will be brown on the top, golden on the sides, and sound hollow when tapped.
- Immediately remove the bread from the pans, then let cool for at least 1 hour before serving. Enjoy warm with butter.
- Store baked cinnamon swirl bread in ziptop bag or wrapped in foil at room temperature for 4 days or wrap tightly in plastic wrap, then foil, then freeze for up to 3 months. Do not store in the refrigerator, as the bread will become stale.
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