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How to Make Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Why this recipe works Cinnamon swirl bread always sounds appealing, but this American classic frequently disappoints. Loaves are usually on opposite ends of the cinnamon spectrum: Either they’re flavorless, featuring a bare sprinkling of precious filling, or, just as bad, they’re overly sweet and ruined by gobs of oozing filling. The bread itself is often an afterthought of pedestrian white bread, or else it’s a cakey, dense affair. To make bread worthy of its swirl, we wanted a moderately rich dough, with a lot of structure to encourage a tall loaf and an airy crumb. To achieve these somewhat contradictory goals, we first kneaded our dough until it had fully developed gluten before slowly mixing in softened butter; that way the fat didn’t compromise the structure. For a loftier rise, we added a series of folds into our recipe, which incorporated more air. Our balanced filling combined cinnamon, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla. The confectioners’ sugar thickened up the filling, as did the starches in a hefty amount of cinnamon. To ensure that the filling stayed put and could be tasted with every bite, we traded the swirl shape for an elegant Russian braid. The test kitchen’s preferred loaf pan measures 8½ by 4½ inches; if you use 9 by 5-inch loaf pans, increase the shaped rising time by 20 to 30 minutes and start checking for doneness 10 minutes earlier than advised in the recipe. We do not recommend mixing this dough by hand. If the dough becomes too soft to work with at any point, refrigerate it until it’s firm enough to easily handle.

  • makes 2 loaves
  • resting time 30 minutes
  • rising time 2¾ to 3¾ hours
  • baking time 40 minutes
  • total time 5¾ to 6¾ hours, plus 3 hours cooling time
  • key equipment stand mixer, rolling pin, water-filled spray bottle, two 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pans, pastry brush, instant-read thermometer

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dough

  • 8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 32 pieces
  • 3¾ cups (20⅔ ounces) bread flour
  • ¾ cup (2¼ ounces) nonfat dry milk powder
  • 1 tablespoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1½ cups (12 ounces) water, room temperature
  • ⅓ cup (2⅓ ounces) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • 1½ cups (7½ ounces) golden raisins

filling

  • 1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
  • 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon water and pinch salt

1). For the dough Toss butter with 1 tablespoon flour in bowl and set aside to soften. Whisk remaining flour, milk powder, and yeast together in bowl of stand mixer. Whisk water, sugar, and egg in 4-cup liquid measuring cup until sugar has dissolved. Using dough hook on low speed, slowly add water mixture to flour mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let dough rest for 20 minutes.

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2). Add salt to dough and knead on medium-low speed until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, about 8 minutes. With mixer running, add butter, a few pieces at a time, and knead until butter is fully incorporated, about 4 minutes. Continue to knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, 3 to 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, slowly add raisins, and mix until incorporated, about 1 minute.

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3). Transfer dough to lightly greased large bowl or container. Using greased bowl scraper (or your fingertips), fold dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 45 degrees and fold dough again; repeat turning bowl and folding dough 6 more times (total of 8 folds). Cover tightly with plastic and let dough rise for 45 minutes. Repeat folding, then cover bowl tightly with plastic and let dough rise until nearly doubled in size, 30 minutes to 1 hour.

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4). Press down on dough to deflate. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter, divide in half, and cover loosely with greased plastic. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time (keep remaining piece covered), press and roll into 11 by 6-inch rectangle, with short side parallel to counter edge. Stretch and fold dough lengthwise into thirds to form 11 by 3-inch rectangle. Roll dough away from you into firm ball, keeping roll taut by tucking it under itself as you go. Cover balls loosely with greased plastic.

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5). For the filling Whisk all together in bowl until well combined. Coat 1 dough ball lightly with flour and place on lightly floured counter. With seam side down, flatten ball with rolling pin into 18 by 7-inch rectangle, with short side parallel to counter edge. Mist surface of dough with water. Sprinkle half of sugar mixture over dough, leaving ¼-inch border on sides and ¾-inch border on top and bottom, and press lightly to adhere. Mist filling with water until entire surface is speckled.

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6). Roll dough away from you into firm cylinder, keeping roll taut by tucking it under itself as you go. Pinch seam and ends closed. Dust cylinder lightly on all sides with flour, cover loosely with greased plastic, and let rest for 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining dough ball and filling.

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7). Grease two 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pans. Using bench scraper, cut 1 cylinder in half lengthwise. Turn halves cut side up and gently stretch into 14-inch lengths. Arrange strips side by side, perpendicular to counter edge, and pinch far ends together. Take left strip of dough and lay over right strip of dough. Repeat, keeping cut sides up, until pieces of dough are tightly twisted. Pinch remaining ends together. Transfer loaf cut sides up to prepared pan. Press dough gently into corners of pan and push any exposed raisins into seams of braid. Repeat with second loaf. Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until loaves reach 1 inch above lip of pans and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, 1½ to 2 hours.

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8). Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Gently brush loaves with egg mixture and bake until crust is well browned, about 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees, tent loaves with aluminum foil, and continue to bake until loaves register 200 to 205 degrees, 15 to 25 minutes. Let loaves cool in pans for 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pans and let cool completely on wire rack, about 3 hours, before serving.

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