Cinnamon Mocha Swirl Bread

Food blog June 2015-0938Around here, we take afternoon snack time very seriously. During the school year, it’s an opportunity to sit down together for a few minutes and work our way through notable moments from the day. During the summer, it’s a good way to reconnect from whatever individual projects we might have lost ourselves in. It feels like a restart, in a lot of ways, which can be important if the day hasn’t gone all that well.

Food blog June 2015-0916More than that, though, we are gluttons, and our mid-afternoon snack, or “teatime” as my wannabe Londoner husband likes to call it, is a sacred few minutes reserved for cramming something delicious into our mouths. Usually this is something quick: chips and salsa, or crackers and cheese; on Fridays it often dovetails into an impromptu happy hour of some sort (stay tuned for snack-y developments on this front, by the way…). But sometimes I like to get fancy.

Food blog June 2015-0911Spurred by this month’s Twelve Loaves theme “A Little Something Sweet,” I decided a special “teatime” loaf was in the works: I wanted a swirled bread, and since N. was working his way through his very last week of school, I decided something with a bit of pick-me-up was called for. Playing with flavors of Mexican chocolate and tiramisu, with a block of cream cheese thrown in for good measure, I ended up with this stunner: a lightly sweet cinnamon spiced loaf, with an unapologetically thick filling of sweetened cream cheese, espresso powder, and chopped semi-sweet chocolate. Yes, please.

Food blog June 2015-0910The production of this loaf is fairly standard: a good knead, two rises, with the application of the filling in between, and the better part of an hour in the oven. The most difficult part, honestly, is waiting for the finished loaf to cool enough to slice into it without making a mess. I waited almost long enough.

Food blog June 2015-0915Oddly, despite the Mexican and Italian dessert inspirations, what this reminded me of more than anything else was mocha chip ice cream. You know, the luscious, rich brown scoops with just the right amount of coffee flavor, studded with chunks of dark chocolate. Except in my version, it’s a soft swirl through a moist slice, and the chocolate pieces melt easily on your tongue (one of my biggest complaints about “chip” anything ice cream: the cold, hard chunks of chocolate. I know, I know, first world problems).

Food blog June 2015-0920Food blog June 2015-0921Obviously, this is a rich bread. I’d say it’s more than a “little” something sweet, but let’s indulge anyway. Unless caffeine doesn’t disrupt your sleeping patterns, I’d stay away from it as a bedtime snack. But as a pick-me-up in mid-afternoon, or mid-morning for that matter, it’s solid. I can imagine thick slices on a brunch table as well, maybe even as part of a bridal shower (colors: espresso and vanilla?) since the presentation is so pretty. But then, I’ve got weddings on the brain this summer.

Food blog June 2015-0933Oh, p.s., like my new “studio” set-up next to the window? My Photo Friday post from the other week had such lovely lighting I decided to make it a more regular shoot location. I’m looking forward to playing more with angles and light at different times of day.

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Cinnamon Mocha Swirl Bread
Makes 1 large 9×5 inch loaf
For dough:
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup lukewarm milk (I use whole milk)
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs
¼ cup + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, soft or melted and cooled, divided
2-3 cups bread flour
For filling:
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped or broken into small pieces
  • In a glass measuring cup, combine the lukewarm milk and the yeast, and let sit for 5-10 minutes to allow the yeast to wake up a bit. While you wait, combine the sugar, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, eggs, and ¼ cup of butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or just a large mixing bowl).
  • When the yeast and milk mixture is bubbly and smells like bread, add it into the egg and butter mixture and stir well to combine. Add 2 cups of the flour, and stir well to combine again.
  • If you are using a stand mixer, fit with the dough hook attachment and begin to knead on medium speed. If you are working by hand, dump the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about 5 minutes. As needed, work in more flour ¼ cup at a time until the dough is easy to handle. I ended up using about 2 ¾ cups total. In the stand mixer bowl, it will start to pull away from and then slap the sides.
  • After you’ve kneaded for about 5 minutes, the dough should feel smooth and stretchy and be texturally reminiscent of play-dough. At this point, lightly oil the inside of a large bowl (I use the stand mixer bowl for this – you don’t even need to clean it out), flip the dough around in it to coat all sides, then cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rise until doubled; about 90 minutes.
  • While you wait for the dough, make the filling: in a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, espresso powder, and granulated sugar until light and fluffy; 1-2 minutes. Then gently incorporate the chopped chocolate, and set aside.
  • When the dough has doubled, punch it down by depressing your fist gently into its center to release trapped air, then let it rest for 5 minutes to get its breath back. Turn it out onto a floured board and roll into a rectangle of roughly 9×16 inches.
  • Spread the dough rectangle with the filling, leaving a border of about 1 inch on all sides to ensure minimal overflow. Working gently, roll up into a log starting from the short edge (so you’ll end up with a fat log about 9 inches long). Crimp the edges at the end to seal it – be aggressive! The dough might not want to stick to itself at first.
  • Now that you have your fat log, well-sealed, twist it 4 or 5 times to disperse the swirl. This may stretch it out a bit, so when you carefully wedge it into a buttered 9×5 inch loaf pan, just tuck the ends underneath.
  • Once the loaf is settled in the pan, rub the top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of soft or melted butter, then cover lightly with plastic wrap, set aside for another 30 minutes, and preheat the oven to 375F.
  • By the time your loaf has risen for another 30 minutes, it should have come close to doubling in size again, and your oven should be fully preheated. Bake the loaf in the preheated 375F oven for 35-40 minutes, until the exterior is nicely burnished and the interior tests 180-200F (A skewer that comes out clean works too, though be careful, because the cream cheese filling will remain gloopy).
  • Cool loaf in pan for at least 10 minutes, then remove from pan and cool on a wire rack for at least another 10 minutes. The cream cheese and chocolate need time to solidify a bit, or the layers within the loaf will threaten collapse.
  • Enjoy with coffee, or tea, or milk, or your fingers. Keeps well in the fridge for 4 or 5 days (probably more would be fine, but ours didn’t last longer than that). Bring to room temperature before eating for best leftovers.

#TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Cake Duchess and runs smoothly with the help of Heather of girlichef, and the rest of our fabulous bakers.

Our theme this month is A LITTLE SOMETHING SWEET. For more bread recipes, visit the #TwelveLoaves Pinterest board, or check out last month’s mouthwatering selection of #TwelveLoaves Mexican Breads!

If you’d like to bake along with us this month, share your “A Little Something Sweet” Bread using hashtag #TwelveLoaves!

Cheddar Dill Twists

Food blog April 2015-0691It seems fitting that I should do my first post along with the Twelve Loaves bakers during a month that celebrates cheese. On any given day, you can find between three and six different kinds of cheese in the tiny drawer in my refrigerator. My last two posts have featured it as a key ingredient, and in both I’ve waxed eloquent about using not just some, but MOAR. I seriously love cheese. It’s the primary reason I could never go completely vegan. I could give up meat with very little trouble (though I would miss bacon, I must admit). I could wave a cheerful goodbye to fish, to beef, to chicken, and stock my cupboards with vegetable broth and my freezer with coconut based ice cream. I already use soy rather than regular milk on my cereal and in my weekend chai. But I would have serious problems bidding farewell to cheese.

Food blog April 2015-0666Food blog April 2015-0670Food blog April 2015-0674Even though I know this isn’t true – they had their ingredient chosen long before I came into the picture – it feels almost like the Twelve Loaves baking group planned this month’s post just for me. Bake with cheese. Yes. I. Will. Cooking with cheese is exciting because the ingredient offers such variety. Do you want something mild, or so sharp it makes your mouth water? Do you want a familiar flavor, or something tart or funky or stinky like last month’s socks? And then there’s texture. Cheese already runs the gamut from so soft it seems already melted to the firmness of parmesan that requires a knife point to dismantle. Add to that the different reactions it has to heat: some cheeses sigh into liquid. Some pull into foot-long strings. Some – and this is one of my favorite results – some flatten and solidify and transform into crunchy little cheese crisps suitable for nothing fancier than jamming into your mouth as quickly as you can.

Food blog April 2015-0677Food blog April 2015-0680With all of these options to work with, I was surprised by how quickly I landed on a choice. I’ve been playing around with a pairing of dill and cheddar, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to showcase it. Dill goes really well with yogurt, so for a different source of fat and moisture, I decided to use some thick, tangy Greek yogurt instead of butter in my dough. The tartness of the yogurt would be nice with the rich sharpness of the cheddar. And since I like to be fancy, I decided to make little twists, rather than a standard loaf.

Food blog April 2015-0681 Food blog April 2015-0682 Food blog April 2015-0683 Food blog April 2015-0684 Food blog April 2015-0685Guys, these are definitely the right thing to do. The dill-cheddar-yogurt trio is a chamber group on a good night. They bounce off each other in such a lovely way. But it can’t be denied that the star here is the cheese. It melts into little orange pockets while the dough turns into bread, and the smell of it while cooking makes a better homecoming than much else I can think of. I made one tray of twists with cheese sprinkled on top and one without, just to see which was better. As you might expect, more cheese won the day. It drips over the edges into crisp little crackered pieces you can snap off and crunch through before you dive into the main event.

Food blog April 2015-0687 Food blog April 2015-0689I had the idea that these would make fantastic extra-large tea sandwiches: halve them into long pieces, toast lightly, slather with cream cheese, then layer with long strips of cucumber. Cheese on cheese is rarely a bad thing, and the cucumber would nod to the dill and provide a crisp freshness and a lightness for the perfect spring lunch. Alas, when I reached into the fridge drawer jammed with vegetables, not cheese, my cucumbers were past their prime. So I had to settle for cream cheese alone, with a side of Caesar salad. I can’t say I ended up disappointed.

Food blog April 2015-0699Serving suggestion: these are perfect all on their own straight out of the oven. But they do make a nice, roll-sized vehicle for anything sausage shaped, and I can’t see many people objecting to using this as the base for a good solid cheesesteak sandwich. If you really wanted to get decadent, the twists could be split lengthwise, spread with a garlic butter, and broiled into a dreamy take on garlic bread.

To capitalize on the tea sandwiches idea, you could make them even smaller, dividing into 16 or even 24 pieces, and creating miniature twists to serve as part of an appetizer spread with the requisite cream cheese and cucumber filling. I haven’t tested this smaller size so I can’t be sure how much to reduce the baking time – start with 12 minutes and go from there.
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Cheddar Dill Twists
Makes 8 sandwich sized twists
2 teaspoons yeast
1 tablespoon brown sugar
½ cup lukewarm milk
½ cup plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt (you could use regular yogurt too, but you might need additional flour)
1 large egg
2 – 2½ cups bread flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons finely minced fresh dill
1 cup grated cheddar cheese, if not topping the twists. 1-½ cups grated cheddar, divided, if topping the twists
  • In a bowl or a 2-cup glass measuring cup, combine the yeast, brown sugar, and lukewarm milk. Stir, then set aside for 5-10 minutes until bubbly and smelling of bread.
  • In the bowl of your stand mixer, or another large bowl, stir together the egg and the yogurt (use the paddle attachment, if you are working with a stand mixer). Add in the milk and yeast mixture, stirring well, then add 2 cups of the flour, the salt, the dill, and 1 cup of the cheddar cheese. Mix until the dough comes together into a rough ball.
  • Switch from the paddle attachment to the dough hook and set to medium, if you are using a stand mixer. If you are mixing by hand or with a wooden spoon, turn the dough out onto a floured board. In either case, knead into a smooth, slightly sticky ball with some elasticity. If it seems too sticky to work with, add more flour 2 tablespoons at a time. This unfortunate stickiness may increase as the cheese softens; don’t despair.
  • Plop the kneaded dough in an oiled bowl (I just spray down the sides of my stand mixer bowl and flip the dough ball over a few times), cover tightly with plastic wrap, and leave it to rise for 60-90 minutes, until doubled. Punch it down by gently pressing your knuckles into the center, then let it rest for 5 minutes.
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and divide into 8 equal pieces. Using the palms of your hands, roll into 18-inch long ropes. As you roll, the middle will get thin and the ends will plump up. Prevent this by pushing outwards toward the ends of the rope (so your hands are moving slightly away from each other) as you roll.
  • Fold the rope over into a long horseshoe shape, then twist or “braid” it by lifting one side over the other in 3 or 4 tight twists, as in the photos above. When you reach the ends, crimp them together and tuck them under for neatness.
  • Transfer each twist to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, settling them at least 2 inches apart, and let rise again for 45-60 minutes, until noticeably plumped but not quite doubled.
  • At least 30 minutes before cooking, preheat the oven to 350F.
  • When you are ready to bake, if you want to top the twists with cheese, sprinkle the remaining ½ cup of cheddar in equal amounts over each – this will be about a tablespoon per twist.
  • Bake at 350F for 18 minutes, until the twists are golden and the top layer of cheese is melted and slightly crisp.
  • Cool for 5-10 minutes, if you can, before removing to a rack or directly to your mouth.

 

#TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Cake Duchess and runs smoothly with the help of Heather of girlichef, and the rest of our fabulous bakers.

Our host this month is Robin from A Shaggy Dough Story, and our theme is CHEESE. For more bread recipes, visit the #TwelveLoaves Pinterest board, or check out last month’s mouthwatering selection of #TwelveLoaves enter last month’s Italian Breads!

If you’d like to bake along with us this month, share your CHEESE bread using hashtag #TwelveLoaves!