So I was talking to a friend last night about what I should write about today, and he said that I should write about cinnamon bread. Therefore, I am going to write about cinnamon bread.
Cinnamon bread is one of my favorite foods. I remember making it with my father when I was very young, and for some reason I remember rolling out this impossibly huge piece of dough on the floor and pouring vats of butter on it. I do not think this actually happened. I think that I was just very small, so a reasonably large sheet of dough would have seemed gigantic to me. However, for some reason, my imagination has inflated this mythical cinnamon bread to enormous sizes, which would have required crematorium level ovens for baking.
Anyway, I make ordinary sized cinnamon bread fairly often these days. I actually make two kinds. I make one with my grandmother’s whole wheat bread recipe, and one with the basic milk bread in the Joy of Cooking. In both cases, the procedure is the same. I make the dough, knead it, take it through the first rising, and then the fun begins.
I melt some butter in my French enameled pot. While that’s happening, I roll out the dough into a big rectangle. Then, I pour butter over it, or brush it on, depending on my mood, and sprinkle a ton of cinnamon and sugar on top before rolling the dough up and letting it rise in a loaf pan. Some people like raisins and crap like dried fruit in their cinnamon bread. I do not. I feel that this distracts from the essential point, which is the interaction of cinnamon and sugar. Although sometimes I will sprinkle on some dried cranberries. But then I usually pick them out when I eat the bread, because I remember that I hate crap in my baked goods. Except for chocolate chips.
After the second rising, I bake the bread, and prance around impatiently while the house fills with the smell. I usually cut it open before it is cooled completely, causing one end to get misshapen, and I slather butter all over that piece and cram it into my mouth. For the next few days, I make myself big slices of cinnamon toast. Sometimes I make French toast. Sometimes I eat slices plain with one hand while editing with the other. Often I get into growling matches with the cats as they try to steal my bread.
Anyway, the point is that I never cease to be amazed by the variations that can manifest with bread. Obviously, when I make whole wheat cinnamon bread, it is very rich and nutty. The cinnamon flavor is more muted, but I like the bread better because it has such an intense and awesome flavor. When I make it with the basic white bread recipe, it’s lighter, allowing the cinnamon to come through more clearly. A few weeks ago I let the bread rise too much and it got airy, turning into flaky layers which made the best French toast I have ever had. Sometimes the bread seems to pick up wild yeasts, veering off in a totally new flavor direction, or the flour is slightly different, so the texture changes just a smidge. I like that. I like that bread is unpredictable, in this chemistry-laden field of baking. The same recipe will never come out quite the same.
Whenever people come over and I’ve made cinnamon bread, I notice that their nostrils start twitching. The smell of baked goods in general is awesome, but the cinnamony, yeasty flavor is terrific, and it lingers for a day or so, especially in warmer weather. There’s something immensely homey about it, as cheesy as that sounds, and I think that’s why I like making cinnamon bread and other baked goods in the winter, which can seem grim, oppressing, and dreary. I can smell the baked goods, and for a moment I imagine myself back on a sunny summer day, with a loaf of bread cooling on the counter and friends on the porch talking about nothing in particular.
Right now my house is freezing because I thought I would be able to tough out the winter, so I declined my landlord’s offer to put a heater in until last week, when I finally called and begged for one. However, these things take time, and for now I am wrapped up in a quilt, hunched over the keyboard, thinking that maybe if I bake cinnamon bread, the house will warm up, and maybe the gas company will call about setting up the heater today, and maybe tomorrow will be warm.