I have fond memories of my father bringing home a loaf of cinnamon swirl bread from a local bakery that looked as it if had been baked in a can. The loaf was about 10 inches long and had ridges every ½ inch or so, perfect for cutting into individual slices, but the best part about it was the flavor. Each delicious slice had a pinwheel of cinnamon running throughout, and the entire loaf was rolled in cinnamon and sugar, creating a sweet, crunchy coating. This childhood memory was the inspiration for my latest experiment -- Cinnamon Apple Swirl Bread, along with the basket of apples I picked from my neighbor's tree.
I love cinnamon -- cinnamon candles, hand soap, oatmeal, the list goes on and on, but I particularly like cinnamon with my apples … And lots of it. Have you ever bit into a cinnamon roll and thought "I wish this had more cinnamon flavor"? I know I have. I wanted this bread to have bold cinnamon taste throughout and be able to see and bite into pieces of apple.
I started by cross-referencing some recipes and decided the base of my bread would be a recipe shared by my friend's mom years ago. The recipe makes three loaves, so ½ cup sugar didn't seem like a lot, and adding something sweet like honey, sugar or agave, helps to activate and "feed" the yeast more than sweetening the bread.
To achieve cinnamon flavor in every bite, I decided to also add some cinnamon to the dough itself, different from most recipes adding it only as the "swirl." The dough came together and rose beautifully, but now I needed to add the apples and cinnamon. Incorporating the apples is where my real challenge began.
After rolling the entire recipe of dough out into a giant 36- by 12-inch rectangle, I grated freshly peeled apples onto the dough and sprinkled the whole thing with cinnamon and sugar. Next, I rolled it into a giant "dough snake," as if making cinnamon rolls, cut it into thirds and placed each third into a prepared pan. Once the dough had risen again the loaves were baked, cooled and then the judging began.
The first version was tasty, but the grated apples disappeared into the bread dough, and moisture in the apples made the loaf wet and mushy inside. After repeated attempts using everything from dried to sliced apples, I believe I discovered the answer; diced apples that have been sautéed in a little butter, combined with sugar and cinnamon, and cooked for a few minutes until they released most of their moisture -- perfect! Using the same technique as before I spread the apples over the dough, sprinkled the cinnamon and sugar, rolled it all up and cut my "dough snake" into thirds.
Then I decided to test different ways of shaping the dough before placing it in the pan. I discovered my favorite version by rolling the already filled "dough snake" until it was about 18 inches long, folded it in half and twisted. The result was thin layers of bread dough, with the good distribution of cinnamon and apples throughout each loaf.
Of course, the type of apple you use is important; an apple typically used for pie making is best as it should hold its shape when cooked and not contain too much moisture.
The other key is good quality cinnamon. On a recent visit to my favorite spice store I learned cinnamon could vary in flavor and intensity, so sample a few varieties and find the one you like best.
As tempting as it will be, please resist the urge to slice into the hot loaf right out of the oven. As bread cools, moisture continues to move outward, drying the bread and firming up the crumb. If you cut into the bread while it's still warm, you risk finding a doughy and sticky texture, as this process is not yet complete. Ideally, bread should be allowed to rest at least 30 minutes before cutting. I know it will be hard to resist, but your patience will be rewarded.
Lastly, this is homemade bread, so it will not remain fresh as long as commercial loaves. Toasting is a great way to revive day-old bread, and we have discovered it also makes great French toast. You can even tightly wrap pre-sliced bread and store it in your freezer for toasting later. No matter what, I can assure you, we have not thrown any away.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.