Cinnamon Swirl Bread + Bread-Making Basics

It’s been an interesting week.

It was the last week before spring break, and I literally almost blew away today because it was so windy, but that’s not JUST why.

It starts with psychology, which is SO CRAZY.

I’m taking my first psychology course ever, and I’m repeatedly blown away (Noticed this pun while editing. Can we all just take a moment? Thank you.) by the amazing things our mind does for us. Very intricate processes are carried out so instantaneously and efficiently that we don’t grasp the amount of work put into them.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread | memo2munch

We open our eyes and see. Not just shapes, but identifiable objects. Trees, outlets, bananas. We recognize these things from all different angles, even from angles we haven’t seen before. We recognize faces. We understand depth. Despite the fact that the images on our retinas are two-dimensional, upside-down and reversed.

We see COLORS! Fabulous sunsets, beautiful flowers.

Our brains turn vibrations into bubbling brooks, intricate symphonies, and words with meaning.

Free-floating molecules become the scent of everything from fresh-baked bread to that fresh smell after it rains.

We can taste (YEEEES) and touch. We comprehend our location relative to the world around us.

All of these sensations are accomplished by the brain. There’s no color or sound in the outside world, only light and vibrations that our brains translate for us. That little blob that lives in our skulls is pretty dang fantastic.

I just get so excited. Learning about the brain makes me want to see, hear, smell, taste, touch EVERYTHING! And I think everyone else should want to as well.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread | memo2munch

There’s so much to experience, and all of it can be processed by our brains into the most wonderful… I’m at a loss for words. I have no idea how to describe the phenomena that are our senses. You can call me basic, but I “can’t even.”

But I can still EXPERIENCE them all the same, and so can you! This is why I love making bread.

I see the dough change and mature as it rises. I feel the warmth of the dough between my fingers as I mix and knead. I smell the comforting aroma of yeast and cinnamon. If all else is silent, I can hear a few air bubbles pop while I knead.

It’s hard for language to convey what it’s like to make bread, but once you make it you just understand. And you share that unspoken understanding with others who bake it. Those of you reading who have baked bread before know what I’m talking about!

Senses are private, so we can’t be sure we all experience the exact same thing. But we all feel something similar, and that’s what’s important.

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread | memo2munch

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread | memo2munch

Please, please give bread-making it a try! I know that yeast can be scary, but try it a few times and you’ll see that it’s not evil, it’s just picky! It may take a try or two to get the hang of. I had a difficult time at first, just take a look at my epic fail in this post. However, since I’ve practiced and gotten the hang of using yeast, I LOVE IT!

There are four key parts of making bread. Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through the whole process.

  1. Activating the yeast: Before you do anything, you need to activate the yeast. We’re using active dry yeast in this recipe. Careful not to substitute instant yeast. We activate the yeast by sprinkling it over a mixture of warm almond milk and water. This step is probably where the most people get discouraged. Yeast is a drama queen, and if the water is too hot it will just up and die. Since we have to baby yeast, aim for the liquid to be the temperature you would make a baby’s bath. I don’t even use a thermometer! If you can keep one finger in the liquid comfortably, then you’re in the right zone. Sprinkle in the yeast, and let sit for 10 minutes. If your water was the right temperature, you should see lots of froth!
  2. Adding flour: While it may seem simple enough, knowing how much flour to add can be confusing. A lot of people add too much because they don’t want the dough to be sticky at all when they need it. This will make your bread tough. The act of kneading smooths out the dough and makes it not sticky, so you want your dough a tiny bit sticky when you begin to knead. Don’t feel obligated to use all of the flour the recipe calls for.
  3. Kneading: This part is so therapeutic once you get the hang of it! Its purpose is to develop the gluten which gives bread that chewy texture we all love. Flour a surface like a large cutting board. Take your dough and flip ot over and over until you have a light coating of flour on all sides. Then, grip the bottom left edge of the dough ball with your left hand. Grab the top half with your right hand and stretch the dough away from you. Then fold it back over itself. Now turn the dough 90 degrees to the right, and repeat. Keep going, adding bits of flour as needed, until your dough is nice and smooth. Easy, right?
  4. Rising: Rising is very important, otherwise you will end up with a dense rock instead of a light and fluffy loaf. The trick here is warmth. Picky yeast won’t start any rising action if it’s too cold. Since my house is often cold, what I do is preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Lightly oil a large bowl (you can rinse out and use the bowl you made the dough in) and place the dough in the bowl while the oven heats. Once it reaches 200 degrees, turn the oven off. Cover the bowl lightly with foil or plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise in the still-warm oven until doubled in size.

There! Now you’re ready to get baking. 🙂

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Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread | memo2munchCinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread | memo2munch

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread | memo2munchCinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread | memo2munch

Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread | memo2munch
(Adapted from The Pastry Affair)

Yields 1 loaf

For dough
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup (235 ml) warm almond milk
1/3 cup (80 ml) warm water
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup (60 grams) melted margarine
3/4 cup (120 grams) raisins (I used a mix of regular and yellow raisins)
3 1/2 cups (445 grams) all-purpose flour

In a large mixing bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer), sprinkle the yeast over the barely warm milk and water and allow to sit about 5-10 minutes until activated (looks frothy). Mix in the sugar, salt, and melted margarine. Mix in raisins. Gradually add flour, mixing until the dough comes together. If the dough is too dry and will not come together, add small amounts of water until it does. Conversely, if the dough is too sticky, add flour until it becomes workable; however, do not add too much flour or the bread will become dense.

Turn out dough on a lightly floured surface and knead the dough for 7-10 minutes, or until elastic. Alternatively, using the dough hook on a stand mixer, knead the dough for 7-10 minutes, or until elastic. Cover dough with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in a warm place, about 1 hour. Here’s what I do: preheat the oven to 200 degrees F. Then turn it off. Keep the dough in the oven to rise. It works!

For Cinnamon Swirl
1/3 cup (70 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 large egg, beaten

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon until evenly mixed. Set aside.

Punch down the dough before turning out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll out into a 9 x 15-inch rectangle. Brush the beaten egg over the top. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the egg. Starting with the shortest end, roll up the dough until a log is formed, folding down the ends. Transfer the log, seam side down, into a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan. Press dough down so it reaches the corners evenly. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise for another 40-60 minutes until doubled.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until bread is golden and sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from baking pan and allow to cool slightly before slicing and serving.

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