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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Swirly Cinnamon Date Bread

I am mad at this bread. It has some nerve coming in here, smelling so spicy sweet and gesturing me over with its "come-hither" buttery swirls. How dare it? I'M the boss in this kitchen, Bread, and I will tell YOU the ways of the world. You're not better than anyone else.

Okay, well, maybe you are. Just a little. Or a lot.

Sigh. I can't resist your golden crust and brown sugary goodness. You're just so sweet, come cuddle with me. We're friends forever.

Every Friday, I make sweet egg bread called challah. Unfortunately, my recipe yields a super huge batch, so I have to halve it. I'm not feeding an army, here. Or a high schooler. However, this Friday, I was in a hurry and forgot to halve the recipe. So I went ahead and halved the finished dough. I baked my usual bread with one half, and froze the other to make this week.

Except for one little snag. I'm currently watching my carb intake and since my quads are still sore from the gym, motivation is still holding fast. The idea of baking up two gorgeous golden loaves of bread that I wouldn't be able to eat just seemed masochistic. So instead, I figured I'd make a gift of the bread. But if I'm going to gift food to people, it's gotta be fabulous. Plain challah, as delicious as it is, wasn't good enough. We gotta make this special.

So I thawed my dough. I had frozen it in a tupperware, and I set the lid loosely on top, expecting it to rise as it thawed, and set the container on my cool stovetop to warm up. Around 7pm, I came home from the gym to this:

Mmm. I don't have any photos of the challah-making process because, again, I made this last week and wasn't taking photos at the time. Sorry. But this recipe by Joan Callaway is the one I use. It's wonderful.

So, what you'll need:

- Half the dough from above recipe (I'd retype the recipe here, but I'm unapologetically lazy.)
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon

- 1 cup dried, chopped dates
- 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened but not melted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 heaping tablespoons high quality cinnamon
Yeah, tablespoons. Not teaspoons

Anything else?
- 1 large egg, beaten, for a wash.

Now, I know--that filling looks like it has an awfully large amount of cinnamon, but you know what? You're right. It IS a lot of cinnamon. Why do I use so much? Because I like it, and because I can. If you're less of a cinnamon junkie, feel free to scale it down to your liking. I like mine to punch me in the face a little.

Anyway, in a small bowl, mix together your filling ingredients, except for the dates. Leave those guys out for now. Work it with your fingers if you need to. It should be thick and resemble damp sand. Mmmm. Gritty... Set your yummy cinnamony filling aside.

Now, roll your dough out onto a clean work surface and gently knead in your tablespoon of cinnamon. It doesn't have to be perfect or evenly blended. A little swirliness just adds to the bread. Don't overknead--we want the dough slightly sticky and elastic.

When the cinnamon is incorporated, roll out your dough to something that approximates a rectangle. I'm super lazy, so I didn't roll it, I just stretched it out and flattened it by hand. Mine's not pretty, but entirely functional. It needs to be roughly 9" wide, so that it will fit in a standard loaf pan. Don't be shy to take your pan out and compare.

When the dough is rolled (ahem, pressed) out, Sprinkle your cinnamon filling allll over that dough. Oh baby, yeah. Just like that. (*cough* Sorry. Family show.)
Get a nice, even layer. I let my son do this part. He thought he was the best schmearer ever. (Mine is a little dark because I added too much butter. Ack. You want yours lighter and more sandy, less muddy)

When the cinnamon filling is all spread out, sprinkle your dates in an even layer over the filling. Get 'em nice and friendly together.

(Ahem. Again, my filling was too "gooey".)

Now, starting at one end, roll the sheet of dough tightly inward. When it's all rolled up in a log, seal the edges by tucking them under, and plop the loaf on its seam. If your loaf has gotten too long to fit in your pan, just scrunch it a bit. You won't hurt it.

Since I'm dealing with brown sugar and butter, there's potential, gooeyness? Spellcheck doesn't like it either way. Hm. Since I'm dealing with potential gooey-ness here, I lined my loaf pan in parchment. Plop the loaf right down into your lined loaf pan, brush with some beaten egg, and bake at 350 until the top is golden and gorgeous and tester comes out clean. About 40 minutes to an hour.

Now, this is important, so pause whatever's playing on your DVR and pay attention.

Do NOT remove this thing from the pan or cut into it for at least half an hour. It needs to finish baking and then cool. Because there's so much butter in this baby, if you take it out of the pan now, it will fall apart and go smoosh on you. No good. It needs a few minutes (like, thirty) to get its stuff together and stand tall. So wait. I know, it totally sucks. I hate when friends make you wait.

Once the loaf has cooled a bit, slice that beauty open and revel in the glory you've created. You made some freakin' delicious bread. Totally from scratch! Go you. Enjoy, and happy eating!

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