Orange Date Cinnamon Swirl Bread

This bread is an ode to wanting food around for easy breakfasts and the kind of overly detailed projects I often find myself in the middle of when life is busy and stressful, as it has been these last weeks…months…pretty much all of 2017 really. But I won’t belabor the complaining here, because things really are going pretty well at the moment, and also this bread is delicious (though it could benefit from a few tweaks, discussed below).

What began as a craving for white sandwich bread quickly morphed into cinnamon swirl bread, which got a boost from dates and orange peel because we did not have any raisins in the house (mostly because they are not very good, so why would I buy them?). It ended up with me learning an excellent technique for swirling fillings into breads: the Russian Braid technique. (That links to an extremely helpful video if that is your thing, as it is mine.)

This bread recipe is my adaptation of the America’s Test Kitchen Cinnamon Swirl Bread using the notes from My Year Cooking with Chris Kimball. The bread recipe uses the ratio from Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio, enriched with egg and a bit of butter (well, and dates and orange zest).

Bread:*
12 oz warm water
1 tsp yeast

Dissolve together

Add:
20 oz bread or all purpose flour
¼ c sugar
2 tsp kosher salt
1 egg
2 Tbsp butter, melted

Knead with stand mixer w/ dough hook 8-10 minutes till smooth. While kneading, add flour 1-2 Tbsp at a time until dough is not sticking to the sides and is only slightly sticky to touch. In the last few minutes of kneading, add:

½ c chopped dates (pieces should be raisin sized or smaller)
Zest from one orange (in my case, 2 Mandarin oranges)

When nice and smooth, allow to rise for 1 hour, covered with a kitchen towel. It should be nice and puffy by this time. When you poke it with a fingertip, it should stay dented.

During the rising time, make the filling:

½ c confectioners sugar
1 ½ Tbsp cinnamon
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp. vanilla

After first rise, remove dough from bowl and place on lightly floured counter.

Roll out into a rectangle that is 7”x18”.

Cover with filling, except for 1” of one of the 7” ends.**

Roll up tightly starting with the other 7” end until you end up with a 7” cylinder. Pinch the edge tightly to close.

Allow cylinder to rest on the counter for 10 mins with the seam down.

After the rest, cut the cylinder from the top down to the bottom where the seam is.

Lay the two halves cut side up. Pinch the ends together and braid the two strands, passing them over one another till you reach the other end. They will stretch as you go – just keep passing them over one another. (Link to video detailing the process)

Grease a loaf pan and place the braid in it. You will probably have to squash it a bit lengthwise.

Allow to rest, covered, for another hour.

Preheat oven to 375° F. When the oven is ready and the bread has puffed up at least 1” over the pan edge, bake for 40-45 minutes.*** Bread will be deeply browned on top and sound hollow when tapped on the top crust.

Let cool for 5 minutes and then unmold onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely before slicing.

*I’m still not 100% satisfied with this bread base. I really want it to be fluffier. I’m currently experimenting with the Tangzhong method.

**The source for this filling called for spritzing the bread with water before and after putting the filling on. I do not have a food grade spray bottle, so I brushed it with some water with my pastry brush. This was too much water. Next time, I will forego it.

***I did 35 minutes. The bread was still just a bit doughy. I would say at least 40 mins next time.

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Coping mechanisms

I am extremely stressed out right now. To be fair, I spend at least three-quarters of my time dealing with stress or worry or anxiety, but in addition to the normal pressures of my brain and my life, I am trying to finish my dissertation by the end of June, get all of us out the door in the morning, and keep the house somewhat in order, all while feeling like the world is crashing down politically and otherwise.

So on a grey yesterday, I fled the university as soon as I was able in order to work from home. My time ended up with more “home” than “work,” but I was able to prepare dinner, bake bread, and revisit a recipe for cranberry orange walnut bread which I would like to share.

The recipe comes from Isa Chandra Moscowitz and Terry Hope Romano’s Veganomicon, which I originally bought for my husband for Christmas on a whim, as the name made me laugh, particularly as he had learned how to cook vegetables from some friends and referred to those lessons as “veggimancy.” (Yes, we are nerds and proud.)

Last year, when we decided to avoid eating meat or other animal products during Lent, it was a helpful resource, although I still haven’t used as many of the recipes as I would like. Since last year, I’ve enjoyed experimenting with plant-based cooking, though we are still confirmed omnivores. It’s just fun!

So, the recipe. It’s a fairly standard quick bread, and according to the writers, is based on an older Fannie Farmer recipe. (Note to self – spend more time reading up on Fannie Farmer. She seems like an excellent, fascinating person.)

I tweaked the recipe to include whole wheat flour and some spelt and decreased the sugar, as I almost always find vegan baking recipes to taste too sweet. I used 3 tablespoons of sugar in the bread and 1 tablespoon of sparkling sugar on top. It was good, though I think increasing the sugar in the cake by 1 tablespoon would work nicely as well and make the crumb a bit more tender.

Ingredients

1 1/4 cup  fresh cranberries, chopped
1 T orange zest
3-4 T granulated sugar, divided
1 T sparkling sugar (optional but I really liked it here)
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup oil (I used olive)
1/2 cup nondairy milk (I used vanilla flavored soy)
2 cups flour (I used 1 cup whole wheat, 1/2 cup spelt, and 1/2 cup all purpose flour.)
1/2 t salt
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped
(for additional flavor, you can toast the walnuts for 5-7 mins in a 400 degree oven)

Prepare a 9×5 loaf pan by greasing and flouring it. Preheat the oven to 325 Fahrenheit.

Chop cranberries and add 2 T of the sugar and the orange zest and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine orange juice, oil, and non-dairy milk. Add the remaining granulated sugar.

In a large mesh sieve placed over the mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Sift into the liquid ingredients.

Quickly combine the wet and dry ingredients with as few strokes as possible, and then add cranberries and walnuts and stir till just combined.

Place batter (it will be thick, almost a dough) in the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle the sparkling sugar, if using, over the top.

Bake for 55-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out without batter on it.

Have fun!