Last spring I baked a lemon-scented pull-apart coffee cake; it was one of the most delicious treats I've ever made. In fact, it was such a hit here that I had to bake it several times before it lasted long enough for me to snap a few pictures. A few months ago, I saw another pull-apart bread - this time a cinnamon sugar version - on Joy's blog. It immediately brought back memories of the lemon cake and I knew if this variation was even half as good as the lemon one I'd be in big trouble. So, I resisted making it for a while. Sometimes it's just easier for me not to have certain baked goods in the house than it is to try and exercise any kind of self control around them.
Each time the bread popped up on another blog in my Google Reader, however, it taunted me - until finally I caved and headed straight for the kitchen to give it a try. Not surprisingly, it was just as addictive as I'd feared. It's like eating a really delicious cinnamon roll, but in a fun new way. We sat in the kitchen pulling the layers of soft bread apart, one after another, while the loaf was still warm. Needless to say, I completely ruined my dinner that night I was so full from the bread.
One of the best things about the bread is that you don't have to worry about shaping it perfectly - it's supposed to look irregular! The first time I made the recipe (yep, I've already made it multiple times) I ignored the instruction to bake the loaf in a 9x5 pan, instead grabbing an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 pan from the stack in the basement pantry. In the oven the loaf completely grew up and out of the pan taking on a life of its own, with pieces jutting out all around. It wasn't pretty, but you know what? It tasted just as good as the subsequent ones made in a bigger pan. (For the record, go with the bigger pan - it just makes life easier.)
I shared the last loaf I made with my mom and she loved it too; this is definitely a crowd-pleaser. It's best when warm, but in a pinch, you can pop a few slices in the microwave for about 20 seconds to re-create that fresh from the oven texture. Give it a try this weekend, just be sure you have some friends around to help you enjoy the goodness :)
Cinnamon Sugar Pull-Apart Bread
adapted from Joy the Baker (who adapted from Hungry Girl por vida)
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (plus more if needed)
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Beat briefly just to combine. Add the butter and milk to a small saucepan and heat just until the butter is completely melted. Turn off the heat and add the water and vanilla to the pan. Let the mixture cool until it registers about 115-120 F on an instant read thermometer.
Add the eggs to the mixer bowl and turn the mixer to low. Slowly stream the milk mixture down the side of the mixer bowl. Continue beating until the dough comes together. It will probably be quite sticky - add flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue kneading on low speed until the dough clears the sides of the bowl (it will stick to the bottom). You want the dough tacky, but not so sticky that you can't handle it (I needed more than 1/4 cup of additional flour each time I made this recipe). Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead briefly then shape the dough into a ball. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray then add the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place. Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling by whisking the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Add the butter to a small saucepan and melt over medium-low heat until it is brown and smells nutty - be patient, it may take a few minutes. Set aside.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Press to deflate then cover with a kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 12x20 inches (the dough will be quite thin).
Brush the dough with the browned butter then sprinkle it evenly with the cinnamon-sugar mixture. It's a lot of sugar, but use it all.
Use a pizza cutter to slice the dough rectangle vertically into six equal strips.
Stack the strips on top of one another and again cut into six equal stacks.
Spray a 9x5 loaf pan with cooking spray. Layer the dough squares on top of one another and transfer to the prepared pan.
Cover the pan with a kitchen towel and set in a warm place to rise for 30-45 minutes, or until the dough is puffy, but not necessarily doubled in size.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 F. Bake the loaf for about 35 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. If the top starts to brown too much, you can tent it with aluminum foil; don't be tempted to pull the bread too early or the center may still be raw. (You can use an instant-read thermometer to check the internal temperature if you're concerned.)
Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for about 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the bread then carefully turn it out of the pan. Serve warm.