I don't know about you, but at my house, breakfast is the hardest meal to prepare for. I, having a ravenous appetite and freakish metabolism, need two breakfasts on weekdays: one before I leave the house (a little something to offset my morning coffee), and then something for about an hour into the school day. First breakfast, I have recently discovered, needs to be no bigger than a piece of fruit or some toast, but the second needs to be more sustaining. Since lunch, by that time, is almost a full 2 hours away?
The problem is, though, that I don't really like cereal, which is quick, and can be at least kind-of nutritious. Oh, don't get me wrong. Some cereals are fine. As is granola. But I'm picky. And I don't really like to drink milk.
So that leaves us with what? Something warm, or something that isn't cloying. (Please note that breakfast is really only a problem during the week. Weekends are a breeze.) Oatmeal is fine, as are bagels, as is yogurt. Or leftover chinese food on chi fan (hi, Dad!). But it makes planning kind of difficult. Usually there really just isn't too much around, or I'm in a hurry. But I think I've found a solution: this morning, as Jeff and Abby and I were leaving our warm brunch spot to head back out into the cold, I espied some cinnamon swirl toast, plated and steaming and ready to be delivered. I nearly swooned. I love cinnamon swirl bread, and I have since I was a little kid. It reminds me of our kitchen in Chicago and taking two pieces out of the Pepperidge Farm package and that stickly sweet cinnamony smell that came out of the bag and then would emanate out of the toaster a few seconds later. But please let it not have raisins! There is no better way to ruin a perfectly good cinnamon swirl loaf than to load the swirls down with raisins.
So my own version was in order. No raisins, but some pecans ground into the mix. No cinnamon sugar topping, as suggested. And a bitterly cold afternoon to scoot the process along. All three qualifications worked perfectly. Perfectly! Warm out of the oven, with a cup of lukewarm tea, it was just what the doctor ordered. Next time, though, I might add a few more spices--cardamom (as a nod to my beloved Swedish Bakery), maybe some nutmeg. Why not? After all, a chilly sky is the limit on baking day, right? Especially when it comes to making sure that breakfast isn't an afterthought.
Cinnamon Swirl Bread, adapted from The King Arthur Flour All-Purpose Baking Cookbook
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
4 tablespoons butter, cut into medium-sized chunks
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup chopped pecans
2 teaspoons unbleached all-purpose flour
egg wash, made from 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the dough ingredients, mixing until the dough begins to come away from teh sides of the bowl. Knead about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and satiny. (Note: the butter will start to work its way into the rest of the dough, and will kind of come out slimy all over the place. If it gets too oily, sprinkle a little flour on your work surface and everything will be fine--just work through it) Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl with plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours; it will be puffy, if not doubled in bulk.
2. Pulse filling ingredients except the egg wash in the food processor.
3. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface and shape it into a long, narrow rectangle, about 16 x 8 inches. Brush the dough with some of the egg wash (set the remainder aside) and pat the filling gently onto the dough. Beginning with a short edge, roll the dough into a log. Pinch the seam side and ends closed (to keep the filling from bubbling out) and place the log in a lightly greased loaf pan. Cover the pan with lightly greased plastic wrap and let the bread rise for about 1 hour at room temperature, or until it's crowned about 1 inch over the rim of the pan.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
5. Brush the top of the loaf with the remaining egg wash.
6. Bake the bread for about 45 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil for the final 15 minutes or so if it appears to be browning too quickly. Remove the loaf from the oven, and after about 5 minutes, gently remove it from the pan.