Cinnamon Star Bread

When the weather turns cold and the snow starts to fly, I use my oven to fill my home with the scents of the season—warm vanilla, spiced cinnamon, and intoxicating cocoa. The kitchen is my sanctuary, a place of peace and shelter from the stress the holidays can create. Baking is one of the ways I show and share my love towards friends and family. During this time of year, there is a lot of love to go around.

As a holiday tradition, each year I look for a new recipe to serve on Christmas morning. Since the days leading up to the holidays can be busy, the recipe needs to be simple, sweet, and easy to accomplish—there is no time to spend hours in the kitchen. When I found this recipe for Cinnamon Star Bread from King Arthur Flour, I knew it was the perfect fit. Though this twist on the classic cinnamon roll may not suggest simplicity, the reality is that this recipe does come together easily. While the bread takes about three hours from start to finish, only about a half hour of that time is active. While the dough rises, you are free to move about the house and do other things. Perhaps, best of all, the pull-apart shape of the bread is already suited for sharing. 

The sweet bread dough comes together quickly and easily. All dough ingredients are tossed into a mixing bowl and mixed either by hand (I prefer using a dough scraper) or machine until the dough comes together. Then, the dough is kneaded—again, either by hand or machine (using a dough hook with a stand mixer or bread machine)—for several minutes until it takes on a soft, smooth appearance. The process is simple, and the dough itself is very forgiving.

I prefer using all-purpose flour in this recipe because it yields a more tender dough. Traditional bread flour forms a more structured dough because bread flour has more protein than all-purpose flour, and forms more gluten when kneaded. Therefore, using a flour with less gluten, like all-purpose flour, creates a softer dough. In addition to the flour, nonfat dry milk and potato flour (or instant mashed potato flakes) are also added to create a tender bread. Don't worry—the potato doesn't add any flavor here; it just helps the bread retain moisture after baking. 

Once kneaded, the dough is placed in a lightly greased bowl, covered with a clean kitchen towel, and left to rise at room temperature for one hour, or until it doubles in size.

Once the dough has risen, divide the dough into four equal parts. Form the dough into balls and let rest for 15 minutes. Don't skip this step—the resting process relaxes the gluten in the dough and makes the dough easier to roll out. When time is up, roll out the dough into four 10-inch circles. I realize that sounds intimidating (I have a difficult time rolling out anything to a perfect size), but there's a quick trick that can help with the job. Trace the outline of a 10-inch springform or tube pan onto parchment paper, cut out the circle, and use it as a guide when rolling out the dough. It not only helps you visualize the size you need, but you can periodically place the parchment circle on the dough to check your progress.

The best part of the bread is the sweet, cinnamon sugar layers that saturate the loaf. To assemble the layers, place one 10-inch circle of dough onto a sheet of parchment paper. Brush the dough with a thin layer of beaten egg and sprinkle on 1/3 of the cinnamon sugar mixture, taking care to leave a 1/4-inch border around the edges. Repeat this process two more times, placing each layer on top of the other and adding the cinnamon sugar mixture. Place the last circle of dough on top, leaving it bare.

After making this bread several times, I found it is easier to twist the layers of dough if the dough circles are even. Even though you may have made best attempts to make perfect 10-inch circles, it's likely they still vary slightly on the edges—and that's okay. Simply place your parchment circle on top and use a pizza cutter to trim the very edge of the layers to an even size. 

Once the dough is stacked and layered with the cinnamon sugar mixture, it is time to cut the dough into strips to twist. Place a 2 1/2 to 3-inch round cutter on the center of the dough to use as a guide (if you don't have this size cutter, a canning jar lid will work as well). Use a bench knife or sharp knife to cut the dough into strips. Start by cutting the circle into fourths, and then cut each fourth in half and then in half once more to create 16 even strips. 

To twist the layers into the star pattern, take two adjacent strips and twist them away from each other twice (twist one clockwise, twist the other one counterclockwise). Since I do not have the fine motor skills to do both strips at the same time, I twist them separately and then pinch them together along the ends to hold them together. I also found it is easier to twist the dough if you lift it up slightly so it does not brush against the other strips of dough. 

Using the parchment paper, transfer the star to a baking sheet, cover with a clean kitchen towel and let it rise for another 45 minutes, or until noticeably puffy. While the loaf rises, preheat the oven. Just before baking, brush the loaf with a thin layer of beaten egg and bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.

To serve the bread in the morning, I recommend baking the loaf the evening before and reheating the loaf in the oven the next morning at 350°F for 5-10 minutes, or until heated through. This bread is not a good candidate to raise overnight because the cinnamon sugar has a tendency to leak out of the loaf in a thin syrup if left too long. Since we want to keep as much flavor in the loaf, it is best to bake it on schedule. Reheating the bread in the oven will keep the texture and retain the moisture.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar after baking and serve warm. If you are feeling particularly festive, serve the bread alongside a mug of hot cocoa. In fact, I recommend it. 

For more of my favorite seasonal recipes from King Arthur Flour and additional baking tips, join me at their Holiday Table.

Cinnamon Star Bread is a pull-apart style bread that gives a twist to the classic cinnamon roll. The bread is layered with cinnamon sugar and twisted into a star shape. As the loaf bakes, the cinnamon sugar caramelizes the outside edges while the interior stays soft and tender. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm. Your friends and family will adore this sweet addition to your holiday table.

Cinnamon Star Bread
Recipe from King Arthur Flour

Yields 1 star loaf, or 8-12 servings

3/4 cup + 2 to 4 tablespoons (198-227 mL) lukewarm water, enough to make a soft, smooth dough
2 cups (241 grams) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons or 57 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor, optional; for enhanced flavor
2 teaspoons instant yeast, SAF Gold instant yeast preferred
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (35 grams) Baker's Special Dry Milk or nonfat dry milk
1/4 cup (46 grams) potato flour or instant mashed potato flakes

1 large egg, beaten
1/3 cup (64 grams) cinnamon-sugar, or your own mix of cinnamon sugar*

To make the dough: Combine all of the dough ingredients and mix and knead — by hand, mixer, or bread machine — to make a soft, smooth dough. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover, and let it rise for 60 minutes, until it's nearly doubled in bulk.

Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, cover the balls, and allow them to rest for 15 minutes.

On a lightly greased or floured work surface, roll one piece of dough into a 10" circle. Place the circle on a piece of parchment, brush a thin coat of beaten egg on the surface, then evenly sprinkle with 1/3 of the cinnamon-sugar, leaving 1/4" of bare dough around the perimeter.

Roll out a second circle the same size as the first, and place it on top of the filling-covered circle. Repeat the layering process — egg, cinnamon sugar, dough circle — leaving the top circle bare.

Place a 2 1/2" to 3" round cutter in the center of the dough circle as a guide. With a bench knife or sharp knife, cut the circle into 16 equal strips, from the cutter to the edge, through all the layers.

Using two hands, pick up two adjacent strips and twist them away from each other twice so that the top side is facing up again. Repeat with the remaining strips of dough so that you end up with eight pairs of strips. Pinch the pairs of strips together to create a star-like shape with eight points. Remove the cutter.

Transfer the star on the parchment to a baking sheet. Cover the star and let it rise until it becomes noticeably puffy, about 45 minutes.

While the star is rising, preheat the oven to 400°F (or 205°C).

Brush the star with a thin coat of the beaten egg. Bake it for 12 to 15 minutes, until it's nicely golden with dark brown cinnamon streaks; the center should register 200°F (or 93°C) on a digital thermometer.

Remove the loaf from the oven and allow it to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

* Stir together 1/3 cup granulated sugar with 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon for a homemade cinnamon sugar blend.

This post is sponsored through a partnership with King Arthur Flour. All thoughts and opinions are my own.