Ask my colleagues what I did this weekend, and they'll tell you what I told them: relax, relax, relax.
And truly, that's what I intended to do. It's been an intense month at work, and I've been looking forward to this labor-day-without-weddings weekend for a long time. I had my sites set on the couch, a couple of movies downloaded on my ipad, and a bag of fantastic coffee beans ready for some pour-over action.
Turns out, I'm not so good at relaxing in the traditional sense. Sitting on the couch too long makes me twitch. I start poking around at the tomatoes on the counter, seeing if any is particularly soft and needs cutting. The second peaches in the fridge call my name and I'm up, flipping through cookbooks for that brown-butter cobbler recipe I've been meaning to try. And I can't even blame it all on the last glorious produce of summer. Partly, I'm just a mad woman. At 8 am I'm reading The Kitchn on my ipad, and at 8:15 I'm in the kitchen, mixing up dough.
I've been eyeing a version of this loaf for over a year. Leite's Culinaria first posted a recipe for lemon pull-apart bread by Flo Braker, she of best tea cookies on the planet-fame. Those cookies are so good, I'll try pretty much any other recipe she writes. Lemon pull-apart loaf looked like cinnamon buns, minus the cinnamon, minus the bun, if you know what I mean. Doesn't that sound delicious and totally self-explanatory? Lemme try again: it's cinnamon bun dough, cut into squares, brushed with melted butter, sprinkled with lemon delicious stuff, and stacked into a loaf pan. As it bakes, the strips rise up and fan out, so the edges crisp and the sugar and butter caramelize. Now then: delicious, am I right?
I made the loaf a couple weeks ago, and I added some chopped rosemary to the lemon-sugar mixture. Definitely a winner.
But then I made it again, and this time, I added a bit of cinnamon. Lemon and cinnamon work together to make fruit crisps sing; I figured they'd make a great pair in this bread.
Spoiler alert: Not so much. The lemon-cinnamon bread was 100% mediocre.
Turns out that what I really craved was the old faithful, cinnamon pull-apart bread. So on try #3, that's what I made.
It's every bit as good as it should be, and, if you can believe this to possibly be the case, it doesn't even need the cream cheese frosting. Not that that should stop you.
Cinnamon Brown Sugar Pull Apart Bread or Lemon-Rosemary Pull-Apart BreadAdapted from Leite's Culinaria
For the dough: 2 3/4 cups (12 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar 2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup whole milk 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter 1/4 cup water 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract 2 large eggs
Pick your filling...
For lemon filling: 1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar 3 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 2 to 3 lemons, preferably organic) 1 tablespoons finely grated orange zest, preferably organic 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, melted
For cinnamon-brown sugar filling: 1/2 cup brown sugar 2 tablespoons cinnamon 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) salted butter, melted
For the cream cheese frosting: 3 ounces cream cheese, softened 1/3 cup (1 1/4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar 1 tablespoon whole milk 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, only if using lemon filling
Make the sweet dough:Stir together 2 cups (9 ounces) of the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and butter over low heat just until the butter is melted. (You can also do this in a pyrex bowl in the microwave; the mixture needed about 1 minute in mine.) Remove from the heat, add the water, and set aside until warm, about 1 minute. Add the vanilla extract.
Pour the milk mixture over the flour-yeast mixture and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are evenly moistened. With the mixer still on low speed, add the eggs, 1 at a time, mixing just until incorporated after each addition. Stop the mixer, add 1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) flour, and resume mixing on low speed until the dough is smooth, 30 to 45 seconds. Add 2 more tablespoons flour and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth, soft, and slightly sticky, about 45 seconds.
Sprinkle a work surface with 1 tablespoon flour and turn the dough onto the flour. Knead gently until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky, about 1 minute, adding an additional 1 to 2 tablespoons flour only if the dough is unworkably sticky. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rise in a warm place (about 70°F) until doubled in size, 45 to 60 minutes. Press the dough gently with a fingertip. If the indentation remains, the dough is ready for the next step.
Make the filling: While the dough is rising, mix together in a small bowl either the sugar, lemon zest, and orange zest, or the cinnamon and brown sugar. Set aside.
Assemble and bake the cake: Adjust the oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with parchment using this awesome trick from Alice Medrich: wrap the outside of the pan as if you were wrapping a gift, then take the folded parchment and ease it into the pan. Brilliant!
On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a 20-by-12-inch rectangle. Cut the dough crosswise into 5 strips, each about 12 by 4 inches. (A pizza cutter is helpful here.) Using a pastry brush, spread the melted butter generously over each strip of dough. Sprinkle 1 1/2 tablespoons of the filling over each rectangle. Then stack the 5 rectangles on top of each other. Work carefully when adding the crumbly zest filling, or it will fall off when you have to lift the stacked pastry later.
Slice crosswise through the 5-layer stack to create 6 equal strips, each about 4 by 2 inches. Fit these layered strips into the prepared loaf pan, cut edges up and side by side. (Flo Braker recommends fitting the pieces widthwise in the pan, which creates a taller loaf with lots of room on either side. I opted to stack them widthwise, which was quite tight but rose into a shape I liked more. Your choice.) Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm place (70 °F) until puffy and almost doubled in size, 30 to 50 minutes. Bake the coffee cake until the top is golden brown, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove from the pan.
Frost the cake (optional): Combine cream cheese and sugar, and mash/whisk with a fork until fully incorporated. Add milk (and lemon juice, if making lemon bread), and mix vigorously with fork or electric mixer until very smooth. Set cake on the sheet of parchment used for baking, and drizzle with glaze using a fork or brush using a pastry brush. Serve warm.
Word to the wise: day-old slices of this bread could use a spin in the toaster, but boy are they amazing post-toast.