By Betty Gordon
© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.
If you’ve seen “The Great British Baking Show,” airing on PBS in the United States, then you know the third challenge culminates when the bakers present their showstoppers — elaborate, labor-intensive creations that take hours to make.
Even edited for television, you can see the effort that goes into the final product, often festooned with icing and intricate decorations, and a whole lot of patience and skill.
Wouldn’t you like to have a showstopper on your holiday table? One that draws oohs and aahs and makes you look like you are an expert with dough?
Cinnamon Star Bread fits the bill: Four thin golden layers filled with cinnamon and sugar. Think cinnamon buns but in a different finger-licking form.
And the real beauty is that it’s far easier to make than you’d imagine. (Your guests don’t have to know!)
I’d seen something like this attractive bread on a Martha Stewart baking show. Her version built on an extremely rich laminated dough — laden with a pound of butter — and was called Brown Sugar-Cinnamon Danish.
I’m sure it’s marvelous, but I wanted something that didn’t contain a pound of butter.
So I turned to one of my favorite baking sources, the King Arthur Flour website. Cinnamon Star Bread calls for just four tablespoons of butter, so a much healthier recipe.
It also contains instant mashed potato flakes, which helps give the bread its tender crumb, without adding fat and a huge amount of calories.
The recipe will take at least three hours, two of which are waiting for the dough to go through three rises, so you can get other things done in between steps (I was making Green Curry Chicken with Eggplant at the same time).
Don’t be put off by the length of the directions. Do read all the way through more than once, so you have a mental picture of how the assembled dough is supposed to look.
The individual steps are simple. The only tricky thing was that the dough was far wetter (and stickier) than I expected, and I had to use a liberal amount of flour when rolling out the layers.
An added bonus is that King Arthur Flour has a step-by-step tutorial with photos — even more detailed than my pictures and what I’ve written — which should give you confidence to attempt this lovely bread. (https://blog.kingarthurflour.com/2017/11/01/cinnamon-star-bread-bakealong/)
I’ve also included directions for making the dough with a bread machine.
If you’re going to serve this for breakfast, you might want to make it the previous night to avoid getting up super early. In that case, to reheat, put it on a baking sheet, and loosely place aluminum foil over it. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and warm bread for about 10-15 minutes.
You could make this a savory bread — maybe a ricotta and spinach filling — but be careful not to overstuff the layers. The filling may leak out during baking.
Or in the sweet version, add a thin layer of your favorite jam, raisins and nuts. The possibilities are many.
Most important of all: Don’t get frustrated with the dough. Step back, take a deep breath and proceed.
You can do it!
Baking time is only 12-15 minutes for Cinnamon Star Bread.
Cinnamon Star Bread
Hands on: 45 minutes Total time: About 3 hours Serves: 8 to 12
For the dough:
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup potato flour or 1/2 cup instant mashed potato flakes
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
3/4 cup plus 2 to 4 tablespoons lukewarm water, enough to make a soft, smooth dough
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) butter or margarine, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
For the filling:
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon or 2 teaspoons Vietnamese cinnamon
To make the dough with a bread machine: Add the ingredients according to manufacturer’s directions. My machine calls for the liquids first, so I put in water, then flour, mashed potato flakes, nonfat dry milk, margarine, vanilla extract, sugar, salt and yeast.
After the 30-minute cycle, you can leave the dough in the machine to rise for 1 hour, or remove to a large greased bowl and let it rise for 1 hour there. Proceed with the directions as below.
To make the dough by hand: Sift flour, potato flour and dry milk into a large bowl to prevent lumps. (If using potato flakes, there’s no need to sift. Also, make sure the potato flakes are unflavored, and that the dry milk is a milky white. If it has a yellow tinge, it’s probably been sitting too long in your pantry to use.)
To the mixing bowl, add water, butter or margarine, vanilla extract, yeast, sugar and salt. (Start with the minimum of water.)
Gently combine, adding 1 tablespoon of water, as needed. Place on a lightly floured surface and knead into a smooth, silky dough.
Transfer the dough to a large greased bowl. Cover, let rise for 1 hour or until double in size.
Turn out dough onto a floured work surface or parchment paper. Cut dough into four equal portions and roll into balls. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes.
To make the filling: In a small bowl, beat the egg. Set aside. In another small bowl, measure sugar and cinnamon and combine. Set aside.
To assemble the bread star: On a floured work surface, or on a piece of waxed paper, roll out the first ball of dough (also flour your rolling pin) into a 10-inch circle. Don’t obsess over making it perfectly round.
Transfer the circle to a piece of parchment paper. (I placed the parchment paper on top of a cutting board for easier transfer later to the baking sheet.) Brush on a thin coat of the beaten egg to the edge. Sprinkle on 1/3 of the cinnamon-sugar, but leave about 1/4-inch bare around the edge.
Roll out the second piece of dough into a 10-inch circle; try to make it close in size to the first circle. Place it on top of the first circle. Brush with beaten egg, and sprinkle on another 1/3 of the cinnamon-sugar.
Repeat steps with third ball of dough, egg and use the rest of the cinnamon-sugar. You will have enough egg left for brushing over the top of the entire star in a later step.
Roll out fourth ball of dough into a 10-inch circle. Transfer atop the stack of three. Leave it bare — no egg wash or cinnamon-sugar.
Place a 2 1/2- or 3-inch cookie cutter gently in the center of the dough circle. If you don’t have a cutter, use the rim of a glass in one of those sizes and turn it upside down.
With a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut four equal quadrants. In each quadrant, make three more equally spaced cuts so each quadrant has four pieces of dough.
Make sure to cut from your center cookie cutter all the way to the edge of the circle and all the way through the four layers.
Using both hands, pick up the ends of two adjoining pieces and twist twice away from each other. (Top should be facing up again after twists.) Repeat with other seven pairs for a total of eight pairs of strips.
Pinch the partner ends of each of the pairs of strips together to form the eight-point star shape. Remove center cutter.
This doesn’t have to be perfect either, because the third rise will expand the star’s dough and the spaces will be closed.
Because you might have cut through the parchment paper you’re working on, place a second piece of parchment on a baking sheet. This will keep the melting cinnamon-sugar from sticking and make cleanup easier.
Transfer the cinnamon star on top of the second piece of parchment on the baking sheet. Cover and let the star rise for 45 minutes. It will look puffy.
Preheat over to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Brush the beaten egg in a thin coat all over the entire star.
Bake for 12-15 minutes, until golden with dark brown cinnamon streaks. Rotate baking sheet about halfway through. (Ovens vary, you may need to bake longer.)
The center should register 200 degrees Fahrenheit on a thermometer. You can also thump the top as you would a loaf of bread to check for doneness; it should sound hollow.
Allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving.
Dust with confectioners’ sugar, or make icing with confectioners’ sugar and drizzle over the top.
Wrap leftovers tightly in plastic. They’ll keep for several days. For longer storage, wrap in plastic, cover in foil and freeze. (King Arthur Flour’s site has additional directions for freezing.)
Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe
Nutrition information (based on 8 servings): 250 calories (calories from fat, 60); total fat: 7 grams; saturated fat: 4 grams; no trans fat; cholesterol from butter: 40 milligrams; sodium: 330 milligrams; carbohydrates: 42 grams; dietary fiber, 2 grams; sugars, 14 grams; protein, 7 grams.