Cinnamon Star Bread: A showstopper for your holiday table (or any time)

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Cinnamon Star Bread, laced with cinnamon and sugar, is just beginning its third and last rise. Pretty and not overly sweet, it’s time consuming to prepare, but the finished product makes the effort well worth it.

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). 

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Drizzle icing over the top for an even sweeter finish. Or sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.

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. 

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After the third rise, lightly coat with egg wash. You can see how the dough has closed the gaps between the twists. Directions on the King Arthur Flour website said to pinch the edges more like points. I decided I wanted a flatter look for my Cinnamon Star Bread.

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! 

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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.

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I lightly pressed the rim of a glass in the center of the bread to act as my guide for cutting the 16 strips. Make the 16 pieces as identical as you can, but having them a bit uneven won’t hurt the finished bread.

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.  

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At the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, N.Y.: Apollo 18 lunar module is among collection’s highlights

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The lunar module that was intended for the Apollo 18 mission is on display in a darkened room at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, New York. Budget cuts forced the cancellation of the program after the Apollo 17 mission, during which Eugene Cernan (1934-2017) was the last man to leave his footprints on the moon in December 1972.

By Betty Gordon 

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

For other posts from New York City, see November 25, 2018, a behind-the-scenes look at the taping of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”; September 11, 2018 about the 9/11 Memorial and Museum; and February 25, 2018 about the Museum of the American Indian in Lower Manhattan. 

When Apollo 11’s Eagle, the lunar module containing Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, was hovering over the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969 — and a worldwide television audience was holding its collective breath as the craft neared touchdown at the Sea of Tranquillity — a large group on Long Island was perhaps just a bit more anxious than everyone else.

That would be the thousands of employees at Grumman Aeronautical Engineering Company (now Northrup Grumman), who, no matter the size or importance of their role, took enormous pride in the fact that they were an integral part of the monumental achievement of landing the first men on the moon. 

Likewise, interest was high among employees of other companies scattered around Long Island, such as Norden and Sperry, who also built components for the space program.

A total of 14 Lunar Excursion Modules (later shortened to LM) were built, hand-crafted over a 10-year period by a range of technicians and specialists at Grumman, with all the elements coming together in final assembly at its Bethpage facility.

(Some sources cite more or fewer LMs. My data is based on information at the museum and from the National Air and Space Museum website. A full-size LM is in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.; and another is at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.)

LM-5 was the craft that went on the Apollo 11 mission. Less-refined versions were used in test flights and astronaut training at Grumman and elsewhere. Later modules were modified to accommodate lunar rovers for the missions of Apollo 15, 16 and 17.

Six times a lunar module set down on the moon, destined to leave behind the descent stage, after ferrying two American astronauts back to the command module via the LM’s ascent stage.

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Apollo 13 astronauts James Lovell (left), Jack Swigert and Fred Haise, who very nearly were lost in space, are surrounded by Grumman employees in 1970. The company’s expertise and ingenuity were instrumental in helping to devise workarounds for the damaged command module while the crew used the lunar module as a lifeboat. 

Nearly as important as the crafts that actually landed was LM-7, the Aquarius, which served as a lifeboat for Apollo 13 crew James Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert after a service module oxygen tank exploded on the third day of the mission when their spaceship was 200,000 miles from Earth.

The creative minds at Grumman and NASA battled the clock to come up with solutions to get the endangered command module Odyssey home in June 1970.

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The Cradle of Aviation is built on land that was once part of Mitchel Field, established early in the 20th century, and was among the largest training fields in the United States.

Today, LM-13, originally scheduled to be aboard Apollo 18 en route to Copernicus crater in 1973, is at home at the Cradle of Aviation Museum on Long Island, New York. It never flew because budget cuts caused the cancelation of the Apollo program.

Unfurled as if it had just landed, the 8,600-pound LM-13 occupies an entire darkened room simulating the look of lunar conditions, its shiny, gold-coated mylar foil, aluminum and titanium never to be exposed to the vacuum of space. A space-suited astronaut stands next to the LM assembly, measuring 22 feet, 9 inches high, with a width of 31 feet.

LM-13 is just one of the museum’s treasures, which include restored World War II aircraft, a full-size replica of Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis and a Grumman F1-1A Tiger, formerly flown by the Navy’s elite Blue Angels. 

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This is what part of a “clean” room at Grumman would have looked like during the 10 years the company built the lunar modules. Technicians wore protective clothing and gloves to keep the components as pristine as possible.

Other large displays include a full-size mockup of a “clean” room, where the LMs were built, each taking up to 2.5 years to complete; the last Republic P-47N Thunderbolt to come off the production line during World War II; a glider for troop transport, also in WWII; and a $60,000 Grumman G-21 Goose, a commuter seaplane used by wealthy Long Islanders to fly from their mansions to a dock near the entrance to Wall Street. (Think very early business jet.)

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Grumman’s lunar module design (top shelf, left) won the NASA contract in 1962. The version on the second shelf, center, is pretty close to the craft that went to the moon six times.

On a smaller scale, informational displays, memorabilia (including spacesuits, toys, games and pennants) and models not only trace the history of aviation in America through to the International Space Station era, but demonstrate Long Island’s special place in the fledgling industry’s development.

There is a lot to see at the museum, so plan for two to three hours minimum. And that’s without viewing any of the films or features in the planetarium.

The museum opened in 1980 on the site of what had been Mitchel Field (closed in 1961), utilizing some of its hangars. A major renovation and expansion took place in the late 1990s and the building visitors see today reopened in 2002.

The museum is also quite near what is now known as Roosevelt Field, from where Lindbergh departed at 7:52 on the rainy morning of May 20, 1927 to begin his trailblazing solo transatlantic flight, that ended 33 hours and 30 minutes later outside Paris, France. 

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A scale model of Oscar Freymann’s “ornithopter” illustrates one inventor’s idea of a vehicle that might fly. The Russian emigre claimed he attained an altitude of 14 feet while pedaling the ornithopter in 1896, but no evidence exists that the flight took place. The ornithopter had four flapping wings meant to mimic a bird’s flight.

In the early years of the 20th century, experimental flying machines and their pilots were drawn to Long Island’s flat, open terrain. As engineering and aircraft improved, another aspect important to aviation advancement emerged: Wealthy enthusiasts who wanted to fly themselves and/or support those willing to take the risks this endeavor required.

Among those who recognized aviation’s potential was Leroy Grumman, a Cornell University-trained engineer and naval aviator in World War I. With two other engineers, William Schwendler and Jake Swirbul, and combined capital of $32,000, they founded Grumman Aircraft Company in 1929. The next year, Grumman secured its first Navy contract, paving the way for increased production and eventual factory expansion.

During World War II, two of the most reliable and effective aircraft flown by the Army Air Forces were built by workers on Long Island: Grumman’s maneuverable F6F Hellcat and Republic’s bulky P-47 Thunderbolt. In fact, Long Island companies built nearly half of the aircraft — 46 percent — that flew in WWII.

When President John F. Kennedy issued the challenge in a speech to Congress on May 25, 1961, to fly men to the moon and return them safely to earth “before this decade is out,” the structure and capabilities of a lunar lander were just beginning to take shape.

Grumman beat out 11 competitors in late 1962 to win the contract to build the lunar modules. One museum display case has a selection of models which illustrate how the LM design changed from conception to reality.

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Thomas Kelly was Grumman’s engineering director during the height of the design and implementation of lunar module construction. 

“When I was chosen to lead the engineering team to create the LM, nobody knew what a manned lunar landing spacecraft should look like. So we just let function determine form, and ended up with the spindly insect-like creation that was aptly named Spider by the first crew that flew it in space,” said Thomas J. Kelly, retired president of the Grumman Space Station Integration Division, on the Cradle of Aviation website. Kelly was also the LM engineering director.

“It had to be very light, because every pound that was taken to the surface and returned to lunar orbit required three pounds of rocket propellant. But because the LM only operated in space, and didn’t have to withstand the high gravity loads and intense heating of re-entry through the Earth’s atmosphere, it could be designed primarily for the light loads encountered in free space and during lunar landing and liftoff.”

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A prototype spacesuit for lunar exploration looked more like a modified tin can in this early iteration. The LM model at bottom left was designed by Republic Aviation, one of the 12 companies vying for the construction contract.

Surely one of the oddest artifacts is a bulky, metal contraption that looks like a standing tin can and bears a passing resemblance to a primitive robot. This was a prototype of a spacesuit to be worn by astronauts during lunar exploration. Confined in this, human mobility would have been difficult even in the moon’s lighter atmosphere.

Other milestones in flight also are noted, such as the speed records set by Elinor Smith (1911-2010), one of the first female pilots, who tested crafts for use in World War I; Earle Lewis Ovington (1879-1936), who flew the first official air mail route from Garden City Aerodrome to Mineola — a distance of three miles — in a 50 horsepower Bleriot Dragonfly; and the aviation school on Long Island, where  in 1911, for $750 over a five-week period, eager students could learn to fly a Bleriot monoplane.

As the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing approaches, the Cradle of Aviation Museum is staging related events, including appearances by astronauts (active and retired), scientists and aerospace professionals. Keep an eye on the website for updates.

Quick reference: Cradle of Aviation Museum, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Open Mondays that fall on holidays or school breaks. $15 adults; $13 age 62 and over, ages 2-12, military personnel, voluntary firefighters and nonambulatory visitors. Planetarium and dome theater shows are extra but combo tickets are available. Charles Lindbergh Boulevard, next to Nassau Community College, Garden City, Long Island, New York. From Penn Station in Manhattan, take the Long Island Railroad’s Port Jefferson Branch line to the Westbury stop (under an hour) and get a taxi from there to the museum. cradleofaviation.org