on christmas eve, and a recipe: brown sugar and cinnamon pull-apart bread

The house is dark and quiet, and besides the two cats, I’m the only one up. This isn’t entirely unusual, but it is odd for a “stay home day,” as my son calls any day he doesn’t have to go to school. My husband and I have been spoiled by two children who finally – finally! – will let us sleep past 7 o’clock on weekend mornings, so it’s not uncommon for us to sleep until 8 these days. I know the television is a ruinous thing, but I’m grateful for its babysitting capacity those mornings.

Christmas Eve is here, and my plans to relax have been thwarted by procrastination. I had hoped that the wrapping would be completed, but my husband and I have just been too darn busy. We’ve resorted to sharing a document on Google Drive with our list of gifts for the kids, and we email each other with changes or suggestions. It’s all very 21st century – and not nearly as much fun, or efficient, as you might think.

Today, though, will be an old fashioned type Christmas Eve. You know, the type with some screaming at the kids to GO OUTSIDE, PLEASE, NOW – so I can wrap gifts in privacy. And the type with some stressing out about the fact that we still haven’t purchased our turkey for tomorrow’s Christmas dinner. And the “Honey, can you please vacuum and move your shoes while I fold this laundry so I can get it off my dining room table?” type.

But those are all very normal things around here. All par for the course.

This Christmas Eve will also be filled with the singing of Christmas music, with maybe some pop thrown in for good measure. The kids are fixated on anything by Taylor Swift, Carly Rae Jepsen, One Direction, and nearly every other artist whose work is played on channel 901, the Music Choice Top Hits television channel. Channel 901 will probably provide our background music for today.

There will be baking, of course. After running out of sugar yesterday — I have no idea how I let that happen — we’re re-stocked and ready to craft some sweet treats. We’ll make Sam’s favorite cookies from years gone by, fruit cake cookies. His grandmother always had a tray of these shortbread-like cookies, studded with candied fruit, at the ready, anytime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I think that for my husband, the year would end on a sour note if these cookies didn’t grace our table at the holiday time.

The kids and I made a batch of sugar cookies yesterday, and we rolled the dough and cut it into festive shapes for decorating. I’m not sure if the kids were more help or hindrance, but they loved every minute of it, and ultimately, I did too. We plan to decorate those pretty naked cookies today, loading them up with gobs of royal icing. My supposed-to-be-red batch of royal icing turned out to be a lovely shade of pink, and the kelly green turned out to be a very nice pastel, spring green instead. The kids won’t care, though, if their Christmas cookies look like they should be served at a baby shower instead of to Santa. For this I am grateful.

It helps also that I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be this amazing cookie artist.

But mostly, although my Things To Do list still has uncrossed-off items left on it and is longer than I would like, I will enjoy this day and all of the restrained chaos that goes along with it. Being home with my children today, being home with Sam, is all I need to be happy on this Christmas Eve.

Well, that, and a volunteer to wrap up these last gifts. Anyone?

*   *   *   *   *

If you happen to feel like baking today, and I’m guessing you probably will, you might want to give this bread a try. This brown sugar and cinnamon pull-apart bread was immediately given a thumbs-up by my kids, and it rated a score of This-Is-A-Keeper from my husband.

Pull-apart bread has a bit of a technique that requires finessing, but if I can do it, anyone can. Ree Drummond has a nice visual of the process on her blog, and I recommend that, if you’ve never made pull-apart bread before, you should head over to her site and take a look at the steps involved in the stacking and cutting of the dough. It’s not overly complicated, but it can get messy. I’m generally not a fan of messy — okay, never — but this bread was totally worth it.


Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pull-Apart Bread with Cream Cheese Icing

This pull-apart bread is reminiscent of cinnamon rolls, except that this is way more fun to eat.

It's important to note that the pan should not be overfilled, as I did the first time I made this recipe. Overfilling leads to spillage, which can lead to burning sugar on the bottom of your oven and nasty smelling smoke. Don't do this. I recommend either filling the pan just shy of full, and if you prefer to err on the side of caution, place a small sheet pan on the rack just below the baking bread, to catch any drips.


Ingredients For Dough:

3 cups (375 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2-1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, room temperature

Ingredients For Filling:

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft

Ingredients for Icing:

1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 ounce cream cheese, softened or at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk


Make the Dough

Butter a large bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, stir together 2 cups (250 grams) of the flour, the sugar, yeast, and salt. Warm milk and butter in a small saucepan, over medium-low heat, until butter is melted and temperature is 120-125 degrees F. If it is hotter than that, simply remove from heat to let cool some. Add warm milk mixture to the flour mixture, add in vanilla, and beat at low speed until the dough is moistened. Beat in eggs, one at a time, then beat on medium until the mixture is fully blended, about 2 to 3 minutes.

Using the dough hook attachment on low, or using a large spoon, stir in the remaining 1 cup (125 grams) of flour. Knead the dough for a minute, using the dough hook attachment, until the dough has come together smoothly. Transfer dough to the buttered bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Prepare & Spread the Filling

While dough is rising, make filling by whisking together the light brown sugar and cinnamon.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place oven rack in middle position. Butter a loaf pan (either 9 x 5 inch or 8 x 4 inch) and set aside.

Punch down dough and transfer to a floured surface. Roll the dough into a large rectangle, roughly 20 inches x 12 inches. Spread the softened butter all over the flattened dough, using a pastry brush or a rubber spatula. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar mixture evenly all over.

Using a pizza cutter or knife, cut the dough crosswise into 6 or 8 equal strips. Carefully stack each strip onto each other, using a spatula if needed, making one or two stacks. Cut each stack into 4 or 6 pieces so that you have dough squares measuring about 4 inches in size. Transfer the stacks of dough squares into the loaf pan so that the dough slices are standing on end. Be sure not to cram the pan full; leave room for the dough to expand. This means you'll probably have leftover squares of dough, and that's okay. Lightly cover the pan with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm spot for about 40 to 45 minutes.

[Note: For a good visual on the rolling, cutting, and stacking technique, see The Pioneer Woman's post on pull-apart bread.]

Bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, covering the top of the bread loosely with foil about halfway through if it looks like it is browning too quickly. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes on a cooling rack. Remove the loaf from the pan, inverting it onto a platter. Drizzle with icing (instructions below) and serve warm or at room temperature.

Make Icing:

Whisk together the softened cream cheese, confectioners sugar, and milk until smooth. Drizzle over bread, as above.

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7 Responses to “on christmas eve, and a recipe: brown sugar and cinnamon pull-apart bread”

  1. 1
    Sally Akins — December 24, 2012 @ 7:49 am

    I’m not a fan of messy either, but that bread looks so tempting that I think I may have to give it a go!

  2. 2
    Maria Raynal — December 24, 2012 @ 8:56 am

    Yes, yes, yes on all of it. Sounds just like our Christmas prep. I think the pull-apart bread is the perfect metaphor for the season…. It’s pretty messy getting there, but oh-so satisfying in the end. Xoxo

  3. 3
    Aggie — December 24, 2012 @ 9:11 am

    I’m actually impressed about the google doc MJ, wondering why I didn’t think of that – we are in the midst of evening things out between the kids & I may have to get creative with wrapping today 🙂

    Your bread looks amazing! Have a wonderful Christmas with your beautiful family! xo

  4. 4
    Kathryn — December 24, 2012 @ 11:43 am

    Your Christmas Eve sounds pretty perfect. I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas full of delicious food and good cheer.

  5. 5
    Jayne — December 24, 2012 @ 12:44 pm

    This looks amazing! I tried to make a pull apart bread recently with much less success than you, will try this recipe next time! Merry Christmas!

  6. 6
    Paula — December 25, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

    As I write this, you will have gotten through all the last minute Christmas Eve *to do’s* and your Christmas Day is most likely well underway. Just wanted to wish you and your family a wonderful celebration and time spent together. All the best to you and your loved ones in the coming year.

    Merry Christmas!

  7. 7
    Gail — December 27, 2012 @ 6:14 pm

    I wish I hadn’t waited til Dec 27 to read his post. But, maybe this is the perfect time, actually, since we’re sort of stranded on afire a island til Saturday.

    PS. I will never do anything even close to all that you do so well.

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