Baking cinnamon bread

I was roasting vegetable hash when the oven exploded. "What's that?" demanded the noncooking half of our marriage. "What?" I asked, without enthusiasm. Noncooks seem to find the least pop or sizzle worrisome. "That," he said, pointing to an orange fireball.

After the flames had died down, I took a look inside the ex-oven. The coil that snakes along the bottom, providing heat, had snapped in two. It didn't look likely to mend.

Fortunately, the oven came with a spare. One apparently designed by a noncook. It's shaped like a loaf of bread and functions solely to warm a loaf of bread.

After the actual oven exploded, I wondered what else might fit.

It wasn't an entirely novel challenge. For years I lived in an apartment accessed by a 15-inch door. Everything I owned came flat or rolled: futon, rug, cat.

Alone with my ovenlet, I baked bread — banana, pumpkin, whole wheat. I kneaded a buttery dough, stretched it flat and rolled it up with cinnamon sugar. Baked and sliced, it flaunted mesmerizing swirls.

I tried reformatting the rest of my repertoire to the 9 x 5 x 3 format. Honestly, the roast chicken was not a success. But I'll adjust. That, or take up the habits of the noncook.

Cinnamon Bread

Prep: 20 minutes
Rise: 2 ½ hours
Bake: 40 minutes

For bread:
1 cup warm milk
2 ¼ teaspoons (1 package) active dry yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1 egg
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted
1 ½ teaspoons salt
About 3 ½ cups flour

To fill and bake:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
1 egg, beaten

Proof:
Pour warm milk into a mixing bowl. Stir in yeast and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Let rest until creamy, about 5 minutes.

Bolster:
Stir in the rest of sugar, the egg, butter and salt. Stir in 3 cups flour, to form a sticky dough.

Knead:
Turn out and knead, adding up to about ½ cup flour, until smooth and elastic, 5 minutes.

Rise:
Settle dough in a clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 1 hour.

Roll:
Roll out dough to an 8-x-18 rectangle. Spread with 1 tablespoon softened butter. Mix together sugar, cinnamon and espresso powder. Sprinkle over butter. Roll into an 8-inch-wide log. Pinch seam to seal. Settle log, seam-side down, into a lightly greased loaf pan (about 9 x 5 x 3). Cover loosely. Let rise 1 ½ hours.

Bake:
Brush top of loaf with beaten egg. Slide into a 375-degree oven and bake until top turns a deep, shiny brown, bottom sounds hollow when thumped and an instant-read thermometer measures 180 degrees, about 40-45 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune newspapers special contributor. Email her at leahreskin@aol.com.

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