Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread

DSC03946  " 'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh' said Piglet at last, 'what's the first thing you say to yourself?'

" 'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh.  'What do you say, Piglet?'

" 'I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?' said Piglet.

" Pooh nodded thoughtfully.  'It's the same thing,' he said."

-A.A. Milne. Winnie The Pooh

I have never been one to skip breakfast.  Well, I remember going through a brief "no breakfast" phase in high school, but that only lasted about 2 weeks before I came to my senses.  Even when I have indulged in a huge dinner the night before, the kind that leaves you wondering if you will ever eat another bite again, I somehow manage to work up enough of an appetite for a few scrambled egg whites by 7a.m.

My definition of the perfect breakfast has changed as many times as there are flavors of Pop Tarts in the grocery store (remember when there were only about 3?).  When I was little, it was all about cereal–well, not so much the cereal as the prize inside the box.  Honey Combs was a personal favorite of mine, with Apple Jacks coming in as a close second.  No matter what brand the advertisers convinced me to select, as soon as the box was opened, I dug deep into the bottom to retrieve my temporary tattoos or stickers, usually tearing the box in the process.  Entenmann's Devils Food Crumb Donuts and blueberry pancakes were also favorites then, but these special treats were usually reserved for weekends.

When I grew older, and more health conscious, I lost my taste for super-sweet breakfasts in exchange for ones filled with protein and whole grains.  My standard cereal today is either good ol' oatmeal or Flax Plus from Trader Joe's (don't laugh at the name–it's really good.)  While these selections don't come bearing super cool prizes, they don't come bearing 32 grams of sugar either.  I'm also a big fan of egg whites with Canadian bacon sandwiched between whole grain toast, and I'm always game for a thick and filling smoothie.  I really would be lost without my blender.

One special breakfast that I remember loving as a kid is one that I still occasionally treat myself to when I want something with a bit of sweetness.  My dad never spent too much time in the kitchen, but one of his signature dishes was candied cinnamon toast.  He would top pieces of bread with cinnamon, sugar, and butter and then bake it in the oven until it became caramelized and bubbly.  The combination smelled and tasted irresistible, with the crunchy candied topping and the soft toasted bread.  Today, I take all of the best components of my dad's comforting dish and turn them into a homemade cinnamon swirl bread.  This version features whole wheat flour and just enough of the gooey filling in each slice to satisfy my sweet tooth.  Sometimes I'll spread a slice with a bit of peanut butter for added protein, but it's also so good on its own.  No prize needed! Here are my extra tips for making these sweet swirled loaves:DSC03938

  • This recipe makes three large loaves of bread, but the baked loaves freeze beautifully, tightly wrapped, for up to 2 weeks.  Pre-slicing the bread and then freezing it allows you to take a slice as needed.  Frozen slices can be transferred directly to the toaster.  Eric's father gave me this idea. 
  • This bread can also be prepared using all white flour.  If you want to use all whole wheat flour, you may need to add some extra moisture to the mixing bowl.
  • Instead of using a standing electric mixer for preparing the dough, you can stir the ingredients by hand using a wooden spoon or silicone spoonula.  Of course, this process takes a bit more energy!
  • If you like a really gooey filling, then double the ingredients for the cinnamon swirl filling.
  • In addition to the dried cranberries, nuts, and raisins suggested in the ingredients, you can also use chopped bittersweet chocolate, jam, or other dried fruits (such as figs or cherries) for the filling.
  • 3 (1/4-ounce) packages of yeast is equal to 6 3/4 teaspoons.

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Makes three 9-inch loaves


3 (1/4-ounce) packages active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (105-110 degrees)DSC03943

1 1/2 cups low-fat or whole milk

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon salt

8 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

4 large eggs

4 cups flour

4 cups whole wheat flour

For the swirl filling

8 tablespoons butter, softened

3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Dried cranberries, raisins, and/or chopped nuts (optional)

2 tablespoons butter, melted (optional)

Turbinado sugar (optional)

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in the bowl of an electric mixer.  If the bowl is cold, swirl some hot water in it and empty it, so that the warm water does not cool down.  Let the dissolved yeast stand for 5 minutes, until foamy.

DSC03944 In a small saucepan, heat the milk, sugar, salt, butter, and cinnamon until the mixture is warm to the touch and the butter has melted.  Do not bring the mixture to a boil.

Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl and then add them to the yeast mixture.  Add 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 cups whole wheat flour to the bowl.  Fit the mixer with the dough hook and mix until the ingredients are well combined.  Gradually add the remaining flour, mixing until it forms a stiff dough, 8-10 minutes.

Remove the dough from the bowl, dust a work surface with flour, and knead the dough until it springs back when you press it with your finger and it is smooth and elastic.  Place the dough in a well-oiled large bowl and roll the dough to coat it completely in oil.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and let the dough rise in a warm place until it has doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Spray three 9X5-inch loaf pans with nonstick baking spray.  Punch down the dough.

Make the filling:  In a small bowl, mix together the butter, sugar, and cinnamon until well combined.

Divide the dough into three equal portions.  Roll out each piece into an 8X12-inch rectangle.  Divide the filling evenly among the rectangles and spread it over the entire surface, leaving a 1/2-inch border.  If desired, sprinkle the filling with dried cranberries, raisins, or chopped nuts.  Roll from the 8-inch side like a jellyroll.  Pinch the edges and ends together.  Tuck the ends under slightly and place the dough seam side down in the prepared pans.  Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.  When the loaves have risen, brush the tops with some of the melted butter and sprinkle with the turbinado sugar (optional.)  Bake for 55-65 minutes, until the loaves are deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. 


  1. says

    Julie, I loved this post with the story about your Dad and the hint about freezing bread by the slice (that’s a great idea). The recipe, also, looks great. Can’t wait to try it.

  2. says

    Julie, I loved this post with the story about your Dad and the hint about freezing bread by the slice (that’s a great idea). The recipe, also, looks great. Can’t wait to try it.

  3. says

    Now that looks incredible…but I can only wonder, what about using peanut butter instead of butter for the swirl filling? It’s not for the baking properties of butter more for the taste, so I imagine it would work well, right? I’m drooling…

  4. says

    Oh my goodness–Nick, you are a genius! Why didn’t I think of that? I guess that is why you are Peanut Butter Boy. What a way to recreate this recipe! Spread some jam on and you’ve got a new version of a PB&J. I’ll try this idea next time–thanks!

  5. says

    What a beautiful loaf of bread! I know my oldest would love it… even with the whole wheat in it. I’m slowly trying to add it into some existing recipes and so far no one is the wiser!

  6. says

    I baked your bread last night. It was wonderful. I thought I may be able to freeze a loaf, but alas, all three will be gone by the end of the day. I’ll bake more in a few days. Thanks!

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