Slicing into a homemade loaf of cinnamon swirl bread is like removing the wrapping from a present you’ve been waiting to open. The smell of cinnamon sugar is in the air, and you're waiting ever so patiently to reveal the beautiful swirl inside. You hold your breath and slice through the loaf only to discover a disappointing gap around the swirl. Sigh.
The bread will still taste delicious, no doubt about it. But when you’ve put in the time and effort, your loaf should look just as good as it tastes.
Luckily, there are a few simple tricks you can use to avoid ending up with a dreaded gap in your cinnamon swirl bread.
These techniques will help drastically reduce the size of any gaps or eliminate them altogether, ensuring you won't lose any of the precious cinnamon filling (or the butter you slather on top).
The Cinnamon Swirl Bread recipe
My favorite sweet and swirled recipe is hands down our Cinnamon Swirl Bread. Not only does it have a cinnamon-sugar filling that’s studded with dried fruit, there’s also a buttery streusel topping crowning each slice. I didn't think cinnamon-swirl bread could get any better, yet this loaf rises to another level. If you're not a streusel person (do such people even exist?), our Cinnamon Bread recipe is a solid choice.
For the cinnamon streusel-loving bakers out there, our Cinnamon Swirl Bread recipe will set you up for success. If you follow it closely, you’ll end up with a perfect loaf that doesn’t have a gap in the swirl. We’ll go through the elements of this recipe that make it foolproof, allowing you to apply them to any cinnamon-swirl bread you might be making.
Let’s reveal the secrets of this recipe that ensure perfectly swirled slices.
Tip #1: Add a stabilizer to your filling
Some cinnamon-swirl bread recipes call for a simple filling of only cinnamon and sugar. While you might be tempted to try this straightforward approach, the shortcut isn’t worth the results.
Why not? It goes back to science. Sugar is hygroscopic, meaning it attracts water. As the dough proofs, the cinnamon-sugar filling encased inside starts to melt and liquefy. If there’s not another ingredient mixed into the filling, the liquid begins to seep out of the swirl, leaving behind a gap and pooling in the bottom of your pan.
The solution is simple. Add a stabilizer like all-purpose flour or Instant ClearJel to your filling to keep it in place and prevent the sugar from completely liquefying. You don’t need much of the stabilizer — our Cinnamon Swirl Bread recipe calls for just 4 teaspoons of flour (and if you use Instant ClearJel, you'll only need 2 teaspoons). That's enough to do the job right.
Tip #2: Blitz the fruit
Cinnamon and raisin is a classic combination. Many cinnamon-swirl bread recipes lean into this delicious duo by calling for raisins (or another dried fruit) to be added to the filling.
Recipes sometimes suggest adding the dried fruit by sprinkling it liberally on top of the cinnamon-sugar filling before rolling up the dough.
Not so fast.
Raisins can be relatively large, and they’ll create pockets in the swirl. As the dough proofs and bakes, the raisins may cause the dough to sink in spots, leaving behind those undesired gaps in cinnamon-swirl bread.
The good news is that you don’t need to give up the raisins in your cinnamon-swirl bread altogether. Simply pulse the cinnamon, sugar, stabilizer, and dried fruit in a food processor until the fruit is in 1/4” pieces (or smaller). These delightful little bits of dried fruit will still provide the flavor and texture you love without leaving any gaps in the swirl or making shaping difficult. It’ll be a breeze.
At this point, you’re almost ready to sprinkle your filling on top of your dough ... but there’s one key step to consider first.
Tip #3: Brush with an egg wash
Unless your dough is quite sticky, you’ll need to brush it with some sort of liquid in order to make the cinnamon-sugar filling adhere.
While some recipes call for brushing the dough with butter for extra richness, avoid this slippery option. It'll make the layers separate during baking and leave you with (you guessed it) a gap in your cinnamon- swirl bread.
Brushing your dough with water or milk are acceptable options, but they don’t provide quite as much binding power as an egg wash (1 large egg mixed with 1 tablespoon water).
Brush the dough with a thin layer of egg wash before sprinkling your filling on top. As the loaf bakes, the egg wash will help keep the layers of dough tightly tucked together.
And the result? You'll end up with a stunning cinnamon swirl.
Tip #4: Roll the dough tightly
Shaping a loaf of cinnamon swirl bread is the most important factor in determining if you end up with a gap in your spiral.
When you're ready to roll, start with the short end of the dough facing you. Fold about 1/2" inch of dough over onto itself to begin the roll. Then use your fingertips to gently coax the dough forward, pulling the roll back towards you after each forward roll. This backward tension is the secret to success — it makes the dough perfectly swirled.
Think about rolling up a sleeping bag. If you lazily roll the bag forward without any tension, you’ll end up with a sloppy final product. You want to apply some pressure while rolling to end up with a neat and tidy loaf.
A word of caution: don’t roll too tightly. If the shaped loaf is too tight it won’t have the ability to rise and expand during the final proof. The loaf should have some surface tension — when you touch it with your fingers, it should feel bouncy but it not so tight that it feels like a rock.
Aim to be Goldilocks: not too loose, not too tight, but just right.
Tip #5: Let cool completely
If you ask me, this might be the most difficult tip to execute when it comes to reducing the gap in cinnamon-swirl bread — it requires patience and self-control! When the loaf has finished baking, turn it out of the pan and let it cool on a rack completely. Really.
You’ll be tempted to cut into the loaf while your kitchen is filled with the tantalizing aroma of cinnamon sugar, but it's important to wait until the structure of the loaf has set and the cinnamon filling has cooled slightly.
If you're over-eager and cut into it while the loaf is still warm, you may end up with slightly smushed, misshapen slices, and the integrity of the rest of the loaf may be compromised. (But hey, it'll absolutely be delicious if you just can't wait!)
No more gaps in cinnamon-swirl bread
Say goodbye to holding your breath when you slice into a loaf of cinnamon-swirl bread, wondering what the inside will look like. No more worries about gaping holes and flimsy slices that fall apart in the toaster. You’ll end up with seamless slices that look just as impressive as they taste.
While you most certainly should make this Cinnamon Swirl Bread, these trustworthy tips apply to all kinds of swirl breads: fruit-filled and savory breads included. (The Semolina Garlic Swirl Bread is most definitely one you should add to your to-bake list!)
If you’re looking to bake even more unique and delicious bread recipes, check out a dozen of our favorite bread recipes in our Everyday Bread collection.