Lessons can be difficult to mentally soak in, and at certain times require a Fred-Flinstone-like wooden baton smackage over the head. But after you’ve taken an aspirin to cure your headache, the lesson gains permanence in your brain. Phew. At least those smacks are worth it. The lesson that has taken me years, tears, and sears on my heart to learn…. is that love is not enough. In a utopian land where unicorns, rainbows, cupcakes, and butterflies reign free and float around like magic, love is enough. But unfortunately our world and reality is not that utopia, and in the world we live in, no matter how much we pull from the depths of our being to try and change it, love will never be just enough to sustain a romantic relationship. Love will not make you money when the person you love is convinced he was meant to be a musician and rock out on stage for the world to bow down to him. Love will not grasp addictions from a person’s strongheld foundation and convictions. Love will not create chemistry between two people who have absolutely everything in common and can live a perfect life together on the surface in terms of their interests and dreams and bucket list crossings-off (and is later confirmed when that person asks you what chemistry between two people really entails).
When you finally do find that chemistry with someone, love will not alter time to make you simultaneous someone else’s place in life, rocket blasting you more than a decade forward in time, skipping precious, milestone youthful moments, or suck that person back into youngness like a vortex. Love will not meld your interests, so you will want to spend your weekends staying home to watch Law and Order reruns or childrens’ soccer games. And as much as you might want to believe it or God might, love most definitely does not have the power to reverse vasectomies.
But love can do truly profound and transformational things. And it’s most powerful when we bottle it up, put a pretty cork on it and give it to ourselves. When we are truly honest with what’s best for us, our innermost feelings and desires can connect with what we truly want, deserve, and expect from our lives. Because you know what? We only get one life. This isn’t a do-over, this isn’t like we’re up to bat and we get three strikes. This is it. And this life should not mean sacrificing our true fundamentalities, what we know in our hearts to be true. In these moment of honesty, that little bottle of love will open, and another person will be holding it, waiting to pour it onto you. That other person might be everything you thought you always wanted but perhaps did not think was possible for you. It will be love in the same essence of your other relationships, but it will be customized for you, without complication, and full of practicality and possibility. It will have layers and be overflowing with exactly what you want.
Like for example, at the core of my being, I love bready, cinnamony, buttery things. As a last meal dessert, this is what I want. But it comes in so many forms. Twisty, complicated, other flavors, with lemon, with nuts, too much rising of bread and not enough rising of bread. But what if all I want is the cinnamon butter bread? This pull apart bread offers me everything I want. It’s practical for me. Fundamentally, it is the cinnamon bread thing, but it comes simply, it comes in tiny little pillowy butter layers that I can pull one by one, neatly and succinctly, giving me whatever I want in that moment. It’s not slathered in something else. It’s not too big. It’s not twisty and complicated and hard and rough around the edges and crunchy, which cinnamon buns should never be. Its dough is not moody. It’s perfect. It’s love.
It might or might not be perfect for you, but I hope it’ll give you the enjoyment you crave out of cinnamony buttery goodness. And if it isn’t, there are lots of other possibilities out there. Like this one. They key is knowing yourself, what you want, and that it is possible for you. And knowing that when you get it, it is enough.
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Notes: This recipe is a little project. It might seem complicated but it’s totally not, I promise. It just takes time. And as always, I promise it’s worth it. For my Miami people, picky, honest food-loving friends of mine claimed this was better than the Amish cinnamon rolls down in Homestead.
Although my dough rose just fine, Joy says some people have found that the dough doesn’t rise, because the yeast is not first activated in warm water. Yeast should be taken care of and kept in the fridge. As a fail-safe, feel free to activate your yeast first. To activate yeast, whisk yeast into 3 tablespoons of warm water. The water should be between 105 and 115 degrees F. Add a pinch of granulated sugar and allow the mixture to sit for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is foamy and frothy, which means your yeast is ready to go. If the mixture does not foam and froth, toss the yeast and try again with another package of yeast. Add the activated yeast when you combine the wet and dry ingredients.
For the bread
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces unsalted butter
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup water
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the filling
1 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted until browned
Make the bread dough
In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of a stand-mixer, whisk together 2 cups flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Set aside.
Whisk together eggs and set aside.
In a small saucepan, melt together milk and butter until butter has just melted. Remove from the heat and add water and vanilla extract. Let mixture stand for a minute or two, or until the mixture registers 115 to 125 degrees F.
Pour the milk mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula. Add the eggs and stir the mixture until the eggs are incorporated into the batter. The eggs will feel soupy and it might seem like the dough and the eggs are having difficulty coming together. But just keep stirring. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of flour and stir with the spatula for about 2 minutes. The mixture will be sticky but we want it that way.
Place the dough is a large, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel and place it in a warm space. Allow it to rest until doubled in size, about 1 hour. (At this point, the dough can be risen until doubled in size, then refrigerated overnight for use in the morning. If you’re using this method, just let the dough rest on the counter for 30 minutes before following the roll-out directions below.)
Make the filling
While the dough rises, whisk together the sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg for the filling. Set aside. Melt 2 ounces of butter until browned. Set aside. Grease and flour a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Set that aside too.
Deflate the risen dough and knead about 2 tablespoons of flour into the dough. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 5 minutes. On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough out. The dough should be 12-inches tall and about 20-inches long. It doesn’t have to be exactly 20, but 20-ish. Roll it as large as the dough will go. Use a pastry brush to spread melted butter across all of the dough. Sprinkle with all of the sugar and cinnamon mixture. If it seems like a lot of sugar, no worries.
Assemble and bake
Slice the dough vertically, into six equal-sized strips. Stack the strips on top of one another and slice the stack into six equal slices once again. You’ll have six stacks of six squares. Layer the dough squares in the loaf pan like a flip-book. Place a kitchen towel over the loaf pan and allow in a warm place for 30 to 45 minutes or until almost doubled in size.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and set the oven at 350 degrees F. Place loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is super golden brown. The top may be lightly browned, but the center may still be raw, and we want cooked. A nice, dark, golden brown will ensure that the center is cooked as well.
Remove from the oven and allow to rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Run a butter knife around the edges of the pan to loosen the bread and invert onto a clean board. Place a cake stand or cake plate on top of the upside down loaf, and carefully invert so it’s right side up. Serve warm with coffee or tea.
This bread is at its best the day it’s made, especially warm from the oven, but it can also we wrapped and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days.
We cannot make sustainable change with food, our bodies, or our surrounding habits until we honestly explore and get curious about our relationship with each of them. Mindset change is not easy, but so, so worth it.
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