Fresh Yeast Brings a Taste of Copenhagen Home: Meyers Bageri Cinnamon Swirls

When Tom and I went to Copenhagen a couple of years ago, I took along a long list of recommendations of things to do and places to eat from my former paralegal Christina, who had studied abroad in Denmark. Christina included a few bakeries on her list and we hit them all, including Meyers Bageri (a location in NYC opened up a few years ago but I've never been). I ordered a cinnamon swirl pastry and it was as big as my head -- I could only eat a small portion of it before I left the remainder for the birds in a nearby park. Shortly after we returned home, I learned that Claus Meyer was about to release his first English-language cookbook. I got a copy of Meyer's Bakery right away but it sat unused until my recent furlough.

Most of the cookbook is comprised of recipes for breads -- and rustic loaves of breads using starters are not really my thing. There is a chapter on enriched dough but the recipes all call for fresh organic yeast; the book says that organic yeast has a more complex and subtle flavor than conventional yeast because it is made from several different strains of yeast. I have no idea where you can get organic fresh yeast in the United States, but I was able to find conventional fresh yeast at the Kielbasa Factory in Rockville. I bought a one-pound block that came wrapped in blue plastic for $5. Fresh yeast requires refrigeration and has a very short shelf life but my package was not labeled with any expiration date. The only markings were on what looked like a home-printed Avery label indicating that it was yeast -- in English and Polish -- and listing the price. I figured that I should try to use it up within a few weeks.

The dough is relatively simple to make. You pour cold milk into a mixing bowl; crumble in the fresh yeast (it had a really odd, rubbery consistency and it took a bit of stirring to get it to dissolve); add an egg, all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, and ground caradamom; and knead with the dough hook until shiny and firm. The recipe calls for 15 grams of cardamom, which is a lot. I ground my own cardamom from dried pods with a mortar and pestle and decided to call it quits when I had 7 grams. Then I added chunks of cold salted butter to the dough and kneaded it some more. This dough was very stiff and I could hear the motor of my seven-quart lift-top Kitchenaid straining; I also had to hold the bowl down with both hands to keep it from popping off of the spring latch.

I let the dough rest at room temperature for about an hour before rolling it out into a large rectangle; spreading on a mixture of salted butter, sugar, and cinnamon; making a letter fold; and rolling out the dough into a square. I cut the dough into strips and twisted each strip before shaping it into a coil (the same shaping technique I've used for Danishes). The strips of dough were thick and the shaped rolls were quite large. I could only fit six onto a half-sheet pan. I covered them and left them in the fridge overnight.
The following morning I took the rolls out of the fridge, let them come to room temperature and rise, and brushed them with beaten egg before baking. The finished rolls were huge. I tried one while it was still warm and it was ineffably tender and beautifully spiced with cinnamon and cardamom. I wouldn't have wanted any additional cardamom in the rolls; the level of cardamom was right on the edge of being too much. The rolls didn't need any frosting or glaze and they were freakin' amazing. I happened to have a hair appointment the day that I baked these rolls so I took most of them with me to the salon, where my stylist and her colleagues devoured them.

By the way, the directions in this cookbook are not exactly a model of clarity. The way the recipes are presented is a bit confusing. On the plus side, for this particular recipe there is a series of 16 photos (taking up four entire pages) that helps explain the method step by step. But the recipe directions and the pictorial don't mention that the dough needs to rest before shaping --  whereas the overview at the beginning of the enriched dough chapter emphasizes that this is an important step. The pictorial also doesn't mention that after you add the butter to the dough, you need to stop mixing immediately after the dough slides off the inside of the bowl, to avoid breaking the gluten strands -- but this is explained in a different four-part pictorial at the beginning of the chapter. There's also a confusing note at the beginning of the chapter about how important it is to use room temperature butter in enriched dough to avoid having to overmix it, and yet there's no explanation of why this recipe calls for cold butter. I found myself flipping around the cookbook a lot to make sure I wasn't missing any important information. But in the end, I can't argue with the results. These cinnamon swirls are amazing. 

Recipe: "Cinnamon Swirls" from Meyer's Bakery by Claus Meyer, recipe available here.

Previous Post: "Getting Some Heat from a Star That Shines: Cinnamon Star Bread," February 12, 2016.