I don’t bake very often, but when I do, I sure as hell don’t mess around. Last year I started an annual tradition of making cinnamon rolls on NYE so I can bake them in the morning and sit around most of the day eating them and watching football (and as a type-A person, it feels great to be so prepared). Quick aside – how many years must you be doing something before you can call it tradition? Two seems about right to me. Anyways. There are quite a few steps and processes within this recipe, so before making it yourself, make sure to read through the recipe and familiarize yourself with each component; it’s also a great excuse to practice your new-found mise-en-place skills that we learned about a few posts back (What’s that? You don’t know what I’m talking about!? Well, here you go. Make sure you read it this time!)
One thing you will notice right off the bat is that I won’t be using measurements like “a heaping” or “a few sprigs”. Baking is an exact science – too much of one thing or too little of another and instead of cinnamon rolls, you could end up with a cinnamon brick or dough that won’t rise. That is why instead of saying grab four cups of flour, I’ll be directing you to get 20 ounces of flour. This is because if you ask 10 people to get you a cup of flour, you’ll probably get 10 different quantities back. A cup of flour can vary so much (same with brown sugar, butter, etc.) that I’ll be asking you to weigh out all some of the ingredients to ensure perfect cinnamon rolls the first time, because no one wants to wait another 20 hours to bake another batch. If you don’t have a food scale, I’d recommend the one that has served me well for a few years which you can find right on over here. Okay, enough rambling from me, let’s get our mise-en-place on for our dough.
Let’s Make Some Dough
First things first, you’ll notice that some ingredients need to be at room temperature so go ahead and pull out your eggs and buttermilk about 30 minutes before you want to get started. After that, get to weighing out your ingredients, melt your butter and double check the instructions at the bottom on how to proceed.
“How come you can’t tell me exactly how much flour to add?” That’s what I imagine a few of you are saying right now. Well, making dough is more of an art than a science. There is just way too many variables in dough making to give you a standard, exact recipe. The amount of flour that needs to be added changes from one house to the next, where the flour was made, how old it is, the humidity of the air, if you flossed the night before and on and on and on. I had to use about half of the reserve flour, for some, you’ll use none and for others they’ll have to use it all. It really can change from your house to your neighbors, so take your time and get this step right.
Roll Out! (your dough)
I hope you took some time during your two-hour break to do the dishes and read through the rest of the instructions. Next up: rolling out your dough into a 12″ x 18″ rectangle.
Once your dough has been rolled out to a 12″ x 18″ sheet, it’s time to add in the filling. Combine 1 tablespoon of cinnamon with a pinch of salt and 8 ounces of light brown sugar to create the filling mix. I was pretty surprised to find that for the entire batch of cinnamon rolls only a single tablespoon of cinnamon is required – I guess sugar rolls just don’t’ have the same ring to them. In addition, melt about 3/4 of an ounce of butter to use as an adhesive. Leave about a 1/2″ gap at the top to help the roll stick together.
Are We Done Yet? (Spoiler: Nope!)
We still have a few more tasks to accomplish before we can call it a day. I don’t know about you but I’m ready to put the roll in cinnamon roll.
The Morning After
After you’ve dragged yourself out of bed and brushed your teeth, it’s time to put the finishing touches on these bad boys. The first thing you’ll want to do is bring a big pot of water to a boil. After you have a rolling boil, transfer the water – CAREFULLY – to a shallow baking dish and put it on the bottom rack of your oven. Then add in your unwrapped cinnamon rolls on the shelf above your boiling water. Keep your oven off and close the door for 30 minutes. What we are doing here is calling “proofing”. Essentially, what we are doing with this step is to wake up the yeast in our dough and tell them it’s time to do their job, which is to make the bread rise. I won’t go into too much detail here, but yeast’s job in the baking process is to convert sugar into carbon dioxide. This is what causes bread to rise. If your friends ask and you forget this simple explanation, you can always just shout “IT’S SCIENCE” and leave it at that. If you want to read more about proofing (and who doesn’t) Wikipedia has a good primer, as always.
Where were we? Oh yeah, that’s right, it’s probably time to take your cinnamon rolls out of the oven along with the water and preheat your oven to 350°. At this point, go ahead and measure out the cream cheese needed for the icing and let it soften on your counter. If it’s a particularly cold day, I’d put the cream cheese on the stove-top to encourage it to soften up a bit. Once your oven is nice and hot, put your cinnamon rolls back in the oven and set your timer for 30 minutes – you are looking for an internal temperature of 190° or until they are golden brown and delicious. Once that has been achieved, take them out of the oven and turn your attention to the icing.
Oh man, we are so close to finally eating our cinnamon rolls. Just one last step before you can sit on the couch, watch football and stuff yourself full of cinnamon rolls.
It’s (Finally) Time to Eat!
After all your hard work, you deserve a rest – you sure have earned it. What does the final product look like? Glad you asked!
Lessons Learned: Or What I’d Do Differently Next Time
I give this one a 10 out of 10. It came out as close to perfect as you can hope for. That’s not to say I didn’t learn a few lessons, here they are in no particular order:
- When you mix in a bunch of flour to a mixing bowl, don’t immediately start mixing on medium or high speed. Start slow and gradually increase the speed or you’ll have a face and kitchen full of flour.
- Make sure you cut the rolls into 12 pieces, not 8 or 16 (like me). As I mentioned at the start, baking is an exact science so don’t mess with the size or ratios of anything.
- Start the final cooking process (the morning after) earlier than you think you should. From boiling the water, to preheating the oven and bake times you are looking at about an 1-1/2 process at the least. Don’t go starving because you didn’t budget your time correctly.
- 4 egg yolks, room temperature
- 1 whole egg, room temperature
- 2 ounces sugar, approximately ¼ cup
- 3 ounces unsalted butter, melted, approximately 6 tablespoons
- 6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature
- 20 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 cups, plus additional for dusting
- 1 package instant dry yeast, approximately 2-1/4 teaspoons
- 1-1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- Vegetable oil
- 8 ounces light brown sugar, approximately 1 cup packed
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- Pinch salt
- ¾-ounce unsalted butter, melted, approximately 1-1/2 tablespoons
- 2-1/2 ounces cream cheese, softened, approximately ¼ cup
- 3 tablespoons milk
- 5-1/2 ounces powdered sugar, approximately 1-1/2 cups
- For the Dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, whisk the eggs, sugar, butter and buttermilk. Add about 2-cups of the flour along with the salt and yeast – whisk until moistened and combined. Remove the whisk and replace it with the dough hook. Reserve about ¾-cup of flour and knead on low speed for five minutes. Check the consistency of the dough and add more flour in as necessary; the dough should be soft and moist, not sticky. Once your dough is right, knead on low speed for another five minutes or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for about 30 seconds. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Lightly cover the top of the dough in oil, cover and let it sit quietly until it has doubled in volume – should take about 2 to 2-1/2 hours to complete.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt and mix thoroughly with a fork. Set the bowl aside until you are ready to use it.
- Take a 9” x 13” glass baking dish and butter it thoroughly. Turn your risen dough out onto a lightly floured surface and start kneading and rolling it out. You are looking for an 18” x 12” rectangle. Brush your melted butter over the dough, leaving a ½” border along the top edge. Take your filling mix and spread it out over the dough, leaving a ¾" border along the top edge. Gently press down your filling to ensure good adhesion. Make sure the long edge is facing you and roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Firmly pinch the seam to seal the roll and place the roll seam side down. At this point, use your hands and squeeze and form your roll to ensure uniform thickness. Using a serrated knife, slice the cylinder into 1-1/2” rolls – 12 in total. Arrange the rolls in your buttered baking dish, cover tightly with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator overnight.
- Remove the rolls from the fridge and place in an oven that is off. Fill a shallow baking pan ⅔ to ¾ of the way full of boiling water and set in the rack directly below the rolls. Close the door and let the rolls rise until they look puffy – 30 minutes should do it. Remove both the rolls and the water from the oven and set the temperature of your oven to 350°.
- After your oven is hot, place the rolls in the middle rack and bake until golden brown and delicious. We are shooting for a temperature of 190° - again, this should take about 30 minutes.
- While the rolls are cooling, it’s time to make the icing. Do this by whisking your softened cream cheese in your stand mixer until it’s creamy. Then add in your milk and whisk until thoroughly combined. Sift in your powdered sugar and whisk until smooth, no lumps should be visible. Spread over the rolls and serve to your hungry guests immediately.