On one of my first trips to meet Dave’s family, his mom mentioned her plan to buy cinnamon rolls from the grocery store, and Dave insisted that I make fantastic cinnamon rolls that she needed to try. We were staying with friends, I didn’t have the recipe or any ingredients or equipment, but I didn’t want to pass up this chance to impress my boyfriend’s parents. I made the cinnamon rolls, and the in-laws were duly impressed. Six years later, my mother-in-law still talks about how good they were.
But I make better cinnamon rolls now. I’ve tried a few recipes and taken my favorite parts of each, and now I can say for certain that this is the best cinnamon roll that I have ever eaten. Dead serious.
Most cinnamon roll recipes are similar. The original recipe I used, the one that Dave’s mom raved about, is one my mother taught me. It’s the dough for country crust bread with softened butter and cinnamon sugar spread over the flattened dough and a simple powdered sugar glaze on top of the baked rolls. I used this recipe for years and can’t complain – it’s damn good.
But that didn’t stop me from trying new things. The next recipe I tried was published in the back of Knit One, Kill Two, a mystery novel about a knitter. I liked that the dough was richer, melted butter was spread over the dough instead of softened, and brown sugar was mixed with cinnamon for the filling instead of granulated. But the frosting in this recipe contained four ounces of cream cheese, and it was way too rich for me.
The next recipe I tried was Cooks Illustrated’s. Their dough is even richer, and the resultant rolls are therefore more tender. They don’t call for any butter in the filling, which I thought made the baked rolls too sticky. Their icing contains a whopping eight ounces of cream cheese, even though they refer to their rolls as “reserved” and “civilized”. Yikes. I also tried their Quick Cinnamon Buns, a recipe for chemically leavened cinnamon rolls. This recipe calls for a small amount of butter to be mixed in with the other filling ingredients. I like this method, as it reduces the amount of filling that spills out of the rolls when they’re rolled and cut, and it eliminates the stickiness I’d disliked in the other recipe without adding as much butter as my first two recipes had called for.
The recipe I currently use is hobbled together from all of these, although most of it comes from Cooks Illustrated. I follow their dough recipe almost exactly. I reduce the cinnamon in their filling recipe a bit because I found that the original amount was so spicy that it reminded me of Red Hots. I add a tablespoon of melted butter to the filling to hold the powder together. Rather than add more butter to an already decadent breakfast, I reduce the butter in the dough to compensate. For the glaze, I’ve gone back to my original powdered sugar and milk combination, with just one tablespoon of cream cheese mixed in to provide some extra flavor.
Like most bread recipes, cinnamon rolls require kneading, rising, shaping, proofing, baking, and cooling before they can be eaten. No one wants to wait for all this to happen before they can eat breakfast. Take heart – you can do everything up until the baking the night before. After the rolls are shaped and cut, put the pan in the refrigerator. In the morning, the rolls will need to warm up and they may need a bit more time to rise. You can speed this up by doing it in a warm oven. Heat your oven to its “warm” setting, then turn it off and put the rolls in the oven. They should be warm and ready to bake in half and hour or so. With minimal waiting time and almost no work at all, you can have a fantastic treat for breakfast.
Update 3/16/10: I’ve successfully used this method to make these cinnamon rolls whole wheat. I made the pre-dough out of 10 ounces whole wheat flour, ½ teaspoon salt, and 7/8 cup (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) water. After letting that sit overnight, I mixed it with the rest of the ingredients – 2 tablespoons milk, 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, 2¼ teaspoons yeast, ¼ cup sugar, 1 egg and 2 yolks, 1 teaspoon salt, and about 10 ounces flour.
Cinnamon Rolls (adapted from Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)
This was the first time I’ve used dental floss to cut the rolled and filled dough into rolls. It worked wonderfully, but a serrated knife will get the job done as well.
The pictures are showing a half recipe.
½ cup milk
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 envelope (2¼ teaspoons) yeast
¼ cup (1¾ ounce) sugar
1 large egg, plus 2 large egg yolks
1½ teaspoons salt
4-4 ½ cups (20 to 21¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
¾ cup packed (5¼ ounces) light brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners sugar, sifted to remove lumps
1 ounce cream cheese, softened
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons milk
1. Heat the milk and butter in a small saucepan or in the microwave until the butter melts. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside until the mixture is lukewarm (about 100 degrees).
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, mix together the water, yeast, sugar, egg, and yolks at low speed until well mixed. Add the salt, warm milk mixture, and 2 cups of the flour and mix at medium speed until thoroughly blended, about 1 minute. Switch to the dough hook, add another 2 cups of the flour, and knead at medium speed (adding up to ¼ cup more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary) until the dough is smooth and freely clears the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a round, place it in a very lightly oiled large bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, 1½ to 2 hours.
3. Mix together the filling ingredients in a small bowl. Grease a 13 by 9-inch baking dish.
4. After the dough has doubled in bulk, press it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, shape the dough into a 16 by 12-inch rectangle, with a long side facing you. Mix together the filling ingredients in a small bowl and sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a ½-inch border at the far edges. Roll the dough, beginning with the long edge closest to you and using both hands to pinch the dough with your fingertips as you roll. Moisten the top border with water and seal the roll. Lightly dust the roll with flour and press on it ends if necessary to make a uniform 16-inch cylinder. Cut the roll in 12 equal pieces and place the rolls cut-side up in the prepared baking dish. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, 1½ to 2 hours.
5. When the rolls are almost fully risen, adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the rolls until golden brown and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of one reads 185 to 188 degrees, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, stir the glaze ingredients together until smooth. Glaze the rolls and serve.