Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Simply Sensational Cinnamon Rolls . . .

Cinnamon rolls were always one of those things that I shied away from trying, afraid I'd screw them up somehow. That, however, was before I overcame my aversion to baking with yeast. Within the last twelve months or so, I've managed to pretty much conquer that fear and it's a good feeling. Yes, I know--I've already blathered on about that particular topic (my yeast-baking phobia) before, so I'll refrain from rehashing it too extensively here.

Suffice it to say, though, I suspect that I owe at least part of the success of these sensational cinnamon rolls to my current happy relationship with yeast. Yes, we're cozy comrades now. Having called a friendly truce, we've built up mutual trust--the kind of trust that allows one to dive into a recipe like this not with foreboding or apprehension, but with an expectation of at least partial victory.

The preparation of these rolls is pretty uncomplicated when you get right down to it. Just a few basic steps: make the dough and let it rise; toss together the filling; roll out the dough, scatter the filling, and roll it all up; slice the pieces and let them rise; bake the rolls; ice the rolls. It's not rocket science. Heck, it's not even library science.

Just remember to bring an attitude of sensitivity to the task, and concentrate on what you're doing while you're doing it. The culinary reward will be both lovely and scrumptious. And each lucky recipient of the rolls will be in your debt.

After all, a cellophane packaged convenience-store bun can't begin to rival the warm, fragrant, cinnamon-encrusted  treat you'll have set before them. Most people encounter a well-crafted cinnamon roll, beautifully assembled from scratch, only on the rarest occasions. There's just no comparison, and they know it.

These are well worth the time it takes to make them. Of course, they're also rich and must harbor a zillion calories. Not something you'd want to have laying around the kitchen tempting you too frequently. Unless, that is, you're endeavoring ferociously to gain weight, in which case these would definitely be the ticket.

About this recipe . . . 

This is an amalgam of two cinnamon roll recipes that I like a lot. One is from a small spiral-bound book that had belonged to my mom. Put out 30 years ago by the Red Star Yeast company, it's called The Red Star Centennial Bread Sampler. And the other recipe came from Bubby's Brunch Cookbook: Recipes and Menus from New York's Favorite Comfort Food Restaurant. This is one I'd love to own and hope to add to my own collection one of these days (I borrowed it from the library, speaking of library science!). Check it out if you get a chance.

My combined adaptation of both recipes is a nice hybrid, I think, and it borrows from the best attributes of both formulas.

Cinnamon Rolls

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

For the dough:
3 and 3/4 cups All Purpose flour (I used unbleached; no need to sift)
2 tsp. instant yeast (I used SAF Gold Instant Yeast; this stuff works really well in rich doughs. Keep in mind, instant yeast does not require proofing and in many instances can be mixed right in with other ingredients. I'm a total instant yeast convert; I rarely use active-dry yeast anymore.)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 and 1/2 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. salt (If you'd like to use kosher, add a pinch extra.)
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter, unsalted
1 egg, large

For the filling:
1/2 cup  light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 and 1/4 tsp. cinnamon (I used Penzey's brand Vietnamese--very intense flavor.)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup moist raisins (I soaked mine in warm water for about 20 minutes; drained them & gently squeezed out excess water with a paper towel.)
2 Tbsp. pure maple syrup (I used Trader Joe's brand--it's inexpensive, not too thick, and tastes good; you can use honey instead, if you prefer.)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

For the icing:
2 cups confectioners' sugar (no need to sift)
2 to 4 Tbsp. half and half or milk
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
A couple of drops of almond extract

In a large mixer bowl, combine 1 and 1/2 cups of the flour, the instant yeast, the two sugars, and the salt. In a small saucepan over low heat, warm up the milk, water, and butter to about 120 - 130 degrees; test it with a stem thermometer if you're not sure. It's fine if the butter doesn't fully melt. Pour this into the flour mixture. Add in the egg and the vanilla extract. Beat at low speed just until moistened, then beat for 3 minutes at medium speed.

Remove the bowl from the mixer and, by hand, stir more flour in gradually until you've made a soft dough (I needed to use all of my 3 and 3/4 cups of flour; my dough was quite moist to start with).

Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead it by hand until it feels smooth and elastic; this may take 5 to 8 minutes (mine took barely 5 minutes to reach this stage; beware of over-kneading rich dough). 


Place the dough in a large bowl that's been sprayed with vegetable spray (I used Pam) or greased with vegetable shortening. Turn the dough so it's lightly greased all over. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap that's also been sprayed/greased on the side that could touch the dough.Let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk (mine took just about one hour). 

Next steps: 
  • Prepare the filling while the dough is rising (see below). 
  • Butter the bottom and sides of a  9" x 13" baking pan.
  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a medium size bowl, mix together the two sugars, the cinnamon, and the salt. Mix in the raisins. Pour in the maple syrup and stir to combine. Set aside.

When the dough has risen sufficiently, dump it out onto a lightly floured work surface, and use a rolling pin to roll it into a 12" x 15" rectangle (my dough was not very rectangular, but it didn't matter). Use a pastry brush to spread half of the melted butter all over the dough; set aside the rest of the melted butter. Sprinkle all of the filling evenly over the dough, leaving about one inch uncovered at the farthest short side of the dough.

Starting with the short side that's nearest you, carefully roll up the dough. It needs to be snug but not too tight. If you can, pinch the long seam to help seal it; then end with the seam underneath the completed roll.

Using an extremely sharp, smooth knife (like a chef's/French knife), gently but firmly cut the dough into eight slices of even thickness.

Place them in the pan, evenly spaced. Cover the pan with lightly greased/sprayed plastic wrap, and loosely cover it with a dish towel. Place it in a warm spot to rise.

When the rolls have doubled in size, in perhaps half an hour (it's important not to over-proof rich dough, so be on your toes), they are ready to go into the preheated oven. Bake them for approximately 25 minutes, until they're golden brown and they sound hollow when you tap them. (To err on the safe side, I tested mine with a stem thermometer stuck into the doughy part of a roll; I looked for a temperature of about 200-210 degrees inside.)


Make the icing before the rolls come out of the oven. In a small bowl, stir together the confectioners' sugar, half-and-half or milk, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Stir until all the lumps dissolve. If you'd like the icing thinner or thicker, adjust it with a bit more sugar or milk. To drizzle it on, make it on the thinner side. To smooth it on like frosting on a cake, make it a bit thicker.

As soon as the rolls come out of the oven, brush the rest of the melted butter over them.

Then, ice the rolls. They're great served warm, and they're definitely best the first day. They can be left in the pan when cool if you like; just cover them well with plastic wrap.

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