There is magic in the aroma of a baking cinnamon roll. There is an alchemy that occurs, turning such simple things as yeast, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter into heaven on a plate. Sure, they are decadent . . . and that's the point. A special treat to mark a special time, to honor a special person, to just delight in the pleasure of special foods. To have such a thing every day would render it (dare I say it?) ordinary. But once in a while, to indulge . . .
The good news it, making cinnamon rolls is easier than you think! They only smell magical ~ the actual process is pretty down to earth. We start with a basic yeast dough that is enriched. "Enriched" simply means that some sort of fat-containing ingredient (butter, cream, oil) has been added to the dough. What does this do? The addition of fat has the effect of increasing the dough's stretch, its elasticity, and producing a softer, more tender crumb and crust.
Also, with enriched doughs, we typically find the addition of some form of sugar, be it directly, in the form of white sugar, honey, brown sugar, or a combination of these, or indirectly, in the form of milk sugar (lactose) from milk or cream. The sugar enhances fermentation of the yeast and speeds along that gorgeous browning of the crust.
So, we have an enriched dough, a filling, and a very simple glaze. This recipe calls for instant yeast (also called RapidRise and bread machine yeast). There is no need to proof this yeast in liquid before adding it to the dry ingredients. With instant yeast, you use less than you would with active dry yeast because there are more live yeast cultures in it. You can use an envelope, or if you are measuring loose granules, you can use a teaspoon measure.
If you've never made cinnamon rolls before, give yourself plenty of time to relax and enjoy the process. And be patient. Once you get them into the oven and that smell starts taking over your house, you'll be spellbound. These are, of course, best eaten the day they're made, but in the unlikely event that there are leftovers, you can rewarm them in the microwave the following day.
- 1 cup milk
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
- 1 cup water
- 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 envelope)
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs
- 7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup chopped pecans, if desired
- 3 ounces cream cheese
- 1 tablespoon butter, at room temperature
- 2 cups confectioners' sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Combine milk and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 30 seconds or until butter is nearly melted. Remove from microwave, stir in water, and let cool till about 110 degrees F.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment, combine 2 cups flour, yeast, sugar, salt, eggs, and milk mixture. Stir to combine. Add remaining flour, a little at a time, beating until flour is incorporated after each addition. When the dough comes together into a sticky mass, scrape down bowl and paddle and replace paddle with dough hook. Knead, using dough hook, for about 8 minutes. Dough should clear sides of bowl, but not bottom. If dough clings to hook, just shut off mixer and scrape it down with a spatula every couple of minutes. If dough does not clear sides of bowl, sprinkle with flour, a couple of tablespoons at a time. Don't overdo the flour though ~ this is a sticky dough, but it will improve after resting.
- Shut off mixer, scrape dough down into bowl ~ off hook and away from sides and bottom of bowl. Spray dough and sides of bowl with nonstick cooking spray; cover with plastic wrap; let sit for about 45 minutes at room temperature.
- Divide dough in half. Working with half at a time, lay dough out on floured surface. Flour rolling pin and roll dough out into a 12-inch by 9-inch rectangle. Dough should keep its shape when rolled. If it springs back, let the dough rest on the counter for 5 or 10 minutes, so the gluten can relax, then try again.
- Make filling: In a small mixing bowl, use the back of spoon to mash together all the filling ingredients except for the pecans. When you have an integrated paste, spread half of it over the first dough rectangle, leaving a 1/2-inch margin on all sides. (It's okay if you don't get perfect coverage.) Sprinkle pecans over filling, if desired. Moisten the farthest margin of the long side. Roll up dough, starting with the long edge opposite the one you have moistened.
- Repeat with second half of dough and filling. Butter two 9-inch by 13-inch baking pans. Cut the two rolls of dough into 12 slices each. The easiest way to do this is by using a piece of dental floss. Slide it beneath the roll and tie a knot around the roll, then pull the strings until they cut all the way through the dough log, cutting off a slice. Alternatively, you can slice the dough logs with a very sharp knife.
- Arrange slices in baking pans, leaving space around each slice. Cover pans with plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick cooking spray and let rise until slices are puffed and almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes to 1 hour. It's okay if slices touch each other as they rise. During this time, preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Bake cinnamon rolls for 20 to 25 minutes, rotating the pans once after 15 minutes. If they are browning too quickly, lay a sheet of foil over top.
- Make glaze: Using an electric mixer, beat together cream cheese, butter, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla. Gradually spoon in cream and milk, beating after each addition, until frosting has desired spreading consistency.
- Remove cinnamon rolls from oven and slide a spatula underneath them to loosen them from the pan. The sugar-and-butter mixture may caramelize and cause them to stick to the bottom of the pan if you don't loosen them. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove them to serving platter and spread with glaze.
- It's worth it to use a good-quality cinnamon in this recipe, as the flavor really comes through. If you're a fan of other spices - cardamom, ground glove, nutmeg - you can use a blend of spices in the filling.
- Don't be tempted to use too much flour. This is a sticky dough by nature. The texture improves if you let it rest and rise a bit, and it's not difficult to work with at that point.
- The dental floss method is a great way to cut all kinds of soft dough logs, as well as cheese and pate.
- This is a very versatile glaze - it's perfect for Bundt cakes, so keep this one in mind the next time you make a carrot or spice cake in your Bundt pan.
- Don't worry if your filling seems to be leaking out and bubbling up around your cinnamon rolls - it will still be delicious. Just be sure to use a spatula to loosen them from the bottom of the pan after then cool a bit but before they have a chance to get completely cold. Otherwise, they're likely to stick there. If you prefer, you can try replacing the butter in the filling with margarine, which seems to hold up better in the sense that it doesn't melt out as much. But be sure to use butter in the dough, for richness.
- The best part about these rolls is that you can make them in advance. If you want oven-fresh cinnamon rolls for breakfast, you can prep these the night before. Prepare them up to the stage where they are in the buttered baking pans and covered with greased plastic wrap. Place them in the refrigerator. They will still rise, but much more slowly than they would at room temp. In the morning, you can either let them rise on the counter at room temperature for 45 minutes to an hour, or you can turn your oven on to warm for a couple of seconds, then turn it off (don't let it come all the way up to 170 degrees). Place the rolls in the warmed oven and shut the door; let them rise, still covered, for 30 minutes or until they are suitably puffy. Then, uncover them and bake as directed.
- You can freeze the unbaked slices. To bake, just place in buttered baking pan, let sit at room temp till puffy.
- Pyrex pans are ideal for cinnamon rolls. They enable you to keep an eye on the bottoms of the rolls, to make sure the sugar-and-butter mixture isn't getting too dark, and they transmit heat evenly. Keep an eye on your cinnamon rolls, especially if you don't have an oven thermometer.