People can go a little overboard with the “Once you make X, you’ll never want to buy it from stores again!” guarantee. Because no matter how delicious that bread I baked was, I can promise you that I’m still going to buy sliced bread for my sandwiches. The same goes for many things, especially anything involving a large vat of oil, like donuts.
But it is true of some things, at least for me. For most of my life, the only cinnamon rolls I had came from a Pillsbury tube, or from a Cinnabon store at the mall. And I was content with those. But then one day, in the summer of 2009, my friend Kate and I had some leftover yeast after making pizza dough and we used it to make cinnamon rolls from scratch–and nothing was ever the same. Homemade cinnamon rolls have ruined me, to the extent that I have no interest in the Pillsbury or storebought ones, even if presented to me on a platter (which is really quite rude of me, to reject something I’ve been offered. I told you they ruined me).
The bun is just so soft–not flaky like the Pillsbury ones, but soft in the way that freshly baked bread is meant to be. The bottoms are slightly chewy after absorbing the brown sugar-cinnamon-butter mixture that melts to the bottom of the pan as the rolls bake. And the cream cheese frosting has an actual cream cheese-y tang to it because it hasn’t been smothered with too much sugar. Once I tried that combination of deliciousness, there was no going back.
The same evening we made cinnamon rolls for the first time, Kate and I decided “cinnamon rolls” was too tame a name for these pillowy labyrinths of deliciousness. They needed something that accurately reflected their allure. We decided to call them “sex buns” instead. (We are not subtle.)
When we first made these, the yeast element made us nervous. The dough wasn’t rising, and then my dad overheard us talking and told us we probably used the wrong type of yeast. While we set about rolling out the dough and sprinkling the cinnamon sugar mixture on top, he began googling types of yeast. He seemed sure we had done something wrong, and by that point so were we, but we kept up the facade and continued following the instructions, putting the buns into a pan to let them rise.
When we returned to the kitchen an hour later and lifted the towel covering the pan… the buns looked exactly the same as they had before. We made a fuss over them and pretended they’d doubled in size so my dad would at least think we were competent bakers, and then we shoved them in the oven and hoped for the best.
As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about. When we checked on the buns fifteen minutes later, they really had puffed up. The tops were browning, the filling bubbling, and they were perfect.
Since then, I’ve learned to stop worrying about yeast and
love the bomb just let it do its thing. My friend Tammy, despite being an expert cook, baker, and all-around food wizard, is oddly intimidated by yeast. With this post I’ll do my best to assuage her fears.
This recipe comes from smittenkitchen.com. It’s the only cinnamon roll recipe I’ve ever used and, as it’s given me perfect rolls every time, it’s the only one I plan to use. I see from an update on the post that she’s since found another bun dough recipe she prefers, but this one will always be my go-to.
First, you’ll need to microwave the butter and milk until the butter melts. Let it cool down until it’s a suitable environment for yeast. King Arthur Flour describes this as 95 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit, but I can’t be bothered to use thermometers. My rule of thumb is for the mixture to be about the temperature of a baby’s bath (which, if you’re into numbers, is “just above 100 F” according to my google search). Just think of yeast as a bunch of tiny, creepy, babies in need of a bath. (Does that help, Tammy?)
This is me gauging the temperature, and yes, I did take this picture for the sake of a “rule of thumb” pun.
Add the other ingredients–sugar, egg, salt, and some of the flour–and stir to combine. We’re clearly skipping the proofing stage here. This recipe’s all about trust.
Gradually add more flour until it comes together as a dough. Note that there’s no need to add the exact amount of flour the recipe says. Yeast is fickle, and adding too much flour (in some cases, “too much” can mean the amount specified in the recipe) can make the bread dense. Just add until it becomes kneadable and then start kneading.
This was about that point for me.
Kool-Aid Man Spoon agrees.
I kneaded it right in the bowl because, again, lazy. The dough will be sticky; add flour as kneaded (I know, too easy) until the dough is still slightly sticky, but not so sticky that it gets dough all over your hands when you knead it. It should understand boundaries at this stage. Now put the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and let it rise for two hours.
While the dough rises, can we discuss my issues with Ben and Jerry’s Cinnamon Bun ice cream? It’s described as “Caramel ice cream with cinnamon bun dough and cinnamon streusel swirl.” That always intrigued me, being that cinnamon bun dough is a yeasted dough, which is appealing to absolutely no one. I finally tried the ice cream last year and found that the dough bits were basically cinnamon-flavored cookie dough–which obviously tastes better than yeasted dough, but I wish they hadn’t tried to pretend it was cinnamon bun dough. Just be honest with me, Ben and Jerry.
Just before your two hours are up, make the cinnamon sugar filling. Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. In the interest of creativity I added a couple of teaspoons of vanilla to the mixture in hopes that I’d create something amazing, but it made no absolutely no difference in the taste of the final product. So. A round of applause for my waste of vanilla.
By now the two hours are up and your dough has risen:
Roll the dough out on a floured surface until you have a rectangle 15″ x 11″ (or, if you halved the recipe like I did, around 11″ x 7.5″). Spread softened butter over it and sprinkle on your cinnamon-sugar mixture. Leave a one-inch border, at least on one of the longer sides, so that it will be easy to keep the roll together once you’ve rolled it up.
Starting at the long end without a border, roll the dough into a log and place it seam-side down.
Here you’re supposed to trim the ends, but I don’t see the point in that. Let’s leave them on. Cut the roll into 18 equal pieces (or 9 if you halved it).
Place the rolls into a buttered 12″ x 9″ pan (or 8×8/9×9 if you halved it), cover them with plastic wrap and then a towel, and let them rise for 45 minutes. I let them rise for about an hour and a half, which is also okay.
See the roll in the top left corner and the one in the bottom right corner? Those are the two pieces that came from each end. I set those two end-side down and they were fine. Bottom-right’s looking a little wobbly, but it has a corner to keep it steady and we can rest easy knowing we let everyone join the party.
Wobbly or not, bake the rolls at 375 degrees for 16-20 minutes.
While they bake, assemble the icing by creaming together cream cheese, softened butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt.
Take your beautiful buns out of the oven. Mine were ready at 18 minutes and my oven isn’t known to run hot, so I’d recommend checking at the 15-minute mark. After they’ve had a chance to rest for 5 or so minutes, spread on the icing and let it melt into every crevice, nook, and cranny.
Are there words? I don’t think there are.
Delicious from top to bottom.
Makes 18 buns
- 1 cup milk
- 3 tbsp butter
- 3.5 cups flour, divided
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 1/4 tsp (one envelope) rapid-rise yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- Vegetable or coconut oil
- 3/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp cinnamon
- pinch of salt
- 4 tbsp butter, softened
- 4 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla
- pinch of salt
Dough: Microwave the butter and milk until the better melts. Let cool until it has reached 95 to 115 degrees, and then combine it with 1 cup of flour, the sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Slowly add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of flour until it comes together as a dough. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and slightly sticky (but not so sticky that it leaves dough all over your hands). Form the dough into a ball.
Lightly oil a large bowl and put the ball of dough inside it, turning the ball over once to coat it in oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place for two hours, or until it has doubled in volume.
Filling: Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt.
Punch down the dough and roll it out on a floured surface to a 15″ by 11″ rectangle. Spread the butter over the rectangle, leaving a one-inch border on one of the lengthwise sides so that the dough will be able to pinch together better when you roll it. Sprinkle the cinnamon mixture on top of the rectangle (again, leaving the 1″ border on the lengthwise side) and use a spoon or spatula to even out the filling.
Starting at the lengthwise end that you didn’t leave a border on, begin rolling up the dough. When you roll it up to the end with the border, press the border dough against the roll to help it stay together. If you like, trim the ends. Cut the roll into 18 equal (ish) slices.
Coat a 9×13 baking dish (or two 8×8 or 9×9 pans) with oil and put the rolls in the pan(s). If you didn’t trim the ends, put the end pieces end-side down. Cover the baking dishes with plastic wrap and then a kitchen towel. Let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour, or until they have nearly doubled in volume.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are lightly browned. Let cool for 5-10 minutes before adding the icing.
Icing: Cream together the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, and salt. Spread over warm buns.
Store the buns in an airtight container at room temperature.