Spring has sprung. After being cloistered in our homes for the winter we venture out into the newly verdant world seeking fresh activity in the clean air. The out of doors beckons us and we heed its call. Fields of wildflowers tempt us to wander through their scented lands, begging us to lie down amongst them and spend a day with a loved one picnicking and making love. The soft evenings practically scream at us, "Come! Come! Cook and dine outside!" And the foods abound. And the libations flow. And we fall pleasantly into the waiting arms of life.
You may be thinking that this is what my life has been like since my last post in, um, February. Don't be fooled. I am just lazy. As much as I would like to live in a Jane Austen novel or a Saveur magazine feature, the fact of the matter is...I don't. Spring in my life means chaperoning elementary school field trips, working, helping The Kid do homework and projects, working, cooking dinner, working, and working. Alright, maybe I'm not so lazy after all. Since my last post, though, I havebeen on a quest!
Sometime shortly after my last post I stopped in a local bakery and purchased a cinnamon roll. I adore cinnamon rolls. For all of my life I have loved a good cinnamon roll. So I was more than disappointed to find my newly acquired snack drier than dry, fairly lacking in cinnamon flavor, and, well, thin. The icing was piss-poor, too. As if that wasn't enough, the center seemed to be missing. How they accomplished this royal mess is beyond me. Then, a few bites into this alleged cinnamon roll, I heard it; The Calling. The path before me was clear. Being left with one choice meant no choice at all. I must find the perfect cinnamon roll.
Surely in this burgeoning Texas city there was a good cinnamon roll to be found. I left the piss-poor purchase in front of me on the table. Heading home I began to strategically plan my quest. Venturing forth into a City of Culinaria I would visit as many producers as possible and seek out the best. The sad part is that I never found the best. Like all good things, the best was to be had at home. We'll get to that in just a bit. First let's see what I found.
There are two basic types of cinnamon rolls in this city, maybe the world. One is the yeasted bread type that is rolled into a log, cut, and iced. The other is more of a pastry dough that gets rolled into a knot-like shape and is coated in sugar. I prefer the former. To be fair, though, I have found a bakery in town that produces a superior version of the latter. When I have to purchase a cinnamon roll it is this latter version I usually get. I find it very shameful that I can't seem to find my preferred version available commercially. Here are a few samples (in the style of what I prefer) of what I found and what I think is wrong with them.
Way, way, way, too much sugar. Zero cinnamon flavor. This one can't figure out if it is a roll or a pastry. The icing is too heavy and overpowers the roll.
The icing on these is too haphazard. The roll is dry and this doesn't let the cinnamon flavor shine through. There is no butter flavor, either.
Seriously? This was labelled "old fashioned" in the bakery case. Seriously?
And so it went. Yes, I found sticky buns and schneckens but they don't count. They're not quite the same. What I want in a cinnamon roll is a bread that is rich with butter, eggs, and milk. I want a bread that is moist and tender; one that will act as a vehicle for the flavor of the cinnamon. I want the cinnamon flavor to burst from the roll but to be in balance with the sugary sweetness. And I want a center. The whole point to a cinnamon roll is the center. Getting to the center of a cinnamon roll should be a journey. Gradually we peel away the layers, savoring each one. We let our senses work during the act. We look and admire the seductiveness. We touch and feel the texture. We take in its scent letting the aromas fill us. We taste each bit, letting the flavor build in our mouths, drinking it all in. Layer by layer we do this. It is, indeed, a very sexual act. If this is what we want when we eat, not just a good cinnamon roll, but anything, why ruin it with something devoid of soul? The only real option is to make one ourselves. Here's how:
As always, we will start with our mis en place. Gather your ingredients, measure them, and make sure that they are all at room temperature.
Cream the butter, salt, and sugar together until they are light and fluffy. You can do this in a mixer but it is such a small dough that I just do it by hand.
Zest 1 lemon.
Mix together the egg, zest, butter, and sugar.
Proof the yeast and add it to the egg/butter mixture.
Mix together the dry ingredients.
Add the yeast mixture to the dry ingredients and mix them together. The mixture will not come together in a ball just yet. It will look kind of gravelly. This is okay. It means that the yeast mixture is evenly distributed.
Gradually add the milk (or buttermilk) until the mixture comes together in a slightly sticky ball. You don't want it to be too wet or it will be difficult to knead, though not impossible to fix. Just add the milk gradually and don't freak out if you don't use all of it.
Lightly flour your work surface.
Knead the dough for about 12-15 minutes. If the dough begins to stick to the work surface use a bench scraper to release it and dust the surface and the dough with a small amount of flour. Don't use too much flour. You don't want to work in too much. The dough should be just a little tacky.
When the dough is done it should still be tacky, sticking to the work surface but releasing on its own. The dough should be shiny and a little silky to the touch.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let it rise for about 2 hours or until it is doubled in size.
While the dough is rising go indulge in some kind of adult libation or activity. Or you can be like me and make hummus.
Well, lookee there! The dough is ready.
Gently deflate the dough. Also, spray your work surface with a non-stick spray. Trust me, you will thank me for this little tip.
Turn the dough onto the oiled work surface and lightly dust the top of the dough with flour. Dust your rolling pin, too.
Roll the dough into a rectangle about 14" x 9". Smear about 3 Tbsp. of butter (the amount you have left over in the recipe) all over it.
Mix your sugar and cinnamon together and generously sprinkle this over the surface of the buttered dough.
Roll the dough into as tight a log as you can. I like to start from the bottom, tucking in the edge of the dough as I roll. Some of you may have a lot of experience rolling various things and will be pretty good at this.
Prepare a sheet pan or cake pan. If using a cake pan butter the bottom of the pan and cover it with a parchment round; then butter the sides. If using a sheet pan simply line the pan with a sheet of parchment paper.
Cinnamon rolls should be BIG. I once read another blog and the author made cinnamon rolls that could fit in the palm of your hand; these are for wussies. Don't be a wuss. I cut my long roll into six sections. B.I.G.
Arrange the rolls in your pan and cover them with a damp towel. Allow the rolls to rise for about an hour or until doubled in size. While the rolls are rising go have some more adult fun.
Bake the rolls in a preheated 350° oven for 30 - 40 minutes. After 30 minutes watch them carefully. If they get too brown on top then they will be dry. This means that the center will be dry. This, in turn, means that when you get to the center it won't be like having an orgasm. Where's the fun in that?
If you are using a cake pan then gently separate the rolls and remove them to a cooling rack. Place the cooling rack on a sheet pan lined with parchment for when you frost them.
I like two kinds of frosting: fondant and glaze. Both are made the same way. It is a simple recipe of powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla. If you add less milk you will get a thicker fondant icing. More milk will produce a thinner icing that acts as a glaze. The nice thing about the glaze is that it will seep down into the swirls of the roll, further moistening the layers. It's your call here.
Make the icing by sifting the powdered sugar and gently heating the milk. Whisk the milk into the powdered sugar and then whisk in the vanilla.
Working quickly before the icing begins to set, drizzle it all over the rolls. Allow the rolls to cool slightly and let the icing set. Then dig in. Yum.
6 1/2 Tbsp. Granulated Sugar
1 tsp. Salt
5 1/2 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter, at room temperature
1 large Egg, slightly beaten, at room temperature
Zest of 1 small Lemon
3 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 package Instant Yeast
1 1/4 cups Buttermilk, at room temperature
2 1/2 Tbsp. Butter, (combined with the above amount it makes a whole stick)
6 1/2 Tbsp. Demerarra Sugar
2 Tbsp. Vietnamese High Oil Cinnamon
4 cups Powdered Sugar, sifted
1/2 cup Half and Half, slightly warmed
1 tsp. Vanilla
Cream the butter, sugar, and salt together. Mix in the egg and lemon zest. Mix in the proofed yeast. Stir this mixture into the flour until it resembles course meal. Gradually mix in the buttermilk until the dough comes together into a ball (you may not use all the buttermilk).
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead it for 12 - 15 minutes. Add small amounts of flour to keep the dough from sticking too much. When the dough is ready it will be slightly tacky but shiny. Place the dough into an oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and allow the dough to rise for about 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
Gently deflate the dough and turn it onto an oiled work surface. Lightly flour the top of the dough and your rolling pin. Roll the dough into a rectangle about 14" x 9". Smear the 2 1/2 Tbsp. butter all over the surface of the dough. Mix together the demerarra sugar and the cinnamon. Liberally spread this all over the buttered surface of the dough.
Roll the dough into a log. Cut the log into six equal pieces. Arrange the pieces on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Cover the rolls with a damp towel and allow them to rise for about an hour or until doubled in bulk.
Bake the rolls in a preheated 350° oven for 30 - 40 minutes. Don't let them get too brown on top. I like a light golden color. Remove the rolls from the oven and allow them to cool while you make the icing.
Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar. Gently warm the half-and-half. Gradually stir the half-and-half into the powdered sugar until if forms a thick icing but is pourable. Stir in the vanilla.
Working quickly before the icing can set, drizzle it all over the rolls. Let the rolls cool a little more and allow the icing to set. The rolls should keep, covered with plastic, for 2-3 days.