I tried making cinnamon rolls two Christmases ago, and they didn’t rise enough and didn’t bake evenly so that rolls in the middle of the pan were too doughy to eat. It was one of my more demoralizing baking experiences and put me off of cinnamon rolls until this past Christmas when I decided, rather spontaneously, to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast while we were staying with my dad. Since I had seven people to feed, I’m very happy to report that these turned out great. To quote my dad: “These are the best damn cinnamon rolls I’ve ever had.”
These rolls are an adaptation of the Cranberry-Orange Breakfast Buns from Smitten Kitchen. Since these were a last-minute decision (at least, about as last-minute as you can get with a yeasted breakfast dish) and since I was at my dad’s house in the middle of nowhere, I had to do a bit of improvising with the recipe beyond simply using it to make classic cinnamon rolls. I didn’t have any buttermilk so I made sour milk with vinegar. My dad only had active dry yeast, so I proofed it in some warm milk and a pinch of sugar before mixing it with the other ingredients. We were short on eggs, so based on one of the tips at the end of the original recipe, I swapped two of the egg yolks for a single, whole egg.
The biggest challenge was that my dad didn’t have any powdered sugar on hand. I ended up dissolving granulated sugar into some milk, adding a splash of vanilla and a sprinkling of cinnamon in the process. My improvised glaze was still a bit grainy, but it worked well enough and definitely didn’t detract from what ended up being a fantastic batch of cinnamon rolls.
I think of cinnamon rolls as a special occasion food—not the kind of thing you’d eat on a daily basis—and to that end, these were exactly what they should have been: soft, rich, and gooey. They are, of course, sweet, but not the kind of super-sweet that will hurt your teeth or your stomach. This recipe also makes it easy to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast without waking up four hours earlier than everyone else. You mix up and knead the dough the night before, let it rise, roll out and form the cinnamon rolls, and then let the cinnamon rolls rise in the pan overnight in the refrigerator. The original recipe tells you to remove the rolls from the refrigerator and let them sit on the counter for 30 minutes before baking. I wasn’t happy with how much they had risen at the end of the 30 minutes, so I left them sitting on the counter for a full hour before putting them in the oven. The rolls rose beautifully in the oven and baked very evenly.
This recipe is so good it’s going straight to my best-hits list. I can’t wait to make these again. And again. And again.
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
This recipe makes a dozen cinnamon rolls. Although I improvised a glaze using granulated sugar, I’ve included the ingredients for a basic powdered sugar glaze that I’ve used before and would use again the next time I make these.
For the dough:
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 whole eggs
- 1/4 c granulated sugar
- 6 tbsp butter, melted
- 3/4 c buttermilk
- 3 3/4 c all-purpose flour
- 1 packet instant dry yeast
- 1 1/4 tsp salt
For the Filling:
- 1 1/2 tbsp butter, melted
- 3/4 c brown sugar
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
For the Glaze:
- 1 1/3 c powdered sugar
- 2 tbsp milk
- In a stand mixer, beat together the egg yolk, whole eggs, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add 2 cups of the flour, the yeast, and the salt and mix together until just combined. Add the remaining 1 ¾ c of flour. Using the dough hook, let the mixer knead the dough on low speed for 5-7 minutes until the dough is soft, smooth, and moist. The dough should still be a bit tacky to the touch, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and let it rise at room temperature until doubled (2-2.5 hours).
- When the dough has finished rising, butter a 9×13 baking dish. (The original recipe recommends a ceramic or glass dish, but I had good luck with a basic aluminum cake pan.) Turn the dough out on a floured counter and roll it into a rectangle approximately 18 inches wide and 12 inches long. Roll the dough out so that the widest part of the dough is facing you. Brush the melted butter on the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the brown sugar and then with the cinnamon.
- Starting with the side of the dough farthest away from you, roll the dough tightly into an 18”-long spiral. (The best way to get a tight roll is to simply go slowly, making sure to keep the dough taut all the way across as you roll.) Using a serrated knife or dental floss, cut the log into 12 pieces—each piece should be about 1.5” wide. Place the rolls in the prepared baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight. (The original recipe says that you can chill the rolls for up to 16 hours.)
- In the morning, take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let them sit on the counter for 30-60 minutes before baking. (I let mine sit for a full hour, but I think my dad’s kitchen was rather cold.) While the rolls sit, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. When the rolls are ready, bake them for 30 minutes, until they’re raised and golden. If you’re a sucker for precision, they should have an internal temperature of 190 degrees F.
- Transfer the pan to a cooling rack. Whisk together the ingredients for the glaze and drizzle over the rolls. Serve while they’re still warm and gooey!