Cinnamon rolls are a great thing to make if you’re a novice bread baker, because they’re so forgiving. The dough is very supple (thanks to the extra fat and dairy), it doesn’t need to be kneaded forever (a plus if you don’t have an electric mixer that can knead dough) and thanks to the extra sugar and year, the dough only takes about an hour to rise and a half hour to “proof” (that is, rise a second time after the rolls have been shaped). This means that you can start a pan of cinnamon rolls in the afternoon and they’ll be ready after dinner, or you can make them in the evening and leave them in the fridge overnight to bake up the next morning (more on this later).
Sarah associates cinnamon rolls with chili, which is how they were always served in school lunch (can anyone else confirm that this is a thing?). So when I mentioned that I wanted to make chili this week (recipe forthcoming!), she requested cinnamon rolls. This is a pretty standard bread recipe, and one that you could adapt for sandwich bread or dinner roll. The yogurt adds tenderness and a very slight tang, and the butter adds richness. I added an autolyse step, which basically means doing some of the mixing before you add the salt, and then letting the dough sit for a while to sort of regroup and begin the gluten formation process. You can serve these with a cream cheese frosting (recipe below), or on their own. You can also try slicing stale cinnamon rolls into 1″ thick rounds and toasting them lightly for some really rich cinnamon swirl bread.
Cinnamon Rolls with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
makes 12 rolls
- 1 cup warm water
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast (or 1 1/2 teaspoons if you are making these the day before)
- 3 cups (13 1/2 ounces) bread flour – if you can’t find bread flour, substitute all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons plain yogurt, preferably Greek yogurt
- 1 egg and 1 egg white (save the yolk to add to an extra-rich omelette)
- 1 stick butter, cut in half and brought to room-temperature
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon good-quality cinnamon
- Vanilla Bean Cream-Cheese Frosting (recipe below)
If using a heavy-duty stand mixer: combine the water, honey, yeast (use the smaller amount if you’re going to bake these tomorrow), flour, yogurt, whole egg, 1/2 stick of butter, and 2 tablespoons sugar in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix on medium-low speed until a shaggy dough forms, about 2 minutes. Don’t worry too much if it seems too sticky or too dry. Cover the whole mixer with a kitchen towel and let sit for 10-30 minutes.
If kneading by hand: dump the water, honey, yeast (use the smaller amount if you’re going to bake these tomorrow), flour, yogurt, whole egg, 1/2 stick of butter, and 2 tablespoons sugar into a large mixing bowl. Using a wooden spoon or clean hands, mix until a shaggy mass forms. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let sit for 30 minutes.
Both methods: after the resting period, the dough should appear more relaxed and probably a little easier to work with. Add the salt and knead it for another 5-6 minutes (by hand or on medium with the dough hook), until it is glossy, smooth, and slightly tacky. You might need to add a little bit more flour or liquid (use water or yogurt) to adjust the consistency, but it is unlikely.
Lightly oil a large bowl (you can use the same bowl that you mixed it in, just rinse it out), form the dough into a ball, place it in the bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
After the dough is risen, sprinkle a little flour on your countertop and take the dough out. Use your fingertips to lightly poke and mash it into a 9×13 rectangle. Do your best to square up the corners as it will make things a bit easier later on.
Using a rubber spatula and/or your clean fingers, spread the other half-stick of butter evenly on the dough rectangle. Mix together the 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and sprinkle this evenly over the whole rectangle. Mix the remaining egg white with 1 tablespoon of water and brush it lightly along the edge opposite you (this will help seal the whole thing when you roll it up). Carefully roll the dough into a big log, pinching to seal it well.
Use a sharp knife to cut the roll into 12 even pieces. Place them in a 9×13 casserole dish, being careful to arrange them neatly. Cover with plastic wrap.
If baking today: let the pan of rolls rise for about 30 minutes, or until puffy and almost doubled. If baking tomorrow: place the pan in the refrigerator and let rise up to 24 hours before baking.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the rolls are well-browned on top. Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack to finish cooling (this keeps the bottom from getting too mooshy and sticky). When completely cool, use a knife to cut them apart into rolls. Spread with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe below) if you like.
These keep for a few days, thanks to the butter and dairy in the dough. They also freeze well (seal tightly, reheat in the microwave or a 400 degree oven for a few minutes). Either way, I like to wait to frost them until it’s time to eat. The choice is yours.
Vanilla-Bean Cream Cheese Frosting
1 whole vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons good vanilla extract
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
about 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, possibly more
pinch of salt
Scrape the beans out of the vanilla bean pod. Mix the beans or extract with the cream cheese, either with an electric mixer on high (to beat some air into it) or with a rubber spatula. Mix in the powdered sugar and salt and beat until smooth. You might need to add more sugar if it seems too runny.