Guys, I couldn’t be more excited to share today’s recipe with you… seriously excited, like you just told a kid they’re going to Disney World kind of excited. I’ll refrain from the screams and eeks, but I’m telling you right now that this is absolutely my favorite recipe this year so far.
My husband is the brains behind this creation so I’ll happily turn it over to him. Excuse me while I grab my fat pants.
If preparing to make this recipe has taught me anything, it’s that cinnamon roll recipes are as widely varied as they are a pain in the butt to make. This is not my first attempt at making cinnamon rolls. My first attempt produced rolls I wasn’t satisfied with and didn’t want to share. I researched over a dozen recipes and even made a spreadsheet to help me compare them to each other before I decided on the next one that I also didn’t share. Then, having made them twice already I decided it was time to make up my own. I now had tons of information at my disposal and a reasonably solid understanding about which parts of what I’d made so far I wasn’t satisfied with and how I thought I could fix them. This recipe is what I came up with.
Fair warning for the timid, this recipe is not going to be easy, it may not be much fun to make, it’s a lot of work, and if you do it right, it’ll be a recipe that you make for special occasions every year because everyone you know will ask for them over and over. Sorry in advance. Also, Tina would like to apologize for the crazy amount of pics… but every step looked like the perfect photo op to her.
When attempting to design this recipe I first started by breaking down the recipe into all of its components so I could alter them independently. You know what they say, if you change too many things at once you can never really be sure which change made something better. I figured I had a lot of things to change and to limit how they interacted with each other, my recipe is broken into dough, filling, and glaze.
Let’s start with the dough… My dough recipe was based on a xeroxed copy of something my boss gave me. Theories of its actual origin seem to point to it being from a very old Good Housekeeping cookbook that was possibly her mother’s, but that included a recipe for cinnamon buns that her sister makes for special occasions. This recipe in turn directed me to a dough recipe that was also xeroxed from the same book. There were hand written notes all over it and even post-its with additional notes. I took all of these tidbits of useful information and turned them into a process that I was comfortable with. I was not however satisfied with the actual recipe.
In the end, I adjusted the dough recipe to my own preferences and used the process I’d learned as the basis for how cinnamon buns are actually crafted. It was a start but the dough alone is just one aspect of all that is wonderful about a cinnamon bun.
So you ever have a bite of a perfectly delicious cinnamon bun and think “Oh man, this bite was just bread, what a let down?” I mean come on, every bite can’t be non-stop cinnamon filling. My solution to this problem was to give the bread a little flavor of its own. There is just enough cardamom in the dough to make it interesting if you get one of those bites that you wish had more flavor going on.
Next, we have the filling… The original recipe from the xerox for was way too weak to be what I wanted from a cinnamon roll. The quest to find other ratios and ingredient lists for how to make the filling began. The goal was to increase the level well beyond the point where the filling has no real flavor, but not so much that it starts to have it’s own texture in your mouth.
Once you have a delicious roll of dough and the filling full of cinnamon awesomeness you are left with the task of cutting it up into a dozen cinnamon rolls. I found a technique that I used for cutting the cinnamon rolls that was vastly superior to the one I’d used for my first two attempts.
I can honestly say that I’d never thought of doing anything other than just hacking it up with a knife. That approach squishes the rolls and reshaping them into circle shaped rolls again is both bothersome and doesn’t tend to do much better than making a mess. The secret technique, which isn’t really a secret I suppose but that I only found in one place, is to use thread to cut the slices. This way was vastly easier, vastly less destructive to the shape of the rolls, and produces rolls so close to perfect they could easily be marveled at as art.
When you’re baking up these bad buys… the smell is unreal. It’s like your kitchen turns into a cinnamon bun making factory. Mmm.
No cinnamon bun is complete without something sweet to drizzle all over the top. The glaze isn’t simply something tasty and sweet that goes on the top. It also has to taste good. (I realize this might be a pretty epic duh, but it was worth saying.) You’d also probably think it was easy to come up with one that makes me smile. You’d be wrong. As it turns out, I’m not a huge fan of either the flavors of powdered sugar or vanilla extract. Well, not when they are almost the only ingredients in something at least.
My recipe is the hybrid of a couple of glaze recipes. One that sounded good had a little cream cheese in it and the other was maple syrup instead of vanilla extract. Using this information I devised a recipe that has just enough maple flavor to make you think of pancakes, but not so much that you think someone just poured syrup all over cinnamon buns.
It looks so swirly perfect, doesn’t it?
But let’s be real here… This is what my plate really looks like. It’s loaded with extra icing on every bite and a little of the delicious cinnamon filling joins the pool making a maple cinnamon amazing… something.
Tina and I have been having a debate… the cinnamon roll vs. sticky bun debate. What’s the difference between the two? Which one tastes better? And so on and so forth. To have a fair debate we needed hard evidence. You know what that means… so stay turned for a sticky bun recipe. Yes, three times wasn’t enough, I had to make round four too.
Cinnamon Rolls Recipe
(Makes 12 cinnamon rolls)
- 3/4 cups warm milk
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1/2 cup butter, softened (equivalent to 1 stick)
- 1 packet yeast
- 4 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (equivalent to 20 ounces)
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 egg
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons cinnamon
- 1/4 cup butter, melted (equivalent to 1/2 stick)
- (optional) 1/2 cup raisins
- (optional) 1/2 cup pecans, chopped
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons real maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon very hot water
- 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
- Set up a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment.
- Into the bowl of the stand mixer, add the warm milk, warm water, softened butter, and yeast.
- With the mixer running slowly, add the flour, sugar, salt, cardamom and the egg. (I use speed 2 on my Kitchen Aid.)
- Let the mixer run until all of the flour is incorporated into the dough using a spatula to scrape the sides of the bowl if needed.
- Once all the flour is incorporated, turn the mixer up to a medium speed. (I use speed 4 on my Kitchen Aid.)
- Let the stand mixer knead the dough for roughly 5 minutes.
- Use cooking spray to oil a large bowl.
- Transfer the dough from the mixer bowl into the oiled bowl. Shape it into a ball as well as you can.
- Cover the bowl with the dough in it with plastic wrap.
- Place the bowl somewhere warm to rise for around 1 hour or until it has doubled in size.
- Punch the dough down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.
Cinnamon Roll Instructions
- Grease a 13 x 9 inch baking pan.
- In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. (Optional, if you are using pecans and/or raisins, mix them into the sugar mixture at this time.)
- Roll the dough into a rectangle that is roughly 21 x 17 inches. The exact size isn’t important. The goal is to get the appropriate thickness and to be as close to an actual rectangle as possible.
- Brush the dough generously with melted butter. (You should have some butter left, you will use it later.)
- Sprinkle the filling mixture over the dough and spread it around with your hands until it is an even coating all over the dough.
- Starting with the long side of the rectangle, roll the dough up. I recommend doing this toward yourself from the side that is away from you as I’ve had better luck making an even roll that way.
- Position so the seam is facing down and press the ends of the roll gently toward the center of the roll. This should result in a roll that is roughly 18 inches long and is a consistent thickness.
- Use a knife to gently mark the roll where you will cut it into 12 slices. The pattern I found works pretty well is to mark the middle of the roll, then mark each half in half again, and then to finally mark each quarter into thirds. Each mark should be roughly 1 and 1/2 inches apart.
- Gently slide a piece of thread (I made mine about 18″ long) under the roll to where it lines up with one of your slice marks. Cross the thread over the top of the roll and pull the two sides until the thread comes through the roll. If done correctly, you will have a nearly perfect and unsquished slice of the roll.
- Repeat the cutting process placing cut rolls into the baking pan leaving a gap between them if possible.
- Once all the rolls are in the pan, brush the tops of them with the remaining melted butter.
- Let them rise in the pan for roughly 40 minutes or until doubled in size. (They should be touching each other a little at this point regardless of whether you succeeded in leaving gaps between them before.)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Bake the rolls in the preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
- Cool slightly in the pan.
- Spread glaze (see instructions below) over the top of the rolls.
- Serve warm.
- Put the powdered sugar into a medium bowl.
- Add the maple syrup but don’t stir yet.
- Add the softened cream cheese but don’t stir yet.
- Add the very hot water.
- Whisk until smooth.
Yes, I usually use a 5 hat scale but these cinnamon rolls are THAT freakin’ amazing.