Made | Cinnamon rolls

I remember the first time it occurred to me that cinnamon rolls could be made from scratch. My sister, newly married, had just come to our family's Christmas dinner from my brother-in-law's family's Christmas morning. "His mom makes cinnamon rolls from scratch every year," she said. Even though I'm from the south, we weren't immune to canned biscuits on Christmas morning. Homemade cinnamon rolls sounded like a special tradition. 

I didn't wait for a Christmas morning with in-laws to start making cinnamon rolls. I made my first batch of homemade cinnamon rolls for a big brunch at a friend's house. Since then, any time more than four people are gathering for a weekend meal, I pull out The Weekend Baker and make a batch. When I started making these, I followed the recipe to a T, but since then I've loosened up a little and made it my own. I've also acquired a stand mixer since those early days, and these have gone from special occasion status to sweet tooth/craving status. Without having to knead it by hand, these are dangerously simple to make (though I am a little nostalgic for late nights kneading in the kitchen). 

The main change I've made for these is to brown the butter that gets topped with cinnamon and sugar and rolled up. I love the caramel flavor it adds to the cinnamon rolls (not to mention the way it makes my kitchen smell).
Getting yeasted dough to rise in the height of summer is no problem (sometimes it rises too quickly), but in the dead of winter—which, let's face it, is when you need a cinnamon roll the most—it can be a little trickier. Sometimes I preheat the oven to 100 degrees F while I'm making the dough, and turn it off a few minutes before the dough needs to sit and rise. Then I place the covered (metal or heat-safe glass) bowl into the toasty oven. Make sure you turn the oven off a few minutes before you place your dough in there so it can cool off to about 80 degrees F.
I like to smear the glaze on while the rolls are still a little warm, that way it melts just a bit and drips into the crevices and edges. 
Recipe after the jump. One thing: At first glance, this seems like a lot of work, and it is! There are plenty of steps and ingredients, and you can't wake up one morning and decide to have fresh cinnamon rolls an hour later. But if there's one thing I've learned from baking is to enjoy the process and appreciate each bite knowing every ingredient and bit of effort that went into the making of it. Treats like these aren't meant for everyday anyway, so I'm kind of grateful that it takes more than just a few minutes to throw together. 

These are great to make ahead of time before a big gathering. At the end of the recipe there are instructions on what you can do ahead; you can let the dough rise slowly in the fridge overnight before baking and serving, or you can cook them, cool them, and freeze for later, though I've never tried this. Nor do I know anyone who, in their right mind, would bake cinnamon rolls and not devour them right then and there. 

Brown Butter Cinnamon Rolls 

Adapted from The Weekend Baker

What you'll need

For the dough:
1 cup (8 fl ounces/233 ml) whole milk—I often use whatever's in my fridge, sometimes a mixture of buttermilk, 2%, and half-and-half
8 tablespoons (4 ounces/113 grams) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3½ cups (15½ ounces/447 grams) all-purpose flour
2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
1/3 cup (2½ ounces/71 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
For the cinnamon filling:
½ cup (4 ounces/113 grams) firmly packed light or dark brown sugar—I tend to use dark brown sugar
½ cup (4 ounces/113 grams) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (1½ ounces/43 grams) all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons (3 ounces/85 grams) unsalted butter, melted and browned
For the glaze:
2¼ cups (9 ounces/255 grams) confectioners’ sugar
6 tablespoons heavy cream—I've used half-and-half and buttermilk in the past, both to delicious results
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

What you'll do

1. In a small saucepan, combine the milk and 8 tablespoons butter. Set over medium heat and stir constantly until the butter melts and the liquid registers about 125 degrees (52°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat.

2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, yeast, sugar, and salt. Stir with a wooden spoon or whisk until well blended.

3. Check the temperature of the milk mixture; it should now register about 120°F (49°C) on an instant-read thermometer. In order for the yeast to grow, the liquid needs to be between 115 and 125°F (46 and 52°C). 

4. To mix by hand: Add the warm liquid and the egg to the flour and stir with the wooden spoon until a rough, shaggy dough forms. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.

5. Knead the dough with your hands. It will be sticky at first, but resist the urge to add more flour. First, gather the dough together. Next, using the heel of one hand, push the top part of the dough away from you. Fold that piece over the part of the dough nearest you. Give the dough a quarter turn clockwise and repeat. Keep kneading until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky, about 10 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball. Proceed as directed in step 6.
4. To mix with a stand mixer: Fit the mixer with the dough hook. With the mixer on medium-low speed, slowly pour the warm milk mixture into the flour mixture and add the egg. Mix until the flour is completely incorporated. 

5. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the dough is smooth and elastic and pulls away from the bottom of the bowl (a little will stick to the sides), about 5 minutes. If the dough begins to climb the hook, stop the mixer and scrape the dough back into the bowl, repeating as needed. Don’t venture too far away while the dough is mixing, as the mixer might dance around on the counter because of the large amount of dough. Proceed as directed in step 6.

6. Let the dough rise: Scoop up the dough and shape it into a ball. Lightly grease the bowl and plop the dough back into it. Cover the top securely with plastic wrap. Let the covered dough rise in a warm spot until nearly doubled in size, 45 to 55 minutes (see oven note above).

7. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Whisk until well blended. Set aside. Lightly grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish (I use a deep glass quiche dish). Turn the dough out onto a clean surface (there’s no need to flour; the dough is soft but not sticky) and press down gently to deflate it. Roll out the dough into a 12-by-17-inch rectangle. Use your hand to stretch the dough gently when necessary. Pour the browned butter into the center of the rectangle and spread evenly over the dough with a spatula (a rubber one is fine, but I use a small offset spatula). Don’t worry if a little spills over the edge. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the butter, spreading with your hand, if necessary.

7. Starting on a short side, roll up like a jelly roll. Pinch the long seam of the dough to the roll to seal. Position the roll, seam side down, on the work surface and cut into slices 1 inch wide. Arrange the slices, cut side up, in the prepared pan, forming rows. Scoop up any escaped filling (I just used my knife) and sprinkle it over the rolls. Spray the tops lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and let the rolls rise in a warm spot until they’re about 1½ times their original size and have risen about two-thirds of the way up the sides of the baking dish (they won’t yet fill the dish), about 40 minutes.

8. While the rolls are rising, prepare the glaze. In a small bowl, combine the confectioners’ sugar, cream, and vanilla. Stir until well blended, smooth, and thick. Cover with plastic wrap and stow at room temperature until ready to serve. Position an oven rack on the middle rung. Heat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

9. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the rolls until they are puffed and well browned, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer the baking dish to a rack and let cool slightly. Check the consistency of the glaze; it should form a thick ribbon when it is dropped from a spoon. If it’s too thick, add a drop or two more cream. Serve the rolls warm with a thick ribbon of glaze over each roll.


Things you can do ahead:

• Prepare the dough through step 6, but let rise until only about 1½ times its original size, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate the dough for up to 24 hours before proceeding with the recipe. It will continue to rise slowly in the fridge.

• Prepare the dough through step 7, but let the rolls rise until only about 1½ times their original size, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate the rolls for up to 12 hours before proceeding with the recipe. Remove from the fridge and set on the counter while heating the oven.

• Prepare the rolls through step 9 and let cool completely. Freeze the rolls in a heavy-duty freezer bag for up to 2 months.

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