Sunday, September 13, 2015

Little Red Hen's Best Cinnamon Rolls

Let's talk about homemade cinnamon rolls, shall we? Sometimes, they are way too dry and bland. Sometimes they taste like dough. Sometimes there is so much cinnamon and sugar that you can't see straight. Sometimes they taste like nothing good at all. And then, there are these cinnamon rolls.

Flaky, light, but with enough chewiness from caramelized sugar and cinnamon that you get that satisfying texture factor which is essential in a great cinnamon roll.  Not overly cinnamonny, an even blend of brown and white sugar which melts and leaves a subtle sugary, chewy crunch at the bottom of each roll. Oh, and there is the butter icing, and the butter mixed with the sugar!

How is it that some cinnamon rolls don't even that butter was used in the process of baking? That makes about as much sense as going to a waterpark in a swimsuit that is actually flattering, without any kids so you can actually go on all the slides, only to leave your clothes on and not get wet. No sense, my friends. Butter is better.

I learned how to make these rolls from my mom, who learned by watching my grandma. I didn't grow up measuring an exact amount of flour, or following a recipe for frosting because that's not how my mom made them. I learned how to feel and taste. The more I made the rolls, the more I could just feel when I'd added enough flour, and taste when the icing was just right. I didn't set a timer for the rolls while they rose or baked, I just kind of felt when it was time to check on them and I was usually right. And, can I just say that I think I may have gotten these rolls just right this time.

Growing up, baking and cooking was a less than precise affair with delicious results. That is part of the reason why it was a challenge to write this recipe down. Some of the success depends on just feeling it. The other reason is that paying attention and writing down details is a little bit tedious and I'm not always that patient. -sigh-

But this is worth all the effort! It is worth reading all the directions and little tips I threw in to help you along your cinnamon roll journey. If you get stuck, leave a comment and I'll see what I can do to troubleshoot with you. Oh, this will be a baking adventure, but it'll be worth it. Plus, once you master this dough recipe, you can make delicious dinner rolls, orange rolls, berry many choices. Mmmm. More about those options closer to Thanksgiving. These rolls are what the holidays smell like to me, but they are perfect for taking to the neighbors, for brunches, for teacher appreciation, family gatherings, whatever.

Seriously though, bonne chance in all the best ways. The chewy, sweet, and flaky goodness of these rolls is absolutely worth your time.

Little Red Hen's Best Cinnamon Rolls

(Yields 3 dozen massive cinnamon rolls, or 4 dozen average size rolls.)
Ingredients for rolls:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm milk
  • 1 3/4 cups warm water
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 5 tbs active yeast
  • 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 6 eggs
  • 11-13 cups all-purpose flour
Ingredients for cinnamon filling:
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • ground cinnamon, about 3 tbs, or to taste
Ingredients for butter icing:
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 tbs vanilla extract
  • 4-6 tbs milk
Step 1: Make the Dough
  1. In a stand mixer with a dough hook, combine warm milk, warm water, sugar, and yeast. Let yeast start to froth, about 3 minutes. 
  2. Add the oil, salt, and 2 cups of flour. Mix on low until barely combined- about 1 minute.
  3. Add the eggs and 2 more cups of flour and mix on low until combined.
    Too sticky. Needs more flour.
  4. Continue to add flour one cup at a time, increasing the speed of the mixer as the dough thickens. After 10 cups of flour have been added, add the remaining flour in half cup increments.The dough should be slightly sticky so that the dough sticks to your finger when you touch it, but it leaves little residue on your finger. The dough should not pull away from the side of the mixing bowl entirely, unlike bread dough. It should be rather soft, but not runny. Once the dough reaches this consistency, continue to let it knead for about 5 minutes. 
    Just right!
  5. Cover the mixing bowl with a clean hand towel and set the bowl in a warm place to let dough rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Outside is a great option in warmer weather, on a warm stove works well in cooler months. 
Step 2: Turn the Dough Into Rolls
  1. While dough raises, prepare baking pans with cooking spray or with parchment paper. For thicker, taller rolls, use 9x13 cake pans (12 to 16 rolls per pan). For wider, thinner rolls similar to sticky cinnamon bun donuts, prepare cookie sheets (6-12 rolls per pan).
  2. Melt 1/2 cup of butter and measure the sugar. Get out the cinnamon shaker.
  3. Once the dough has doubled, return the bowl to the mixer and knead the dough for about a minute. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  
  4. Lightly grease a clean counter top with vegetable oil. If a larger counter space is available, take all the dough from the mixing bowl an set it on the oiled counter. If only a small space is available, start with half of the dough. I recommend handling half the dough at at time. WAY more manageable. Note: The temperature of your counter top will affect your rolls. If your counters are too cold, the rolls will not rise as well. My mom has been known to put a space heater on the counter while the dough is rising to warm things up. In the winter, I turn up the heat in my house a few degrees and preheat my oven before I even start mixing the dough just to ensure my kitchen counters are not too cold. 
  5. With a rolling pin, flatten the dough into a rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Once flattened, pour the melted butter on the dough and spread it with your hands, taking care that the butter covers even the outside edges of the dough. (If you are only doing half of the dough at a time, of course, only use half of the butter.)
  6. Sprinkle the sugars onto the melted butter, making sure it reaches the edges of the dough.
  7. Sprinkle cinnamon onto the sugar, making sure it reaches the edges and is evenly distributed.
  8. Roll the dough up starting on one of the long sides of your dough rectangle. Be sure to catch all the melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon that may ooze out and smear it onto the rolled up dough. 
  9. Get a 1 foot length of floss or 2 feet of thread doubled up to make a 1 foot strand, Slide the thread under the dough, pull the ends of the dough up and over the rolls, and pull them tightly across each other to cut 1" thick slices of cinnamon roll. 
  10. Place the rolls into the prepared pans. Lightly press the dough with the palm of your hand to flatten out the rolls. Cover with a clean cloth and let the rolls raise in a warm until almost double, about 20 minutes. 
Step 3: Bake and Ice
  1. Place proofed rolls into 350 degree pre-heated oven on the middle rack. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown and top and centers are done. Note: An easy way to test if the rolls are done is to carefully pull at the center of one of the cinnamon rolls in the middle of the pan. If it still looks doughy, give the pan a few more minutes in the oven. If the center seems firm, then they're done!
  2. In a medium size bowl, mix the butter, powdered sugar, vanilla. Add the milk gradually until the icing reaches the desired consistency. Note: This icing is buttery. You can kind of see the butter in the icing. But when you pour it onto the hot, fresh-out-of-the oven rolls, the butter and sugar melt and the result is glorious. Feel free to use any icing or frosting recipe you like though. Cream cheese frosting is always a win. 
  3. Using a whisk or spoon, distribute icing over hot rolls. 

Bake the rolls. Share the rolls.

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