Cinnamon Rolls

Week Three: Breakfast Breads

I know how easy it is, on those slow weekend mornings.  You could just sleep in and take your time, because that refrigerated can of cinnamon rolls is an awfully tempting car ride away.  But if I could just try to convince you, it really, truly, honestly is worth it to go through the effort to make them from scratch.  Yes, it takes a while.  Yes, you’ll probably be very hungry by the time they’re done.  Eat a banana; they’re worth the work.  Besides, what would a group of breakfast bread recipes be without that crowning glory, the cinnamon roll?  Not much, I’ll tell you right now.


The cinnamon roll is actually a very venerable old pastry.  Well, ok, perhaps not as such; but the tradition of a sweetened dough with cinnamon certainly goes back at least to Medieval times (and possibly back to ancient Rome and Egypt!), when the rare and expensive spice was very highly revered.  That close relation, the sticky bun, was probably more widely known then, but the cinnamon roll likely came from Northern Europe, which certainly seems logical (can you imagine the Italians or Spanish eating cinnamon rolls?).  British and German immigrants brought the confection across the Atlantic to the East coast of the US, notably to Philadelphia.  And I can’t be sure, but I guess that’s where the marriage of the cinnamon roll to cream cheese icing first happened.  Nowadays, it seems you can’t throw a rock in an airport anymore without hitting a Cinnabon.  (And getting arrested probably, but that’s a different blog.)

Now, I’m not actually suggesting you make these every weekend.  They are time-consuming, I’ll give you that.  And I can hardly imagine wanting a cinnamon roll when it’s above 60 degrees outside.  But if you’ve got overnight guests, what better way to gently coax them out of bed than with the smell of fresh cinnamon rolls?  I’m reminded of the (sadly late) comedian Mitch Hedberg’s joke: “I wish they made a cinnamon roll incense because I don’t always have time to make a pan. Perhaps I’d rather light a stick and then have my roommates wake up with false hopes.”  Bless.

But there is a shortcut, my friends!  What, you think I’m actually suggesting you set an alarm on Saturday morning, just for cinnamon rolls?  Please!  Before you go out on Friday night, take twenty minutes and get the dough together, then just stick it in the refrigerator.  Leave the washing up for the morning, and Bob’s your uncle – you’re most of the way there.  When you drag out of bed in the morning, pull the dough out and set it on the counter.  Now go brush your teeth, feed the cat, whatever.  Make coffee, and get the filling together.  After about twenty minutes, it should be warm enough to roll out.  Fill the dough, roll it, cut it, and let it rise.  This is when I take my shower.  Pop them in the oven, and let the heavenly scent carry everyone out of bed and into the kitchen.  As they’re cooling, make the icing, and dig in when you just can’t wait anymore (but fair warning – the hot sugar filling is like napalm if you get into it too quickly).

If the smell hasn’t already convinced you that you’ve made the right choice, one taste will make you swear never to even look at a can of cinnamon rolls again.  Just so slightly crunchy on the outside, with a softly chewy crumb that pulls apart into those familiar curls of dough, dark on one side, dripping icing down the other side.  Buttery, rich, and full of cinnamon, they’re everything a cinnamon roll should be.  Channel your inner Martha Stewart, and give them a shot.  You’ll wish you could make these every weekend.


Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing
From Molly Wizenberg, via Bon Appétit Magazine

1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 1/2 cups (or more) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise yeast (from 2 envelopes yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray

3/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For dough:
Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. Pour into bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment. Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Add 2 1/2 cups flour. Beat on low until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into ball.

Lightly oil large bowl with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

For filling:
Mix brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl.

Punch down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. Starting at 1 long side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices (each about 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide).

Spray two 9-inch square glass baking dishes with nonstick spray. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging cut side up (there will be almost no space between rolls). Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375°F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto rack. Cool 10 minutes. Turn rolls right side up.

For glaze:
Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.


1.  If it becomes hard to roll the dough out (the dough starts pulling back when you roll it out), cover it with plastic wrap and give it a five minute nap.  The gluten will relax, and it’ll be easy as pie.
2.  The thinner you can roll the dough, the more evenly the cinnamon filling will be distributed through the roll.  Also, the softer the butter is, the better it will spread on the dough.  Don’t be tempted to mix the butter in with the sugar; it works better the way it’s written.
3.  Just because I’m a cinnamon fanatic, I added some to the dough as well.
4.   If you roll the dough up too tightly, the centers of the rolls will pop up when baked.  It’s perfect, if a little hard to handle in slices, when it’s a little loose.
5.  I didn’t have any cream cheese, and I’m not really a fan of cream cheese icing anyway; so I substituted an even mix of sour cream and plain yogurt, and omitted the butter.  It tasted wonderful!  Add 3 or 4 drops of almond extract, if you’ve got it; that gives it a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that I love in quick icings like this.

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