Maple-Glazed Cinnamon Rolls
Sometimes I have to remind myself that Sundays are designed specifically for getting nothing done. Sabbath. Plans foiled in favor of rest. It's Super Bowl Sunday. There’s a party on the docket later but would it be horribly anti-social and sealing the deal on my single-dom if I passed?
Well, I hope not. Cause it’s four days later and I can tell you that I passed. Instead I spent all weekend in cinnamon roll recipe test mode for a job next week catching snippets of the game but mostly consumed with rolling dough and taking pic’s. It was the perfect weekend for such a thing with gray skies and pouring down rain. I didn't even mind so much that it was work related. And I think I found the winner.
In all transparency I've never loved cinnamon rolls. I know. Don't worry...the story ultimately ends differently here. But I’ve never actually even really liked them. For all of my fascination and obsession with the art of making breakfast pastry, I don’t actually prefer to consume it. Doughnuts, cinnamon rolls, it’s all lost on me. For a period of several years I worked on a team for a client that had Cinnabons on the menu and I LOATHED them for all the painstaking manipulation we had to go through to make them camera-pretty. Pins and paper towels and hot-ass sticky filling burning your fingers. If I never saw another cinnamon roll in my life after that I would only be so happy. Once again work has brought me around to them. I’m sure it was only a matter of time.
I’m not much of a recipe tester either although sometimes it comes with the territory. I don’t have an inner science geek that enjoys the whole hypothesis and testing process. It's expensive, time consuming, and frankly I just prefer that things work the first time around so we can get on with it. However, I will concede that sometimes (oftentimes) little gems of pastry know-how really do come out of the process. Like the fact that brushing the inside of the dough with either half and half or butter before adding the filling will yield very different results. So for the remainder of this post, I'm gonna set the usual life/emotional processing aside and instead we can put on our food styling hats. Maybe I should say aprons. Whatever. Sort of seems like a waste pairing such romantic pictures with a more technical post but I’m going to walk you through how I got here from both a food styling and a flavor perspective regardless. If you've never made cinnamon rolls, I hope this will take some of the intimidation out of the process because knowledge is power. And fear is no reason to shy away from something that holds the potential for such joy.
I made two batches (it was an expedited testing process.) The first round of rolls got a light coat of very soft butter on the inside before layering it with the filling which ultimately created a slippery slope during the baking process. For the most part it all ended up on the bottom of the pan (for the love of God don’t just spray your pan…line it with parchment). At first I counted this a malfunction (and for photo purposes it was) until I threw all gluten-free caution to the wind and tore into one. All that filling sinking to the bottom created a thick layer of cinnamon caramel and a sort of reverse right-side-up sticky bun. Mmmhmm. Clearly this was no malfunction and apparently I do love cinnamon rolls. A lot. Like texting my neighbor with my mouth still full because someone else HAS to experience this right now love them. Pretty sure I said this about something else I made awhile back (the GF Kabocha bread?) but this is easily the best thing I've ever baked. At minimum it ties for first. Turns out what I don’t love is previously-frozen, commercially-produced, chemical-laden little pucks.
All flavor aside the filling still needed some “fixing” for the picture. Turns out brushing the inside of the dough with half and half before sprinkling it with the filling keeps it in place during baking. Thank you King Arthur Flour. Apparently the proteins in the milk give the filling something to hang on to while it’s in the oven. Science, you guys. I got A’s in English. End lesson: for flavor and ultimate goo factor, use butter in the filling. For picture perfect rolls with perfectly distributed filling, go with half and half.
My second test conclusion was this: Refrigerating the rolls overnight made for better flavor and a softer roll but baking them same day made for a "prettier" result. I’m not sure if I over-proofed them somewhere along the way in the overnight process but the dough didn’t bake up as smooth and supple as the day-of rolls. So with these it’s a bit of a choose your own adventure. No right answer, just preference. When I make them again I’ll go butter on the inside and let them rest overnight. If you want them to look like these pictures, go with half and half and bake them the same day. That's how I'll do them next week.
Generally I’d just slather on some cream cheese frosting and call it a day but one of the visual standards we’re going for is a roll that glistens. Since bread doesn’t naturally do that, the answer then had to be some kind of edible glaze. A buttery maple glaze. On a whim a shot of olive oil found its way into the Neufchatel frosting in hopes to keep it from cracking. This troubleshooting process was getting more indulgent by the minute.
Finally, how do you know when bread is done? Easy. Once it’s golden brown and right around the recommended baking time take a thermometer, stab it in the middle, and if you reach 190 degrees and the temperature is still rising, it’s done.
The entire recipe from brioche to frosting came together brilliantly to use up that entire pint of half and half so it doesn’t languish half-full in the refrigerator. I swapped it for the milk because richer is better, right? And some of the all purpose flour for pastry flour because softer is better, right? Somewhere there's a food scientist face-palming at those assumptions I'm sure. Can't say it didn't work though. Wish me luck next week. Even if the client doesn't love them (although I'm really hoping they do), I'd say they're a thing of beauty.
Softest maple-glazed Cinnamon Rolls with olive oil cream cheese frosting
This recipe is based off of the one from Cooks Country. The rich, buttery brioche dough (which is a pleasure in itself to make) could potentially double down for all kinds of delicious things like cinnamon raisin bread. Keep it in your back pocket for whatever kind of filling inspires you.
For the brioche
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees and then turn it off. In the microwave heat the half & half to between 110-120 degrees. Sprinkle the yeast over and whisk to combine. Allow the yeast to develop for about 10 minutes or until foamy. In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and add to the yeast mixture. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, blend together the flours, sugar, cornstarch and salt. With the mixer on low add the yeast mixture in a slow, steady stream. Continue to mix on low until the dough comes together in one mass. Pinch off tablespoon-sized pieces of butter with your hand and slowly add them one at a time to the bowl allowing the dough to absorb most of it before adding the next piece (about 10-15 seconds between additions.) Once you've added all the butter, reserve the paper (you'll see), increase the speed to medium-low and knead for 10 minutes. You may need to add a handful or two of flour around the edges of the bowl to help it come together in the end but the dough should be slack.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead a few times to create a smooth ball. Scrape the mixer bowl clean and run the butter wrapper over the inside to grease. Return the dough to the mixer bowl, cover with plastic, and place inside the warm (but now off!) oven. Prop the door for a few if it's still very warm inside. Allow the dough to rise for 1 1/2 - 2 hours or until doubled in size.
While the dough rises:
Make the filling by whisking together the brown sugar, cinnamon, cloves and salt. Set aside.
Make the glaze by melting the butter and maple syrup in a small saucepan over low heat. Add the brown sugar and whisk to combine. Bring to a simmer and whisk in the half and half. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat, stir in the sea salt and set aside.
Make the frosting by whirling all ingredients in the food processor until smooth adding additional half and half or powdered sugar to desired consistency.
Once the dough has risen:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll into an 18 x 12 inch rectangle with the long end facing you. Brush the dough all over with the half and half and sprinkle generously with the brown sugar filling smoothing it with your hand to create and even layer. Gently roll into a log. Using twine, unflavored floss, or a knife cut into 12 rolls. Transfer rolls to prepared dish so that they're just barely touching, gently cover with plastic wrap and set aside for 25-30 minutes or until the dough has puffed and the rolls are snuggled up next to each other. Remove the plastic and bake for 25-28 minutes until golden brown and a thermometer reads 190 degrees and rising. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack.
Re-warm the glaze adding a tablespoon or two of half and half to loosen it up if necessary. Brush onto the warm buns and allow to cool for 15 minutes before frosting.
For the brioche
3/4 cup (6 fl ounces) half & half
1 packet (2 1/4 ounces) active dry yeast
3 eggs, room temperature
2 1/2 cups best quality all purpose flour
2 cups pastry flour plus more for dusting surface
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter, softened
For the filling
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, loosely packed
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup half & half or melted butter (see post)
For the glaze
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons maple syrup or agave
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup half and half
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the Frosting
4 ounces Neufchatel or cream cheese, softened
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon half and half
1 tablespoon olive oil