The Most Perfectest Cinnamon Rolls Ever
I would love to start this post with something like, “I rarely eat sweets, because they’re bad for me and I have incredible self control.” But that’s a total lie. At least if feels like one, because given the choice, I’d eat sugar in every form, all day long. Me and Buddy the Elf, dietary pioneers.
But there is truth in there too. I love sweets. And I will never ever live a life that prohibits me the things that I love most. I do try to limit them to special occasions, and to sweets that are truly special. So no, I’m not likely to grab a candy bar at the checkout isle, but I am all about the special sweet treats that I love.
For me, cinnamon rolls are the pinnacle. I love them. It’s bread and sugar all mixed together, two of my favorite things. But I’m also very particular, and my cinnamon rolls are the only ones that really do “it” for me. See, I don’t like a cinnamon roll that is truly just “bread” rolled out. I like a flaky texture, with layers. But not so many layers that it’s really just an overgrown croissant. In fact, I kind of hate croissants, there’s no bite to them. It’s like eating crumbs. Or sand. Or pubic hair. I want some bite and chew, some flake, some crunch, some gooey sweetness. It’s tough.
Before you ask, let me tell you that I am adamantly opposed to frosting on cinnamon rolls. But I make it for others. I figure that if I’m going to get so excited about what I like, everyone else should get that too.
So, my cinnamon rolls are the love child of a classic croissant done in a lazy and half-assed way, with a fully developed and chewy sourdough loaf. They are amazing. I mean, really, I’d put them up against anyone’s. People beg for them, I can use them to bribe people.
This is the first time I’m writing down the recipe. Which is really more of a method.
And yes, they make any occasion special, so it’s always an appropriate day to make them.
Mine all start with a sourdough starter that my daughter made from scratch at summer camp in Vermont about 5 years ago. So I start the dough about 36 hours before I want to eat them. If I want to eat them on Saturday morning, I start the dough on Thursday night.
You can, however, start with ANY recipe for white bread that you like. And even if you don’t have a sourdough starter, it’s worth starting it early and letting it get a little sour. If, however, you decide Friday night that you want these on Saturday morning, it’s not a big deal, it’ll still work just fine. It just won’t be sour.
MAKE BREAD DOUGH.
Pretty much any recipe you find that you like. I use roughly 1/2 – 3/4 a cup of flour per cinnamon roll that I want to wind up with. Add liquid until it’s the right texture and let it rise overnight. I make bread so often that I just eyeball things, but if you want a recipe, here’s one that I think is pretty good. I would probably add a little brown sugar and some soft butter, cuz we’re making sweets here!
ASSEMBLE CINNAMON ROLLS.
I do this the night before, so that I can just wake up in the morning, pull them out of the fridge and let them wake up while the oven preheats. But if you start the dough the night before, you can roll them out in the morning and just have them a little bit later….
1. Roll out the dough until it is about 1/4 – 1/2 an inch thick. You want to make a very even rectangle that can easily be folded in half.
2. Cover half of the dough in thinly sliced butter. If you want to be really anal about it (also known as doing it it the proper way for making pastry if you want to be all impressive and shit) you can take cold butter and roll it between 2 sheets of waxed paper until it is one even sheet of butter that perfectly fits half of the dough. (Actually, if you were doing it properly, this would be a square, and you’d place the butter in the center, and fold each corner in like an envelope and…. but seriously, do not cook for people who demand this level of perfection. It’s not worth making yourself crazy to impress people like that.)
3. Sprinkle cinnamon over the whole deal, then fold the dough over in half, and get ready to fold and roll.
4. Keep folding and rolling a few times. I do the first fold from left to right (or right to left, either way.) Then roll it back out a little. Then I fold from top to bottom (or bottom to top), and roll a little. Then side to side, then top to bottom. I probably fold and roll 6 times, then roll it out into a single long strip that is about 6inches wide and however long it ends up being if it’s roughly 6 inches wide and 1/2 an inch thick. (If you’re making proper croissants or pastry for uppity people, there is a precise formula of angles and directions and number of times you’re supposed to do this. It was formulated by remarkably uptight people who will literally count the layers of flake in your pastry before deeming it good enough. Fuck those people. Do not cook for people who count the layers of flake in your pastry. They don’t deserve you.)
5. Cover it all in just so very much cinnamon and brown sugar. Like, make a complete mess, all over the place. Sometimes I cover it all before I cut strips, sometimes I do it to each strip individually, I don’t see a huge difference either way. Do what you like. But be sure there’s lots of brown sugar and cinnamon in each roll.
6. Roll them up and put them in a baking dish, then in the fridge over night. (Unless you’re doing this in the morning, in which case put them on the counter to rest and rise for an hour or so.)
(DIGRESSION, let’s take a moment to understand why we did all that folding and rolling….) Each time you roll and fold, what you do is distribute a layer of butter between a layer of dough. In the baking process, the glutens will form a nice little dough bridge that gets crunchy and solid, over the butter, which will eventually melt away. That space where the butter was will now be air, so that’s how we create layers of flakiness. If you look closely, you can see those ridges even before you bake them. But you’ll really see them afterwards!
ALSO, and really, just as important, all that butter will melt into all that brown sugar and cinnamon, making a crumbly, chewy sweet and gooey layer. Basically, these things are almost poached in the butter… For real.
7. BAKE THEM! For me, 375 degrees is perfect. I am looking for crunchy golden-brown layers on the top, but still a little bit of give when I gently push down on them. It’s about 25 minutes, typically, but your oven (and even mine) will vary.
During the baking, every 15 minutes or so, use a turkey baster to quickly suck up the melted butter and splooge it over the top of the rolls, so that the brown sugar on top gets melted and caramelized. Trust me, it’s worth the effort.
8. Eat them, serve them, watch people moan. These are really only good fresh out of the oven. As a result, they are pretty much only ever served at my house. Every now and then I will bake them and make a mad-dash somewhere close so that they can arrive still warm at their destination. Or I will bring them and bake them elsewhere. But because they are largely “pastry” as opposed to just dough, they don’t hold up as well when they’re cold. (Most of my family disagrees with me on this and will eat them all day long, but, like I said, I’m picky. And also support the “to each their own” philosophy. If you like ’em cold, go for it.)
But do check out the flakes. I mean, is this not perfection?
If you must frost, then frost. You do you. I make a sort of modified cream cheese / butter cream thing…. 1/2 butter, 1/2 cream cheese, vanilla, cinnamon, powdered sugar and salt.
You’re welcome. And, needless to say, if I ever make these for you, I think you are very special. 😉