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The Batter Thickens: Giant Cinnamon Rolls

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Giant Cinnamon Rolls

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"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a warm, gooey, homemade cinnamon roll will turn even the most average of mornings into a special occasion." - Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice (early draft, probably)

But seriously. Is there anything more satisfying than sinking your teeth into a warm, gooey, gigantic cinnamon roll? Ok, there probably is. But cinnamon rolls have got to be toward the top of the list. Top 10, at least.

Remember those mornings in your childhood when your mom would bake cinnamon rolls as a surprise and you would wake up to the smell wafting up to your bedroom, the spicy cinnamon tickling your nose and the cozy fragrance of freshly baked dough coaxing you awake? And how you would follow the smell down to the kitchen, see those cinnamon rolls sitting on the counter, dripping with sticky sweet icing, and just know it was going to be a special day, even if it was just a regular Saturday? Heaven.

Because cinnamon rolls are a special occasion in and of themselves, they are the ultimate way to up the ante of an occasion that's actually already special. Like a birthday. Like my mom's birthday, specifically. And if those cinnamon rolls are homemade? You just made this occasion off the charts special. Go you. Seriously. Because homemade cinnamon rolls are not easy. Worth it, definitely. But not easy.

See, to make homemade cinnamon rolls, you have to deal with yeast. I don't know about you, but working with yeast strikes fear and nerves and self-doubt into the heart of this sort-of seasoned baker (see: Things That Stress Me Out, Chapter 6: Working With Yeast). I don't have that much experience working with it, and in the experience I do have my results have been mixed. The first time I made pumpkin cinnamon rolls, they turned out great. The second time? Not so much. Borderline failure. Barely edible. Tragic. Heartbreaking. Spirit crushing. (No exaggeration.)

I usually leave the yeasting to Audrey, who did a bread baking science project last fall that required her to bake so many loaves of bread she pretty much earned a Master's degree in yeasting. But, since Audrey was already back in school on my mom's birthday and had things like cross country practice and homework to attend to, the yeasting responsibility fell to me.

Maybe it was just a special birthday stroke of luck or maybe I'm finally starting to get the hang of this, but the yeasting went beautifully. Seriously, I have never had yeast behave so well for me before. I felt like a proud mother, looking at my perfectly foamy yeast and my perfectly doubled-in-size cinnamon roll dough. It was very rewarding.

But not quite as rewarding as that first bite of gooey, sugary, cinnamon-y, yeasty dough the next morning. My taste buds are watering just at the memory. (The pictures aren't helping either.) Really, I don't have a whole lot more to tell you about these cinnamon rolls. You already know what I'm talking about. You know how the first bite of a warm cinnamon roll settles in your stomach like a smile from a friend and a hug from your mom rolled into one, feels like waking up to a foot of snow and no school, turns an average morning into a reminder of how the simple things can often be the most special. I don't need to tell you any of this. You know.

But what I will tell you is this: Don't let the yeast intimidate you. Sure, you can make a perfectly delicious cinnamon roll from a can of Pillsbury. But it won't be as satisfying as knowing you faced the yeast and succeeded. Take it from someone who knows.

Actually, I retract my earlier statement. I do have one more thing to tell you about these cinnamon rolls. You know what these cinnamon rolls really taste like? Victory.

- Molly

Giant Cinnamon Rolls with Buttermilk Glaze
From the Joy the Baker cookbook

For the dough:
1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup whole milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus about 3/4 cup more for kneading
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

For the filling:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup golden raisins (optional)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch ground cloves
3 tablespoons pure maple syrup
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the icing:
2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup buttermilk

To make the dough:

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast and 1/2 teaspoon of the granulated sugar. Heat 1/4 cup water to 115 degrees F. The water will feel just warm to the touch. Add to the yeast mixture, stir to combine, and let sit until frothy and foamy, about 10 minutes. If the yeast does not foam and froth, start over with new yeast.

Add remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, milk, brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk. Beat with a wire whisk until well combined. Fit the bowl onto the mixer along with a dough hook. Add the 2 3/4 cups flour and the salt and mix on medium speed until the dough just begins to come together. Turn the mixer to medium-high and knead the dough for 4 minutes.

Add the softened butter and continue to knead for 6 minutes. The dough will be wet and sticky. Place the dough on a well-floured surface and knead 1/3 to 1/2 cup flour into the dough. The dough will still be just slightly sticky. That's okay. Set dough to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in size.

While the dough rises, make the filling.

To make the filling:

In a medium bowl, combine sugars, pecans, raisins (if desired), cinnamon, salt, and cloves. Stir in the maple syrup and set aside.

When the dough has doubled in size, dump it out of the bowl onto a heavily floured work surface. Gently knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, adding about 3 tablespoons of flour as needed. Knead the dough for about 2 minutes. Place a clean kitchen towel over the dough and let it rest on the counter for 5 minutes.

Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10x20-inch square. Turn the dough so that the short sides are parallel to you. You're going to roll from the short side of the dough.

Brush the dough with 1/4 cup of the melted butter. You'll use the rest of the butter after the rolls are baked. Pour all of the filling onto the dough. Spread evenly, leaving a 1-inch border at one of the short edges of the dough so the roll can be properly sealed. Lightly press the filling into the dough.
Roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Pinch all along the edge to seal. Place dough, seam side down, on a cutting board. Cut roll into 8 equal slices.

Arrange the slices, cut side up, in a greased 9x13-inch baking pan. Each roll will have a few inches of space on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and leave to rest in a warm place for 2 hours. You can also refrigerate the rolls overnight. Just be sure to bring them to room temperature before baking the next morning.

Place a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Bake until golden brown and bubbling, about 30 minutes. Drizzle with the remaining 1/4 cup melted butter just after the rolls come out of the oven.

To make the icing:

While the baked rolls cool slightly, whisk together powdered sugar and buttermilk until smooth. Drizzle over the warm rolls and serve.

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