Cinnamon rolls are well worth the effort

Star Tribune (Minneapolis)September 4, 2012 

Two words: cinnamon roll.

OK, that was almost too easy. Yet today, while you're on the treadmill, or balancing your checkbook, or changing lanes, or reading a bedtime story, you will be thinking of having a cinnamon roll, ideally within the week. Maybe even sooner.

Such is the power of suggestion, especially when the suggested object is gooey and spicy and soft and sweet all at once.

Cinnamon roll.

Once you get one on a plate, you'll look for that subtle seam where the swirl begins and start pulling the roll apart in soft, cinnamony arcs, edging toward the core of the coil, which you know is the cinnamoniest and the gooiest bite, even as it's also the last.

While some may swear that there are no truly awful cinnamon rolls, there are substandard models. You know the culprits: The bread is dry or dense, the filling is stingy, or the glaze is grainy. The disappointment is tough to swallow, because cinnamon rolls aren't something we eat every day (or shouldn't, anyway).

One way of making sure you're enjoying the freshest, best rolls possible is to make them yourself. Cinnamon rolls aren't difficult, although their feather-light nature starts with a dough that admittedly is on the sticky side. While it's possible to knead it by hand, ideally with a bench scraper, life is a lot easier with a stand mixer and a dough hook.

Because the rolls are a yeast dough, and warm rolls are best, timing can be an issue since the process, from start to finish, takes about four hours. Rolls made the night before can be wrapped in aluminum foil and rewarmed in a 250-degree oven for 15 minutes. Or you can wake up before the sun to mix them, let them rise, shape, rise again and bake. Or schedule a late brunch!

Here's a neat solution: Mix the dough the night before, let it rise, then shape the rolls in a pan. Then cover the pan tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise slowly overnight in the refrigerator, although no longer than 12 hours. In other words, to serve freshly baked cinnamon rolls by 8 a.m., mix the dough the night before, let it rise for an hour, then shape the rolls, popping them into the refrigerator by 9 p.m. or so.

The next morning, take the rolls out of the fridge an hour before you plan to serve them. Replace the plastic wrap with a clean towel and let them sit for a half-hour in a warm spot while the oven preheats, then bake.

Friends, family, neighbors and co-workers will fall at your feet.


Classic cinnamon rolls

Makes 12 large roll

Ingredients

Pan sauce

4 tablespoons butter, softened

Dough

1 cup whole milk

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

3ª cups all-purpose flour

2½ teaspoons instant or bread machine yeast

Filling

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2½ tablespoons cinnamon

4 tablespoons salted butter

Frosting

1 3-ounce package cream cheese, softened

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1½ cups powdered sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

Instructions

In a 4-cup measuring cup, combine milk, butter, sugar and salt. Microwave on high for 1 minute or until warm. Whisk in the eggs. Place the flour and yeast in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add liquid ingredients. Mix on low speed, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl from time to time, until the dough forms a soft mass and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl, 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove the paddle attachment and switch to the dough hook. Knead the dough with the dough hook. Sprinkle the dough with 1 tablespoon flour, if necessary, to keep it from sticking to the sides of the bowl. When the dough is smooth, not sticky, and springs back when you press with your finger, you've kneaded enough (4 to 6 minutes). Place the dough in a large oiled bowl, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place for 45 to 60 minutes, or until doubled in size.

For the pan sauce, spread butter in the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch pan.

Transfer the dough to a floured surface and roll out into a 16-by-30-inch rectangle.

For the filling, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Spread the dough with the butter and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. Starting with the shorter end, roll up the dough to form a tight 16-inch cylinder. Cut cylinder into 12 rolls. Place in the prepared pan spiral side up. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled, 45 to 60 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 15 to 17 minutes for until lightly browned on top.

For the frosting, blend all the ingredients until smooth. Spread the frosting over the warm rolls.

This recipe is from "I Love Cinnamon Rolls," by Judith Fertig (Andrews McMeel, $19.99). The book is filled with 50 variations of the classic sticky bun.

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