Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head

“Our first customers arrive at six thirty and they want our Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head and I am the one who makes them. I put the dough to rise overnight and it is huge and puffy and waiting when I get there at four-thirty.”
“I [give] myself tendonitis trying to persuade stiff, surly thirty-hour-refrigerated dough that it’s time to loosen up….but I don’t mind. I love working with yeast and flour and sugar and I love the smell of bread baking.”
-Sunshine

This is the big one. The biggest baked good in the list from a metaphorical, literal, anticipatory and alliterative perspective. They started my baked good obsession and remain my favorite food to make, sweet or savory. So I really should have built up the suspense and waited a bit to make them, but I couldn’t help it. This whole blog is an homage to these delicious creations.

But make no mistake: these babies take commitment. They require kneading and rising and assembling and patience. But the feel of warm, elastic dough under your knuckles is like the first sip of cider in the fall. The smell that wafts up from a damp washcloth after the yeast underneath has been basking in the sun is a million times better than the bread aisle at the store. And crumbling dark brown sugar and cinnamon on butter-brushed dough with your fingers is just about the best activity in the history of fingers.

Seriously, cinnamon rolls are worth the effort.

I tried a lot of recipes when I was first starting out, and I ruined a lot of batches because I didn’t know much about baking. So if it doesn’t work the first, second or fifth time, don’t despair. They’re tricky. And by batch three you’ll probably produce something that’s better than store-bought, even if it’s not exactly perfect.

So without any more ado we start with the most legendary baked good of them all:

Cinnamon Rolls as Big as Your Head

Ingredients

1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
1 cup water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
6 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoon almond extract

Filling
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 cups dark brown sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened

Icing
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese,
softened
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons milk

I so rarely buy milk I did it wrong.
I so rarely buy milk I did it wrong.

Notes on the ingredients

Yeast
Use fresh yeast. The worst part of making any kind of yeast food is waiting an hour for the bread to proof and coming back to lifeless blob of dough. Old yeast is just a bunch of dead yeast-y creatures in beige form. Fresh live yeast sometimes jumps around on its own and is a little terrifying if you think about it too hard. You can pick up a bag you will never get rid of for like $4 at Costco.

Milk
Bit of a snafu on the milk here, didn’t realize it was the wrong one until after I’d taken this picture. With the benefit of hindsight, the milk is noticeably sweeter than regular milk and might have caused the cinnamon rolls to be too sweet. Will have to investigate further.

Flour
Bread flour has more protein/gluten than all-purpose flour. It makes the dough more elastic, so the bread-y insides are fluffier and more fragrant. I usually use bread flour with yeast recipes. Supposedly you can buy vital wheat gluten to add to all-purpose flour, but I haven’t tried it yet, so I can’t recommend it until I have. This recipe works pretty well with all-purpose if it’s all you have on hand.

Directions

Warm the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Mix in the butter; stir until melted. Add water and let cool until lukewarm.

Liquids

Proof the yeast in a small bowl. For active dry yeast, the water temperature should be between 105 and 110 degrees. Especially if you’ve never proofed yeast before, it’s worth using a thermometer until you can gut check the temperature. Add 3-4 tablespoons of the milk/butter liquid along with some pinches of the sugar and stir until the yeast has dissolved. In about 5-10 minutes it should be foamy on top and triple the size. 

Delightful and a bit of a relief.

If this doesn’t happen, you either have yeast that’s too old or the temperature is off. (Too cool and the yeast won’t activate. Too hot and it kills it.)

In a large bowl, combine the milk mixture, yeast, white sugar, salt, eggs and 2 cups flour; stir well to combine.

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Stir in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, beating well after each addition.

Dough hook time

When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.

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I used the dough hook for a few minutes to cheat a bit on the kneading (I know, I know, poor form) since the dough was a bit wet.

Wet dough

Because the dough was so wet it took roughly 3/4 cup of flour to make it manageable.

Kneaded dough

Place dough into an oiled bowl with a damp washcloth over the top. Set in a warm place for 2-3 hours to rise. For simplicity, I just stuck it back in the mixer bowl and put the bowl in the sun.

Resting dough

Rising dough

While you’re waiting, you can clean a bit, watch an episode of Downton Abbey, go to the store to buy ingredients you forgot about and/or prep the filling. The difference between two and three hours is pretty much what fits into your schedule. There will be another chance for the dough to rise, so don’t stress about the timing here too much. And for cinnamon’s sake, don’t just sit around and wait–let the little yeasties to do their thing and get on with your life.

The Filling

This is the tipping point of the recipe for me. Starting from this point onward, everything is amazing. The smell of just brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl is unbelievably intoxicating. Then you melt a tablespoon of butter in the microwave and the whole kitchen starts to smell like kitchens were always meant to smell. Utterly marvelous.

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