Did you do all of your holiday shopping online this year? I am usually the person who figures out exactly the last moment Amazon can deliver before Christmas. Then I wait until that very last minute to order gifts. Amazon isn’t as reliable as they used to be. “Two Day Shipping” sometimes means a week. So this year I went old school and actually went shopping. In person. At the mall. It wasn’t the sea of humanity that I’d remembered. Yes, the parking lot was a travesty, but overall it wasn’t that bad. In some ways it felt festive. People standing in lines to purchase Buy One Get One Free merchandise. everything at Gymboree was on sale. People out and about trying to make some Christmas magic happen for their loved ones.
Walking through the mall the wonderful smell of Cinnabon hit us right in the face. When was the last time you answered the call of Cinnabon? For me it was easily YEARS since the last time I spent enough time in a mall to even consider it. Maybe it was nostalgia for mall shopping. Perhaps I just needed a Diet coke and didn’t want to deal with the food court. For whatever reason my husband and I ended up getting a Cinnabon that day in the mall.
Grabbing a couple of forks, extra napkins and we quickly found a table. Lifting the lid and smelling the wonderful cinnamon and sugar smell, we just knew we were in for an amazing treat. We just knew. With mischievous smiles on our faces we dug in and I was immediately underwhelmed. What happened?!?! It smelled SO SO Good. Like the best smell in the world. The roll itself was also beautiful. But the taste. I took another bite, because obviously that first disappointing bite was a fluke. Yep. Still awful. The roll itself wasn’t fluffy. It felt heavy — like it’s only purpose was to hold the cinnamon and the icing. BUT THE ROLL IS THE BEST PART OF THE CINNAMON ROLL.
We threw the rest of the cinnamon roll away and immediately I texted my brother:
Modest, much? Yes, my brother has me in his phone as “Sister- Woman” and yes that is a photo of him pretending to choke me at my law school graduation. Inside joke, I promise.
The key to a great cinnamon roll is all about making an amazing dough. It’s all about the dough, baby! Everything else is extra. Making this recipe was about redemption. Why waste calories on things that don’t actually taste good? A legit cinnamon roll needs to have 1) an amazing fluffy roll 2) a balanced filling and 3) dang good icing.
1. An enriched dough with a 1/2 cup of cornstarch means that your dough will be like eating an actual pillow. The center of the cinnamon rolls is soft and melts right on your fork, while the outsides are just firm enough to hold the whole thing together.
2. The additional step of browning your butter makes a world of difference. It takes the filling from ordinary and elevates it to an experience. The nuttiness of the browned butter seems to offset the sweetness of the brown sugar and makes the cinnamon the true star.
3. Cream. Cheese. Do I need to say more?
I adapted my recipe from the Cooks Illustrated Baking Book. Cooks Illustrated cookbooks are the best because they explain why the recipe works. I *love* knowing why things work. Be warned, this recipe isn’t a quick one. The dough requires two rises for a total of 3 hours. It’s worth it, I promise. You can start the recipe the night before. In the morning just, set them out on the counter for the final rise at room temperature. Sheer perfection.
Brown Butter Cinnamon Rolls
A classic cinnamon roll made with an enriched dough, brown butter filling and cream cheese icing.
For the Dough
- 4 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup cornstarch
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ tsps sea salt
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 2 ¼ tsp instant yeast
- 3 large eggs (room temperature)
- 12 tbsps unsalted butter (cut into 12 pieces and softened)
For the Filling
- 5 tbsps unsalted butter
- 1 ½ cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsps cinnamon
- ¼ tsp salt
For the glaze
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 4 ounces cream cheese (softened)
- 1 tbsp whole milk
- 2 tsps vanilla extract
- ¼ tsp sea salt
Make the Dough
- In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, stir together the flour, cornstarch, sugar and sea salt.
- In a small saucepan warm the whole milk to 110 degrees F. Pour the warmed milk into a measuring cup and stir in the instant yeast until it dissolves. Then beat in the eggs.
- Turn the stand mixer on the lowest setting and slowly pour the milk mixture into the flour. Increase the speed by 1 and stir until a dough comes together. Add the softened butter a piece at a time, mixing until each piece is incorporated before adding the next piece. Knead the dough on a medium speed for about 10 minutes, or until the dough comes away from the bowl.
- Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. On a clean work surface scrape the dough out of the mixing bowl and shape into a ball by folding each corner into the middle and pressing the dough down in the center. Place the dough ball, seam side down in the greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place the dough in a warm spot (75 to 80 degrees) to rise for 2 hours or until it doubles in size.
Make the Filling
- In a small saucepan brown the butter over medium heat. Stir the butter frequently and remove from heat once the butter begins to brown and smells slightly nutty. Set aside to cool.
- In a medium bowl whisk together the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt.
Assemble the Rolls
- Prepare a 9×13 baking dish with an aluminum foil sling by laying two long pieces of foil perpendicular to the pan, allowing the foil to hang over the sides. Spray the foil with non-stick cooking spray.
Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour and roll the dough into a 18-inch square. Brush the brown butter evenly across the dough leaving a ½ inch border on the edges. Evenly sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture on the dough. Taking care to make sure every inch of dough has filling. Roll the dough from the side closest to you in a tight cylinder. Press the dough at the end together creating a tight seam.
Using a bench scraper cut the rolls into 15 1 ½ inch pieces and place in the prepared pan. Cover the pan with plastic wrap* and let the dough rise for 1 hour or until the rolls are doubled in size.
Make the Glaze
- In a medium bowl, beat together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla extract and salt until smooth.
Bake the Rolls
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the rolls for 35- 40 minutes or until the edges are browned. Spread a half cup of the glaze on the rolls immediately after the rolls come out of the oven. Let the rolls cool slightly, for 10-15 minutes before adding the remainder of the glaze.
- After cutting the rolls, cover with plastic wrap and set in refrigerator overnight. When you are ready to make them let the rolls sit on the counter at room temperature for 1 hour. Then follow the remaining instructions.