January begins with New Year’s resolutions and good intentions, but by mid-January it’s about comfort – namely comfort foods. It’s cold outside. The weather is gray and dreary and all we want to do is stay inside in our pajamas and cozy up on the couch with a good book or movie. Life says we have places to go and things to do during the week, but the weekends are our own. So at my house, to warm up our kitchen, bodies and souls, we make sweet, gooey, smells-so-good-you-can-hardly-wait-to-have-one, cinnamon rolls. Eat one of these and your January morning will feel much more bearable — and you can even stay in your pajamas.
I’ve been making these cinnamon rolls for more than ten years and have become a bit famous for them with my family, friends and overnight house guests. They are simply wonderful and the epitome of comfort food. What makes these rolls so outstanding is the dough. It all begins with Hodgson Mill Best For Bread Flour. This high protein, high gluten flour allows the dough to become soft, supple and easily manageable. It’s a baker’s delight to work with– not too sticky, not too firm, rolls just right and slices like a dream. As the rolls bake, they turn into tender spirals of sweet, sticky cinnamon heaven. Hot from the oven, a delicious cream cheese frosting is spread on top. Cold January mornings never tasted so good.
If you are an early riser, you can make these cinnamon rolls first thing in the morning (allow about 2 ½ hours) or for those of us who like to sleep in, they can be put together the night before and baked in the morning. I use my bread machine to prepare the dough, but you can use a stand mixer or even knead it by hand. The ingredients are pretty straightforward, but it’s important to make sure that the milk is bathwater warm (test it with your finger) and the eggs are room temperature. The un-cracked eggs can be set in a bowl of warm water for five minutes while you get the rest of the ingredients together if you forget to set them out in advance. The inside of the eggs warms up pretty quickly this way and it takes just about a minute in the microwave for the milk to reach the right temperature. I prefer using whole milk, but any percent other than fat-free will work. Set out 1/3 cup of butter in a small dish to soften while you wait for the dough.
About an hour and a half later, when the dough is ready, dump it out onto a floured pastry mat or counter top and roll it into a 16×21-inch rectangle shape. Be thankful that you used Hodgson Mill Best For Bread Flour as you are rolling. The gluten in this premium flour has done its job well. Spread on to the dough the softened butter you set out earlier. I like to use the back of a spoon to smear it all over. I also have more spoons than spatulas, so it’s easier to involve lots of little helpers when it comes to this part. My kids love to do this.
Combine 1 cup of brown sugar and 2 1/2 tablespoons of cinnamon in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture evenly over the top of the buttered dough. Butter-spreading helpers usually stick around for this part. It’s tasty, fun and means that we’re even closer to having cinnamon rolls.
Roll up the dough toward you, starting with the farthest 21-inch-wide edge from you. (Rolling toward you is the preferred method and allows you to better control the dough.) It takes a little cajoling to get the dough rolling (like my rhyme?) but it will get easier once you’ve rolled forward an inch or two. Using a sharp knife, cut the rolled dough into 12 individual rolls-about 1 ½ inches wide each. It’s helpful to make little nicks in the rolled dough with your knife before you slice (another rhyme – I’m on a roll!) so you can evenly space out the 12 individual rolls before you cut. Place the rolls in a lightly buttered, 9×13-inch baking pan. (I use a paper towel and wipe out the dish I softened the butter in and then use it to butter my pan. It’s the perfect amount.) Cover the dish with plastic wrap.
At this point, you can either allow the rolls to rise in a warm spot in your kitchen for about 45 minutes or you can put the pan of covered rolls in the refrigerator and let them slowly rise over night while you sleep and dream of warm cinnamon rolls for breakfast. If you choose this method, it is important to get the pan of rolls out of the refrigerator at least an hour before baking them. They need to come to room temperature and rise just a tad bit more. To speed things up, I usually turn on my oven to 350˚F for about two minutes, turn it off and put the covered pan of rolls inside the oven where it’s slightly warm. Either way, when the rolls have nearly doubled in size, bake them in a preheated 400o F oven for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, make the cream cheese frosting. As soon as the pan comes out of the oven, spread the frosting all over the rolls. It will melt and ooze into all of the wonderful cinnamon sugary crevices and seal the deal on total deliciousness.
Hand off the frosting spatula to someone who can’t wait a minute longer to start enjoying a cinnamon roll, and then get ready for breakfast. Your kitchen will soon be crowded with anyone and everyone within smelling distance. Even those people who are still in bed will find their way to the kitchen. These are irresistible. Time to eat!
Get started with some mid-January comfort food and bake up a pan of cinnamon rolls. Your family will love them and so will anyone lucky enough to be around when breakfast is ready. I would be willing to bet that pretty soon you’ll be famous for them, too. Enjoy!
Mom’s Famous Cinnamon Rolls
- 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 2 ½ Tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- 3 ounces cream cheese, softened
- ¼ cup butter, softened
- 1 ½ cups powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
Put all of the ingredients for the dough in the pan of a bread machine and select the dough cycle. Press start. (How easy is that?) After the dough cycle has finished, turn the dough out onto a floured pastry mat or counter top. Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rest for 10 minutes. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar and cinnamon. Uncover the dough and roll it into a 16×21-inch rectangle. Spread the 1/3 cup of softened butter onto the dough and then sprinkle it evenly with the cinnamon sugar mixture. Roll up dough and cut into 12 rolls, about 1 ½ inches wide each. Place the rolls in a lightly buttered 9×13-inch baking pan, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until nearly doubled, about 45 minutes, or, place the covered rolls in the refrigerator to rise overnight. The rolls must be removed from the refrigerator at least one hour to allow them to come to room temperature before baking. Place the covered rolls in a slightly warm oven to speed up this process. Bake the rolls in a 400oF oven until golden brown, about 15 minutes. While the rolls are baking, beat together the softened cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, vanilla and salt. Spread the frosting all over the rolls as soon as they come out of the oven.
Makes about 12 rolls
Adapted from BHG.com