I still remember waking up on Christmas morning as a child and being so full of excitement and joy.
Not only were there presents to be opened, but the mouthwatering sweet and spicy aroma of homemade cinnamon rolls made their way into every nook and cranny of our house.
Tempting us out of our beds and into the kitchen, everyone answered the irresistible call of the cinnamon rolls.
Being the food lover that I am, I’m not entirely sure which excited me more as a child, cinnamon rolls or presents. As an adult, hands down, the prize would go to the cinnamon rolls.
In fact, I probably ate my weight in these delicious pastries when I was pregnant with my son. Thank goodness I also craved spinach salads. You know, so I didn’t feel guilty about eating all the sweet confections…
Enchiladas were a staple in my diet, too. The things you crave during pregnancy!
Regardless of the occasion, these cinnamon rolls are the perfect touch to brighten any day. Declared “as good as Cinnabon” by several who have sampled them, they’re adapted from a recipe by Molly Wizenberg, author of Orangette.
Ready to start baking?
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Mise en Place
Gather and prep all ingredients for the dough.
Measure out your unbleached all-purpose flour. Place 1 cup in one bowl, and 2 cups in another.
Use a glass liquid measuring cup to measure out 1 cup whole milk, and slice 3 tablespoons of butter. Measure your sugar and salt.
Spray a large mixing bowl with oil, being sure to coat it entirely and evenly to keep the dough from sticking later on. Set aside.
Step 2 – Make Your Dough
Add the sliced butter to the glass measuring cup of milk. Place in the microwave and heat for about 30-45 seconds. Stir and check to see if the butter has melted.
I needed an additional 15 seconds here since my butter was very cold when I began. Some microwaves are stronger than others, which may affect this timing as well. The butter should be melted, but the milk should not be too hot.
You want to avoid bringing the milk to a boil and scalding it. A temperature of 120-130°F is what you are aiming for.
Set up your stand mixer with a paddle attachment and add the milk/butter mixture, 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 egg, and 2 envelopes of yeast to the large mixing bowl.
Turn your mixer on low and mix for about 3 minutes. Pause and scrape down the sides and the paddle attachment a few times to make sure everything is mixed thoroughly.
Mix in your remaining flour on low and watch as your dough forms.
When the dough starts pulling away from the sides, and a mass (i.e. a ball) develops, it is ready to be taken out of the mixer.
If you notice the dough is still sticky at this point or it is not pulling away from the edges, slowly add 1 extra tablespoon of flour at a time until the appropriate consistency is achieved.
Step 3 – Knead and Proof
Flour a pastry mat or sterilized countertop and place the dough on your work surface.
Begin kneading on the floured surface, taking notice of the texture. It should not be sticky at all. If you find that it is, add a little more flour to your surface and work it into the dough.
Kneading the dough is essential. It strengthens the gluten, which is the substance that gives bread its structure and texture. Kneading tightens these proteins, causing them to line up and lending stability to your bread.
Not sure how to tell when you are done kneading? Look for a smooth texture, a dough that will hold its shape/form, and when poked, the indentation will bounce back and fill quickly.
Once your dough is ready, form it into a ball and place it in the greased mixing bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel.
Be sure to place the bowl in a warm place so the yeast will be active and the dough will rise. My house tends to be drafty, so I like to turn on my gas logs and place the bowl off to the side to use the radiant heat to warm the area around the bowl. This ensures my dough will be ready in the appropriate time allotment.
Give the dough 2 hours to rise. It should double in size in this time. When there is one hour left, take out 1 stick of butter and 4 ounces of cream cheese from the refrigerator and set them aside so they can come to room temperature.
About 10 minutes out, mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together in a small bowl.
Step 4 – Roll, Fill, and Cut
Lightly flour your pastry mat and place the dough ball on top. Punch down the dough, working some of the air out of it.
Roll dough into a 15-by-11-inch rectangle about 1/8 inch thick.
Spread the butter evenly over the dough, being careful to stay away from the edges.
Sprinkle the brown sugar/ cinnamon mixture evenly over the top of the butter and roll the dough up, being careful to keep the roll tight. A loose roll can allow the filling to fall out, and no one wants that!
Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into ½-inch slices. You should get about 18 rolls.
Grease two 9-inch round ceramic or glass baking dishes and place the pinwheels inside. Don’t be afraid to let these touch – there shouldn’t be any excess room in the pan. This helps the treats keep their shape.
If you don’t have ceramic dishes, metal cake pans should work. But keep in mind that this will affect the bake time.
Cover with plastic wrap, then cover with a towel, and place them back in the warm area to rise for about 45 minutes. They should double in size again.
Preheat your oven to 375°F after about 30 minutes.
Step 5 – Bake and Glaze
Once your pastries have risen, remove the plastic wrap and towels.
Place in the preheated oven and bake on the center rack for 20 minutes. The tops should be golden brown and a toothpick, when inserted, should be clean when removed.
Remove from the oven and immediately place the inverted pans on a wire rack so the confections can cool. This will aid in stopping the cooking process, since ceramic and glass both retain heat fairly well. We want to avoid burning our treats.
While they are cooling, combine the cream cheese, confectioners’ sugar, butter, and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl. Using your electric mixer, beat until smooth and creamy.
A delicious option for the glaze is also orange zest, so get out the microplane if you have some citrus on hand. This really brightens the icing and adds a tremendous burst of flavor. Substitute orange extract for vanilla extract and add about 1/2 teaspoon of fresh orange zest if choosing this option.
When cool, flip the cinnamon buns right side up. We aren’t going for room temperature here – they should still be a little warm.
With a small flexible spatula, spread the glaze on the pastry. Feel free to garnish with raw pecan pieces, raisins, or any other topping of choice.
You can serve these warm from the oven or at room temperature. Warming them in the microwave for 8-10 seconds seems to reheat them perfectly to achieve that fresh from the oven taste.
Breakfast Is Served
For a more balanced and complete meal, serve alongside fruit or a protein like my favorite homemade crustless quiche. I enjoy raw berries in the morning and a delicious cup of hot steaming coffee.
Whatever your breakfast plans are for the weekend, it’s time to change them:
You want to make these cinnamon rolls – trust me. With a little work, a little patience, and a little trust, you’ll find these doughy pastries completely worthy of your efforts, and everyone you give them to will, too.
So give them a shot. And tell us: what was the best praise you received after making these treats? Share your story in the comments below!
Don’t forget to Pin It!
Photos by Leslie Morrison, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Shanna Mallon on September 12th, 2008. Last updated: November 11, 2020 at 12:41 pm.
*Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Leslie Morrison
Leslie is a food photographer and writer. She enjoys spending time in her kitchen and behind the lens of her camera and working on her food blog, Deliciously Plated (deliciouslyplated.com). When she isn’t working, she is spending time with her son and her husband.