Everyone has a different compass when it comes to the perfect cinnamon roll: doughy, cakey, sticky, glazed, no glaze, high, low, crunchy, squishy… This is an adaptation of a recipe I picked up in culinary school, one that has become our household Easter ritual. They’re a nice balance of all of the above attributes, and go together pretty easily, so they’re just right for holidays & events. Bonus: you make the dough ahead of time, so that in the morning, you just have to roll, fill, & slice, a process that takes all of half an hour. Make a pot of coffee while you’re waiting for them to rise, set the table while they’re in the oven, & prepare to be the Big Breakfast Hero.
The night before:
1 1/4 c milk
4 T unsalted butter
1/2 t salt
1/3 c sugar
2 t vanilla extract
1/4 cinnamon, nutmeg, or allspice
2 1/2 t instant yeast
4 c all purpose flour, more as needed
Warm the milk, butter, & salt in the microwave just long enough to melt the butter; the mixture should be cuddly warm, not hot. In your stand mixer bowl or a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, & vanilla, then add the warm milk mixture & stir to combine. Add your spice of choice, about 3 cups of flour, & the yeast, & stir on low with a dough hook or a sturdy wooden spoon to combine. Add your remaining flour, 1/4 c or so at a time, mixing well between additions, until you have a smooth, soft, mostly-not-sticky dough. Knead on the machine or by hand for another 2 minutes, then cover your bowl & let the dough rest for about ten minutes to let the flour hydrate.
Knead your dough a little longer, adding flour if needed to produce a dough that is deliciously supple & smooth but firm enough that you can turn it out onto a floured counter without it oozing all over the place. Knead your dough a few turns just to make sure it’s nice & smooth, then return it to your mixer bowl.
Cover your dough with plastic/beeswax wrap/a cheap shower curtain & put it in the fridge to rest overnight. (You can absolutely make the dough & bake your cinnamon rolls in the same day; just let the dough rise in a cool place for a few hours until doubled in size. Chilled dough is much easier to shape than warm dough, so pop it in the fridge for the last hour or so before you want to start shaping it.)
In the morning:
Oil a 9×13-inch casserole dish
6 T unsalted butter
1 C brown sugar, dark or light
1 T ground cinnamon
1/4 t salt
(If you like super goopy, sticky bun style rolls, double the filling amounts)
Melt the butter in a medium mixing bowl, then add the remaining ingredients & mix into a smooth, runny paste.
Pull your chilled dough from the bowl onto a floured counter & pat it into a rough rectangle. Dust well with flour & roll out to a rectangle about 18×13 inches (the size of a half sheet pan, if that’s a good reference for you), rotating often to make sure the dough isn’t sticking to the counter. the final dough should be about 1/4 inch thick.
Using a spatula or large spoon, spread the butter & sugar filling evenly over your dough, leaving a one-inch border along one long edge.
Starting at the other long edge, roll up your dough gently but firmly into a long, even cylinder, tugging on the bare corners to keep them squared up & even. Pinch the edge into the roll to close the seam, & give the whole thing a gentle roll back & forth to even out any thicker areas & make sure nothing’s sticking.
Using a serrated knife & a gentle touch, cut the cylinder into fifteen even slices & arrange them cut side up in your oiled dish, 3 rows by five rows. (I try to put the larger slices at the edges & the smaller ones in the middle, to help things cook more evenly.) They will look ridiculously professional, so revel in that for a minute.
Cover the dish gently with plastic wrap or a clean tea towel & let rise at room temperature for about half an hour, until your slices have plumped nicely & started to fill in the gaps. Preheat your oven to 325F.
When your rolls are ready, bake for about forty minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Look for golden tops & just a little pale dough hiding in the joins between the rolls. If you’re fussy about doughy middles, push gently on the center of one of the rolls in the middle of your dish; if it is firm & springs back, you’re good to go. If you like doughy middles, pull your rolls before they firm up completely, after about 35 minutes.
Let cool at room temperature for at least twenty minutes unless you like awful heartburn.
2 T unsalted butter, very soft
4 T Greek yoghurt or cream cheese, room temperature
Pinch of salt
A splash of vanilla extract
Powdered sugar as needed
In a medium bowl, whisk together the butter, yoghurt/cream cheese, salt & vanilla until smooth. Add powdered sugar a spoonful at a time until your favorite consistency & sweetness is achieved; keep tasting it as you go, erring on the side of not-as-sweet. Chill the icing for a few minutes to help it thicken up a bit.
Cut your rolls apart & serve bottoms up, showing off that sugary glaze, & scraping up any extra that gets left behind in the pan. Let each person add icing as they see fit, because life’s too short for unsatisfactory icing experiences. Eat these in 3-4 days, & keep them wrapped tightly to prevent them drying out, but I don’t remember stale cinnamon rolls ever being a problem…