For the first time, the kitchen smelled like a real bakery today. As much as I bake (and as often as I bake), it has never smelled like a real bakery. Cinnamon rolls changed that this afternoon. A sweet, yeasty, cinnamon-spiked scent pervaded the air and I felt as though I had been transplanted to an oasis in a city, one of those tiny places you find yourself standing in front of after some random wandering through city streets, ogling the baked goods through a wall-sized window while mouth-watering odors waft from the open doorway. This afternoon, the kitchen was a place of bliss.
Cinnamon rolls have never held much appeal for me over the years. With all of the bad examples I've tried, mostly limited to the mass produced version prevalent in high school cafeterias, that comes as no surprise. To me, the idea of a cinnamon roll conjured up images of large, too sweet, boring hunks of stale bread covered in a shiny, opaque glaze that didn't even resemble something edible. Too bad no one ever thought to offer me a homemade roll. My memories for the specimen might have been a tad more favorable. Now I just feel deprived. Fortunately, the damages wrought from consuming public school food weren't so severe as to prevent me from making them myself, even if it has taken several years to get to that point.
Typically my endeavors with yeast end tragically, hence the lack of recipes involving yeast on this site, but making these cinnamon rolls felt like a breeze. The hardest part was preventing myself from eating a third roll after downing one and giving in to a second. I managed, but it was a struggle. If you've ever been intimidated by yeast before, that stops here. Even if you never want to work with it again, you have to try these rolls. They're better than anything you'll find at a grocery store, possibly even better than what you may find at your local bakery. A fresh cinnamon roll, warm from your own oven, surpasses anything that's been sitting out for a while in a display case, getting stale under florescent lighting.
These rolls are soft and downy, oozing with a mixture of butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. They're a classic, straightforward version, or at least what I'd like to think a classic one should be, not hampered down with extraneous ingredients. I feel no reason to tinker with other methods. I've found a winner on my first attempt.
I'm not sure why the topping is called a glaze because it looks and works more like a frosting. That's partly what struck me about this recipe in the first place and gave me pause while scanning the ingredients instead of passing it over like I would most recipes, due to my prejudice against anything that brought up those previously mentioned images. The glaze commonly adorning cinnamon rolls is lackluster, dry, and unpleasant, but a tangy cream cheese frosting I'll take any day, as long as the roll is homemade and from my own kitchen.
Cinnamon Rolls w/ Cream Cheese Glaze
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg, via Bon Appétit, March 2008
1 cup whole milk
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
3 ½ cups (or more) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 ¼ tsp rapid-rise yeast
1 tsp salt
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
¾ cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
½ tsp vanilla extract
To make dough: Combine milk and butter in a glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120 - 130° F, 30 - 45 seconds. Pour into a large bowl. Add 1 cup flour, sugar, egg, yeast, and salt. Beat with a wooden spoon until completely mixed together, scraping down sides of bowl when necessary. Add 2 ½ cups flour. Continue to beat until flour is absorbed and dough is sticky, scraping down sides of bowl. If dough is very sticky, add more flour by tablespoonfuls until dough begins to form into a ball and pulls away from sides of bowl. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if sticky, about 8 minutes. Form into a ball.
Lightly oil another large bowl with nonstick spray. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel. Let dough rise in a warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
To make filling: Mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
Punch down dough. Transfer to a floured work surface. Roll out to a 15x11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving ½-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. Starting at one long side, roll dough into a log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with a thin sharp knife into 18 equal slices (each about ¾ inch wide).
Spray two 9-inch square glass baking dishes with nonstick spray. Divide rolls between baking dishes, arranging cut side up (there will be almost no space between rolls). Cover baking dishes with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel. Let dough rise in a warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 - 45 minutes.
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375° F. Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and invert immediately onto a wire rack. Cool 10 minutes, then turn rolls right side up.
To make glaze: Combine cream cheese, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Spread glaze on rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.