Wiki Wow Cinnamon Buns
The other day Shel surprised me by confessing to a craving for cinnamon rolls. Coming from a guy whose favorite breakfast food is Nutella, this was an unexpected and welcome development, since I love fussing with yeast dough and haven’t had a chance to do so in a good long while.
I didn’t have a favorite cinnamon roll recipe, having, over the years, made several versions that were pretty good, but none that was really killer. I started looking online, and voilà, a treasure trove. I began by looking for a recipe that resembled the iconic Cinnabon, and let me tell you, there are many, many pretenders to the crown. But the real virtue of using an online resource, the real wiki wow, is that some of the recipes have been tested and commented on hundreds of times by dedicated home bakers.
I chose a recipe that had 383 comments, and started sifting through them. Shel always says that I read recipes like a conductor reads a musical score, and I’m also pretty good at reading recipe reviews. I can distinguish right away between a commenter who’s an experienced baker and one whose cinnamon roll standard is a can of whomp! buns. You know, those tubes that one whomps on the counter to split the packaging and release some doughy mass with a packet of sugary goo for topping. Sticking to the smart reviewers, I analyzed the original recipe.
I sifted through about 150 of the comments, adding flour here, subtracting steps there, adding time, tweaking techniques, lowering temperatures, all based on blind faith in the experience of those who had baked before me. And then I tweaked the recipe some more as I made them, ending up with a true wiki bun, although whether it resembles a Cinnabon or not I cannot say, since I’ve only once eaten a cinnabon and I’ve never tasted the version I produced yesterday. But, and this is a big but, those who tasted it pronounced it perfect in every way and instructed me to stop looking for any other recipe and make them just like this forever. No ifs, ands, or buts.
My tasters say they are not too sweet, perfectly tender, with just the right amount of filling and just the right amount of frosting (which is the gooey sort that doesn’t set up overnight), and in every way what you want for breakfast on Sunday morning. I used Penzey’s Cinnamon blend, their own mixture of China, Vietnamese, Korintje, and Ceylon cinnamons. It’s a beautifully aromatic cinnamon, and I advise you to get some posthaste. But if you can’t wait to try these buns, be sure you use the freshest and most fragrant cinnamon you can find. A cup of great coffee, the Sunday paper, maybe a Mimosa, and you’re in business. Wiki business.
Wiki Wow Cinnamon Buns
For the dough:
1 packet dry yeast (1/4 oz)
1 cup warm milk
1/2 cup sugar (I used a golden unbleached organic sugar)
5 Tablespoons soft butter
1 teaspoon salt
4 1/2 cups flour
For the filling:
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon (yep, it’s a lot)
1 1/2 Tablespoons flour
5 Tablespoons soft butter
For the icing:
8 Tablespoons soft butter
4 oz cream cheese
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon salt
Set the butter out to soften well in advance, you need it to be really soft.
For the dough: Place the warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the yeast and 1 Tablespoon of the sugar. Allow to rest for 5 minutes until the yeast looks foamy. On low speed, beat in the rest of the sugar, then the eggs, then the flour and salt. Use 4 cups plus two Tablespoons of flour here and reserve the rest of the flour for rolling out the dough. On medium speed, beat the dough for at least 5 minutes. The dough will remain sticky and won’t quite clean the bowl, but don’t worry about that. Butter a large bowl, scoop the dough into the buttered bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set in a warm place to rise, about 1 hour.
While the dough is rising, prepare the filling by placing all of the ingredients in a small bowl and rubbing them lightly together with your fingertips.
Once the dough has doubled, using the remaining flour, lightly flour a large work surface that will let you roll the dough out to a rectangle 21″x16″. This is a lot bigger than you think it is, so use a measuring tape. Lightly punch down the doubled dough, turning it over and over in the buttered bowl to coat all parts of the dough with butter. Roll it out patiently until it’s 21″x16″. The top surface of the dough should be slippery enough from the butter that you don’t need to add any flour on top.
Sprinkle the filling evenly over the dough, leaving little margins around the edges. Beginning with a long side, tightly roll up the dough around the filling.
Butter a 9″x13″ pan and an 8″ square pan. Take a piece of white thread and use it to slice the dough roll into 16 pieces. Just slide the thread under the dough and pull the two ends across each other as if you were tying a knot. This makes a nice, clean cut that doesn’t squash the dough. Place 10 rolls in the larger pan and 6 in the smaller one. Tuck any loose dough ends under the rolls to prevent unraveling. Set the two pans in a warm place to rise until nearly doubled, about 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350° convection, or a little hotter if not using convection. Bake the rolls for 25-30 minutes, depending on your oven. Mine took 27 minutes to reach a uniform deep golden brown. Remove pans from the oven and let cool on a rack.
While the rolls are cooling, make the frosting. Place the powdered sugar and salt in the bowl of the food processor. With the motor running, begin tossing in chunks of the cream cheese and butter, finishing with the vanilla extract. Whizz this mixture until it’s fluffy and no lumps remain. When the rolls are just barely warm to the touch, spread them with the frosting.