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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Making Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon rolls are one of my trademarks. Several years ago a friend was receiving anonymous gifts for the 12 days of Christmas and suspected my family of being responsible. They continued to believe this until day 10 (or somewhere around there), when they received cinnamon rolls. They knew it couldn't have been me because "the rolls weren't good enough". That day I learned, if I want to be anonymous, Cinnamon Rolls cannot be in the equation.. . . so the legacy continues
 Cinnamon rolls are one of my specialties so I thought I would attempt to share the secret of success with you here.  The perfect cinnamon roll is tender, soft, moist and just a little bit sticky. . .

This idea was inspired by my sister.  She was making cinnamon rolls and needed the recipe,  the recipe is important, but the technique and science behind it are what makes them deliciously, irresistibly, successful.

Here we go:  How to make the perfect cinnamon roll:

first, plan on at least 2 1/2 - 3 hours from start to finish for these to be ready.

First we will discuss the yeast.  Yeast is an important component and two mistakes that are most commonly made are first: your water is too hot and second your yeast is bad.  Yeast likes warm water, like baby bottle warm.  or the best method is a thermometer.  Your water should measure between 98° f and no more than 105° f. 

I typically have it at about 103°f and 104°f  yeast is "killed" at 110°f  in other words. . . start over

The first thing to do is "test" your yeast and make sure it is good.  To do this put it in warm water with a Tbsp of sugar.  you are looking for a soft pillowy look, not like the first picture which is grainy and separate. Let it rest for a few minutes.  
After it sits for 5-10 minutes it starts to change forms to look like this (second picture)

and ultimately it will look like this:

just in case you are curious, yes, this the the exact same bowl of yeast 15 minutes later.  If your yeast does not do this, get some new yeast.  Just for the record I use a SAF yeast, it is a high quality yeast and the most consistent.  you may store it in the refrigerator for quite a long time.

Add your yeast to the eggs, melted butter, powdered milk, and sugar, that have been placed in your large mixing bowl.  I personally recommend a Bosch mixer for breads, there isn't a better machine on the market that I'm aware of.  I also have a Kitchen Aid which I use quite a lot for different things, but not for bread.

Begin mixing.  In the beginning you are just mixing in the flour, the dough will appear lumpy and rough in texture.  When you pinch off some dough it's sticky and just hasn't developed that smooth gluten texture that you are ultimately waiting for.  You can see how the dough is still sticking to the bowl and leaving tracks, it's not ready yet.

The dough is still not ready.  I never "measure" my flour, I go by the feel of the dough.  The second error made when making rolls is adding too much flour.  Adding too much flour makes a tough dense roll, giving you something that resembles a hockey puck more than a cinnamon roll.   The problem is, that the line between not enough flour and too much is pretty thin. An extra 1/2 to 3/4 cup extra flour can put it over the edge.

We are getting closer here.  We are looking for a smooth SUPER soft dough.  Hopefully you can tell that the dough is developing a smoothness to it and it is beginning to develop gluten, gluten development, or lack of it is the third biggest error I see when helping people make rolls.   In a Bosch I let it knead/mix for a minimum of 8 minutes, once I begin the mixing process.  Much more than that and you over mix and begin to break down the gluten, which translates:  Rolls that don't rise.

Not enough mixing= rolls that don't rise  Too much mixing = rolls that don't rise.  

in this picture, the dough is still slightly sticking to the mixing bowl, but is developing a smoothness that the previous picture didn't quite have.  The smooth texture of the dough indicates that the gluten is developing nicely.

The gluten test:

The gluten test is pretty simple.  pinch off a small ball of
dough about the size of a grape, or a grape tomato.  Using vegetable oil, rub a little on your hands, like you would lotion, to keep the dough from sticking to you, you will use this same oil to roll and shape your cinnamon rolls too, so just keep out on the table/counter where it is handy.

Okay, now take your little ball of dough and flatten/spread it apart in your fingers.

This dough is not ready yet,  you can see how it breaks apart and is still fairly thick. i.e. the big hole that created itself in the middle.
This new little ball of dough is better, but still not yet.  Keep mixing.

Hopefully you can see this okay,  the newest little ball of dough is almost transparent, you can "almost" see through it before it begins to "tear" or develop a hole.
This is where you want your dough. . . perfect!

(your dough will be super soft and if you don't have oil on your hands, it will stick to you). . .

very annoying!

Put a small amount of vegetable oil on your work surface to keep the dough from sticking.  Traditionally flour is used, and if you have a true butcher block counter/table/work surface, flour works fine, but the desire and the goal is a soft pliable dough, and if you use flour you are adding more stiffness in; using oil prevents that.  If you have too much oil on your surface,  just use a paper towel to wipe off the excess.

Remove your dough from the mixing bowl and create one large ball of dough.  Using a knife or a bench scraper, divide the dough in half.  Cover the half you are not using with a towel and just let it rest to the side until you are ready for it.  

Using a rolling pin, or just recently someone showed me that they use a 2' length of 1 1/2" - 2" diameter PVC pipe, and it worked great!  (MUCH less expensive that the rolling pin I have).  You can see the shiny surface of my table, from the oil spread out.

roll your dough into a rectangular shape so that it is approx. 1/2" thick.  
These are a tiny bit on the thin side, but I'm going to use them anyway.

With the dough rolled out into a rectangle we are now ready to transform the dough into something that everyone will remember. . .  Cinnamon Rolls!

First, soften your butter, DO NOT MELT the butter, but you want it super spreadable soft.

Because the Genius does not like, nor will he eat raisins, we use apples instead.  so chop up your apples into small bite size pieces.  If you prefer raisins, plump them over steaming water first.  They need to be soft to be wonderful in cinnamon rolls.

Now mix your sugars and cinnamon.  
I use a mixture of both white and dark brown sugar, sooooo good!

mix them together until they are well blended

okay, now evenly "slather"  your butter over the dough. 

evenly spread the sugar mixture on top of the butter

sprinkle the apples or raisins on top of the sugar

because everyone I know thinks it's special to get a little chunk of apple (or raisin) in the very center of their cinnamon roll, I take special effort to make sure each roll has an apple in the very center, by lining up a row of apple along the inner edge of my rectangle of dough.

Now you are ready to roll them up! 
Begin by folding the dough over like this.

then just roll, until you have a log like this. 
Notice the seam on the top;  make sure it sticks to the roll.
Wetting your fingertips slightly with water: tap & pinch the dough together to seal it shut

Notice the dental floss?  you are going to use it next.  
(it's important to notice that it is un-flavored)

Take your dental floss and slide it under the log/roll and pull both ends opposite of each other, slicing your dough into approx 1 1/2" - 1 1/4" slices.

you will have something like this.
(when sliding the floss under the roll, always begin from the end that you have not cut yet)

If you want more individual rolls place them on the pan about 1" apart
the ends are usually a little odd shape, put them upside down, so they look more like the rest of their partners.  I prefer to use a silpat mat or parchment paper, but a well greased pan works well too.

Now place them in a warm place to rise.  If your dough is cold, or the room temperature is cold, this will take longer.  If you can find a place that is about 95°-100°f this is perfect.  I often will use the top of the stove and cover them with a towel.  In perfect conditions, you can expect them to be ready for the oven in about 20-30 minutes.  When they almost double in size, you know they are ready. Note that they will not raise in height much, but rather in diameter.  They get their height more while they are in the oven.

they will bake for 20-25 minutes and just barely turn golden brown.  AS SOON as they come out of the oven top them with cream cheese icing.

The icing will melt down inside and makes them . . . . well ~ ~ ~ oh. . .

sooooo. . . . yummy, yummy, yummy!
These are done raising and ready for the oven.
This batch I put in a smaller pan and had them almost touching so they come out more like sticky buns, but there is no edges to worry about getting over cooked.  It's personal preference and each has it's place.  If I am delivering them to the neighbors the individual method works a little better because they are all the same size, and they are easy to put on plates for presentation and delivery.  The "sticky bun" method is good for family when your main concern is just yummy goodness to eat.

The sticky buns have been iced and are ready to "pull apart" and devour with a glass of cold milk.

Now you know all my secrets to Perfect Cinnamon Rolls. . . .
Hopefully you will be excited to try these for your family!
enjoy your treat!

For the recipe that you can print, click on the button above



  1. I will be making these VERY SOOOOOON! Yum :)

  2. Mom, you should send me that recipe.

  3. So I made these they turned out really good way better than store bought. I have never made cinnamon rolls before so for those who read this and are like me finding their way into the baking world my first half I made way to big, I didn't have a ruler like Annette shows in the pick so when I was looking at them I after I had cut them I knew to big but thought I would try them anyway nope didn't work came out doughy, so I thought what could I use to measure, saw a tape measure got it and those turned out perfect. I also didn’t have floss thought I did, but went to get it and couldn’t find it so I used my pastry cutter thing kind of like the one shown in the picture when Annette is cutting the dough in half it worked pretty good. I loved the apple suggestion since I was making these for preschool kids; the teacher said the kids loved them. It did take me longer than suggested time since I was looking at the pictures and reading what to do every step because I wanted them to turn out perfect. I learned a few things so when I make them again maybe it will go a little smoother since I kind of know what to do now. Overall I loved them

  4. Jake said they are one of the best cinnamon rolls he has had

  5. thank you for this comprehensive guide! you are surely a cinnamon roll angel =)