Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cinnamon Rolls! And More

Or, I should say, the BEST EVER Cinnamon Rolls!

You know how it is when you take two things you absolutely love and combine them, and it comes out better than you could have imagined? Oh, ya. And I'm going to do my best to see you can recreate the magic for yourselves.

**Disclaimer! If you're looking for heart-healthy, low fat, gluten-free or anything nutritionally redeemable in these rolls, you won't find it. I'm talking real sugar, margarine (or butter if that's your preference), white flour goodness. You have been warned.**

I've got a killer breadstick recipe. It's a family recipe, and it's the kind of thing we eagerly anticipate every year for holidays or get-togethers. I can talk ANYONE into eating these delightful breadsticks. Even when they shouldn't. Light, fluffy goodness.

After 15 yrs of marriage, my hubby finally says, "I wonder how it would work to make cinnamon rolls using the breadstick recipe." That's right--I did NOT come up with this brilliant idea myself.

Here's what we did:

I put 2 cups of warm--not hot but very warm--water into my largest mixing bowl. Most times a yeast bread doesn't come out is because we either use too hot or too cool water. Warm is relative, which is why you'll find the actual temperature your water needs to be in certain recipes, and, sometimes, on the yeast package itself. I've been doing this enough that I simply do the pinkie test: dip my pinkie into the water to test the temp. I also factor in how much the water will cool when it gets into the bowl, so that the water I heat is slightly warmer than the water I use.

Add 2 envelopes of yeast to the water and let it activate. **Sugar** helps yeast activate, so I like to add the sugar next. For breadsticks, the recipe calls for 1/2 cup. I added 3/4 of a cup to sweeten the dough for cinnamon rolls.

Now we get to the fun part. This recipe calls for a 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter or margarine. I prefer to bake with margarine and top with butter, but that's just me. Do what you want, but I don't suggest those buttery spreads. Not for this. The recipe also calls for 1 egg, slightly beaten.

(Once, and only once, I forgot to beat the egg before adding it to the bowl. And got tougher than normal breadsticks. I don't know why, but it is CRUCIAL to beat the egg first to obtain the desired effect.)

For the cinnamon rolls, I beat the egg in the 1/2 cup of melted butter. The recipe calls for softened butter, but I melt mine and then COOL it slightly so that I don't kill my yeast when I add it to the bowl.

Where was I? Oh, right. Mix all those ingredients together and you get a sloshy goo. Now, here's where I almost always mess up. Salt. Most of you know salt is supposed to add savory without masking the flavor. If you tastes salt in your food, then you've over salted. I'm notorious for under-salting my baked goods, though no one has ever complained. For years I didn't add salt to any recipe that was supposed to turn out sweet--seemed counter-productive to me. But I'm learning.

For this recipe, I added about 2/3 to 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt.

The recipe calls for 5 cups (or more) of flour. I always do the *or more* and I believe this is partly because I never sift my flour. It all breaks up in the kneading process, which I particularly enjoy, so I don't bother. But I probably end up using more flour than I actually need. Oddly, the bread NEVER comes out heavy.

Basically you add flour until you can knead the dough smooth and it's not sticky. But, again, if you pre-sift or buy the pre-sifted flour, you will probably be happier with the results.

Then you put the dough back into the bowl, cover it with a towel and ignore it. For 3-4 hours, or until the dough is doubled in size. You can probably do this the night before and refrigerate the dough for fresh cinnamon rolls in the morning, but I never have. Try it at your own risk.

My family's favorite part is punching the dough down. Oh, my.

So after the yeast has done its thing, and you punch the dough down, you can roll it out on a floured surface until you have as even a rectangle as you can make it. I don't stress this, as I'm just going to roll and cut it anyway, but my husband insisted on an almost ruler perfect rectangle.

Here's where it gets tricky. I don't measure ingredients for half of what I do. Which means, I can't tell you how much softened butter to smooth over the rolled out dough. I can guess we used about 1/4 cup. You really want it to be able to melt and be gooey, because that's part of what makes the cinnamon/sugar mixture inside the roll so wonderful. But, you don't want to put in too much because it really just falls or oozes out during the rolling and slicing process, leaving most of your work on your floured surface and not in the rolls. Sad.

My cinnamon/sugar mix: I literally poured a little of this and little of that into a bowl, mixed it with a fork, and spread it out across the buttered dough. I can guess that I used about 1/3 cup brown sugar and 1/4 cup white sugar. I use a blend. Brown sugar makes the inner mixture of a cinnamon roll particularly yummy. You can use all brown sugar if you want. It's a matter of taste. Then I added about 2 teaspoons (or a little more) of cinnamon. Mix that all together, spread it on the dough, and get ready to roll it up.

Here's where you'd add raisins if you like them, before the rolling up process. I don't. It's a texture thing for me--feels like eating baked bugs.

When you roll the dough, you start at one edge and roll as small as possible. When you get to the other end, you sort of pinch the dough together so that it doesn't unravel after you cut it into rolls. I always use the strand of thread method because using a knife tends to flatten the cinnamon rolls, making them silly-looking. Remember, we eat with our eyes first. :)

The strand of thread method is easy to understand. I cut a long strand from a spool of sewing thread and work it under the roll of dough, then bring the ends up and cross them to slice the thread through the entire dough. Repeat until you've done all of the dough, trying to be as even as possible. We got 23 rolls, but some ended up bigger than others. I'd say the recipe yields 24 (2 dozen) healthy sized rolls.

Always pan spray or grease your baking pans before placing the cut cinnamon rolls into or onto them. I prefer my 9x13 glass cake dish (fits 12 rolls), but that's me. Cover and let the rolls rise about another hour. Meanwhile, you can preheat your oven (350 degrees) so it's ready to go when the rolls are.

I baked them about 20-25 minutes, until they were a light golden brown and I could be reasonably certain the rolls baked all the way through.

Note: If you're wanting to just do the breadsticks, omit the extra 1/4 cup of sugar and the butter and cinnamon/sugar filling. You simply roll the dough out, cut and shape the breadsticks, let them rise and then bake them at 350 for about 10-12 min.

I let the cinnamon rolls cool about 10 min in the pan after they cooked before drizzling on the glaze. You don't want them too hot (been there) or the glaze simply pours off and pools at the bottom of your baking dish. Patience really does pay off, even though they smell amazing and you can't wait to bite into one.

Glaze: Really depends on whether you want a drizzling glaze or a spreadable frosting. Regardless, you start with 2 cups of powdered sugar. Add 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. Then add enough milk to obtain your desired consistency. It doesn't take much, so I'd recommend adding slowly, like a Tablespoon at a time. Stir it with a spoon until smooth, spread or pour on your rolls.

And prepare to have your socks knocked right off!

No comments: