Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tips for Great Cinnamon Rolls (or regular rolls if you're going to be that way)

Cheap Eat Challenge Count Down: 3 days
(Check out the menu for January as well as a rough-ish shopping list. We do things rough-ish around here.)

I like cinnamon rolls. I like them a lot. I'm kind of glad I had to leave most of them behind at my sister's house because I would have eaten more. More. MORE. And we all know that cinnamon rolls morning, noon, and night isn't exactly the key to optimal health. Sigh.

Anyway, the point is that I don't have one recipe that I consider the end all in cinnamon-roll-dom. I like the ones from pioneer woman. I like my sister Rebecca's cinnamon rolls. And I like my other sister Katie's cinnamon rolls. I like my friend Brandy's cinnamon rolls. I like the cinnamon rolls my mom used to make for us on Christmas morning. I like pumpkin cinnamon rolls. I'm guessing I'd like your cinnamon rolls (you know, if you'd like to bring some over just to see).

However. However. Even though a variety of roll recipes can turn out a perfectly lovely batch, there is a technique to making good cinnamon rolls (or just good rolls in general). If followed this technique will make a good recipe into great cinnamon rolls and a mediocre recipe into something you can still be proud of. If not followed, you might end up with dry lumps of white flour. Which, not to put too fine a point on it or anything, is kind of like a paler version of a lump of coal. And we wouldn't want that. Unless of course you've a household of very naughty post-Christmas children. In which case, go ahead and let them dry out even more, so they'll be good and solid by next year.

1. Find a decent recipe. That's right. I'm not even going to require that you find a perfect recipe. In the cinnamon roll department, decent will do. What is decent? Try to avoid shortening. Shortening does not belong in bread (even if you can get away with it in frosting). You might even be able to make margarine work for you in cinnamon rolls, though I'm not saying I recommend it. I'm just saying, don't start with a total loser of a recipe, okay. Think: Yeast. Flour. Milk. Maybe a few eggs. No shortening.

2. Do not add too much flour to the dough. The dough should be just to the point where it's not sticking to your hands. Just to the point that it is workable. No further. It should be pillowy, mother-bosomy. That sort of thing. If you add too much flour, it will end up heavy at best and dry at worst. If you have a Kitchenaid, as both my progressive sisters do, it's easier to get a perfect dough by using the dough hook. Add flour until it begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, not until it's a solid blob in the middle of the bowl that could be used for a paper weight. If you, like my non-progressive self, have no Kitchenaid or Bosch or the like, it will be (and it pains me to admit this) a bit trickier to get a perfect dough, but you can do it. Add flour just until the dough is workable and knead it for 6-8 minutes, adding a dusting more of flour if the dough becomes too sticky to work in the process. In the end it should be a loose pillowy ball. It should not blub through your fingers when you pick it up, but it should not be a tight ball you could throw to your child either. It should be a loose lump. For more blabbering--I mean detailed information--along this line, have a read over here. Next time I make rolls, which may be soon considering we're going to be making more bread than usual soon due to our cheap eat challenge, I'll try to get a picture.

3. Allow them to rise fully. If they don't, they'll be heavy and possibly dry. The dough should double in size the first time and then when you roll them out and place them on the pan, you should leave a bit of space between (perhaps 1/8-1/4 of an inch) and then let them rise until they're touching. It's better to let them rise too much and have to punch them down a time or two than to not get enough rise. So start earlier than you think you should. Or give them a little boost by putting the dough in the microwave for 30 seconds or a 200 degree oven for 1-2 minutes (turn the oven off afterwards--don't cook your dough--after 8 cups of flour and 8 minutes of kneading, you'll be sad if you toast your dough).

4. When you roll them out, don't roll the crap out of them. Don't misunderstand. They're fairly forgiving. It's not like a pastry. You don't have to do it just right and barely touch it or anything. You can roll it out and roll it some more. That's not a big deal. But don't roll it out and then get mad it's not the right shape and ball it up and roll it out again and repeat that a hundred times or anything. Your dough will get tough and stiff and funky. Just roll it out till it's thinnish (1/4 inch is good, though if you like them thicker that's okay too--just remember they'll poof out when they rise the 2nd time, so don't roll them too thick or you'll have more of a roll than a cinnamon roll--which isn't the end of the world either, mind you).

5. Don't overbake them. For the love of all things flour and yeast. They should be lightly (LIGHTLY) browned at the edges. Then take them out. This is usually between 10 and 15 minutes, but--especially if yours are thin or you got the dough a little stiffer or more flour-y than you wanted--check earlier. In fact, not overbaking will cover a multitude of roll sins. Too stiff, too heavy, too flour-y, not enough time to rise, used margarine--just make sure they're not overdone, and they'll still taste good. If you must, err on the side of being underdone. You can always cook a few minutes more, but you can never take the time away. A roll pulled out, cooled, and then put back in because it is dough-y in the middle will taste better than an overdone roll. Am I making myself clear? (P.S. The picture above--I would have given those a minute or two less. Fortunately, the recipe was a good one, so they forgave me.)


  1. I heartily second number 3. In fact, to my taste, the ones pictured haven't risen quite enough. I love my cinnamon rolls as light a fluffy and soft-melt-in-your-mouth as a cloud. Most people, in my experience, only let them raise barely long enough. Then you get this kind of gummy, gooeyish chewy bread muck in your mouth when you eat it, not melting soft bread-ness lighting upon your tongue. (How many made-up descriptive terms can I include in this comment?) Anyway, I am, unfortunately, a complete cinnamon roll snob and rarely have cinnamon rolls that I like besides my own. Sad, I know. I also have decided I prefer a cinnamon roll made with at least part white-whole-wheat pastry flour to make it slightly more toothsome while still soft and fluffy. That holds off the gumminess factor and gives it a nice nutty flavor, as well.

  2. I have honestly never tried mine with whole wheat at all, but you've inspired me as you always do with your wheat-y ways (plus a whole wheat cinnamon roll means you can have them not just for Christmas breakfast right:)). And you're right, Vanessa--the ones in the pic above haven't raised yet--they're just into the pan. I usually wait till they at least touch and get a little snuggly with each other. Though not too snuggly--they're going to grow when they're cooked as well, so you don't want the actual rolls risen until they're bursting.



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