Well, I'm a happy woman right about now. I'll continue with the GCRP, but as of today, we may have a winner.
A few days ago, after reading about The Great Cinnamon Roll Project, Patrick's Aunt Karen sent me an email containing her mother's cinnamon roll recipe. It was published in 1941 in the book Favorite Recipes of Ephraim Women.
Ephraim is the town in Sanpete County, Utah in which Patrick's father's family lived until the end of World War II. (Correct me if I have my Perkins family lore wrong, Aunt Karen.) Oh, how I love the kind of cookbook that the women of Ephraim put together--community compilations of tried-and-true recipes from seasoned cooks and bakers. My Nani has a whole shelf of such Relief Society cookbooks, and she has promised they will be mine someday. TREASURE.
I knew and loved Grandma Ida late in her life, but I had no idea that she was an accomplished baker. Her recipe is written in the style of her generation, with shorthand instructions. There was no need to school the reader on how to proof yeast or the optimal temperature at which dough will rise. You could just write, "Roll out as for cinnamon rolls," and bakers of that day, tutored by daily experience and wise forbears, would know what to do.
I just pulled a batch of these rolls out of the oven. Grandma Ida apparently didn't frost her cinnamon rolls; in the lean days in which the recipe was published, the unadorned bun would have been treat enough (especially if raisins had been added, as Aunt Karen reports that she would beg). But I wanted to assure a level playing field for the project, so I adapted the Magnolia Bakery's Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting--and I also frosted some rolls with a simple powdered sugar-cream-vanilla glaze.
They are outstanding. Feather-light, yeasty, fragrant, with that perfect pull-apart texture and just the right amount of sweetness and spice. Grandma Ida, I know that you are smiling down from heaven right now as your great-grandchildren happily devour your legacy. Thank you--and thanks, Aunt Karen, for passing on this gem.
Grandma Ida's Cinnamon Rolls (translated for the modern baker)
1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup + 2 tablespoons water (105-110 degrees)
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
4-3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
Mix the yeast with two tablespoons water and two tablespoons sugar and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix 1 cup water with 1/2 cup sugar, then add the 1/2 cup melted butter, eggs, and salt and mix well. Add the yeast mixture. Replace the mixer's paddle beater with the dough hook. Add the flour and mix on medium speed for 4 minutes until well-kneaded and elastic. The dough should still be sticking to the bottom of the bowl.
Cover the mixing bowl with a dishtowel and set in a warm place to rise. 80-85 degrees is best; if there's nowhere in your house that is warm enough (like the top of the refrigerator), set the mixer bowl in a big pot containing hot (115-degree) tap water, cover, and set on the back of the stove. My oven vents to the back of the range, so I turned it on to about 150 degrees, just so some additional warmth would hit the bottom of the pot and keep the yeast happy. Let the dough rise for 2 hours. It should be double in size.
Butter a 9x13-inch baking pan. Mix the brown sugar and cinnamon together with a fork. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large rectangle--about 12 x 18 inches. Pour the 1/4 cup of melted butter in the center, then spread it around evenly over the entire surface. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the butter. Roll the dough up tightly into a log and press the edges together to seal them. Slide an 18-inch length of dental floss under the log and cut one-inch rolls. Place the rolls in the buttered pan, cover the pan with a dish towel, and set the rolls to rise in a warm place for a half hour. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Uncover the rolls and bake them for 25 minutes. They should be golden brown, and some of the centers might have popped up a bit. While the rolls are baking, mix up ONE of the two icings. Once the rolls are out of the oven, spread the icing over them so that it can melt into all the crannies. Leave the room and distract yourself for at least fifteen minutes while the rolls cool somewhat. Serve warm, with plenty of cold milk on the side. (They are also plenty tasty at room temperature--if they make it that long.)
Caramel Cream Cheese Icing
4 ounces (1/2 package) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature
1/3 cup Caramel Sauce*, room temperature
Mix all ingredients until smooth.
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
Mix all ingredients until smooth.
1 cup cold water
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Put the water, salt, and sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves--about 3 minutes. Raise the heat to high and boil without stirring until the syrup turns a deep amber color--about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Very slowly, add the cream and whisk like mad. The caramel will bubble up furiously at first. Just keep adding the cream in a thin stream and whisk until it's all mixed in. Put the pan back on medium-low heat and stir for one minute. Turn off the heat and let cool to room temperature. Store in a quart jar in the refrigerator. Excellent over ice cream.