I thought we had just about wrapped up The Great Cinnamon Roll Project, but at the last minute, I had a couple of suggestions. The first came from Michele, a new friend in California, who had an old family recipe she thought I should try. Once she emailed it to me, we put it to the test.
It was quite similar to Grandma Ida's recipe, with a couple of key differences. Michele's recipe included lemon extract, and it also called for the milk in the dough to be scalded.
Should I bother with that? I thought, and did some research. It turns out that heat weakens the whey protein in milk, which normally can interfere with gluten forming. This means that the yeast can do its work with the gluten more efficiently, and the rolls are free to rise quite high. Sure enough, Michele's rolls rose very nicely, and were among the fluffiest I've baked.
I found the addition of lemon extract enjoyable, but it met with opposition from my tasters, who all seem to be purists. "It distracts me from the cinnamon," one declared. But overall, the recipe was a big success. It made a LOT of rolls--more than I generally want to make at one time, and since it's quite similar to our reigning champion, I'll stick with Grandma Ida. But I will probably opt to scald the milk in the future, whatever recipe I use.
Our other late entry came from my friend Melinda--and it was a bit of a twist from what we've been doing. Melinda emailed me:
Would you consider trying a mix for your project? I really like Stonewall Kitchen's, and I'd love to know what you think, and whether you think you could reverse engineer it, because the mix is pretty expensive.
Yes, Melinda, I'm up for the challenge, I replied. She sent me a couple of boxes of the mix (she's right--the mix IS expensive--$8.95 for a box that makes a measly SIX rolls), and we had at it.
The first thing I noticed about the Stonewall mix is that it's a quick bread, not a yeast bread. Quick breads rely on baking powder (and sometimes--but not in this case--eggs) for lift, while a yeast bread relies on, well, yeast. They're called "quick" because there's no rising time involved. In fact, once you mix up a quick bread, you want to bake it right away, before the baking powder loses its oomph.
This means a big difference in texture. The Stonewall mix came together very much like a scone, and in fact, when I wrote out the reverse engineering below, I relied on my tried-and-true scone recipe as a base. The directions called for cutting the filled rolls and placing them in greased muffin tins, which at first seemed like a cool idea. Uniform size and shape would result.
In practice, however, I had to stuff the fat rolls into the muffin tin cups, and they didn't fit all the way down, since the cups are slightly tapered. This meant that some of the filling fell out into the bottom of the cup. When I took the rolls out of the tins, I scraped the bottoms of the cups and put the excess filling on top of the rolls, but it was kind of a pain.
There was a TON of filling, too--way more than I find necessary. The same went for the icing. The mix made easily double what I was used to spooning over the top of cinnamon rolls--and I don't stint on stuff like that.
But I can see why the mix creators did that. The bread of the rolls baked up quite dry, and wouldn't have been very enjoyable if it hadn't been cemented together with a ton of filling and icing.
My tasters concurred. "They were too sweet for breakfast," one said. "I would like one for dessert, but not for breakfast." Another taster agreed that they were too sweet, and also quibbled with the "too hard," biscuit-y texture. "They weren't squishy," my last evaluator said. And I agree: a cinnamon roll should be squishy.
But for Melinda's sake, here's the reverse engineer, made less sweet and more tender. Let's call them:
Fancy Cinnamon Scones
2 cups flour
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold
3/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heavily butter a 12-cup muffin tin. Mix the dry ingredients together, then add the cold butter and mash it with a fork until it is in pea-sized pieces and dispersed in the flour. Add the milk and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead it 10 times, then pat it into an oblong about a half inch thick.
Mix the filling ingredients together, then spread them over the dough evenly. Roll the dough up and cut it into twelve pieces of equal size. Pinch one cut side of each scone together to taper it and keep the filling from falling out. Place them, pinched side down, in the muffin cups and bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden and puffy. Let cool for five minutes, then remove from tin and cool completely on a rack. Mix together the icing ingredients and spread the icing lavishly over the scones. Serve with lots of cold milk.