What a long, delicious trip it's been.
I started The Great Cinnamon Roll Project over six months ago and three thousand miles away. I've tried over a dozen recipes and had the results sampled by several evaluators. Also, purely for the sake of research, I've sampled cinnamon rolls from bakeries like Panera Bread and Cinnabon. The time has come to end the project and proclaim a winner.
First, let me report that the last recipe I tried came to me from my nephew, Michael, who got it from his mission president's wife. Michael thought that these rolls were pretty dreamy, so we gave them a shot.
They were good, but they weren't the best we've made. The rolls were gooey and sweet, but we felt that they didn't have much depth of flavor--or, as Patrick declared, "Too Cinnabon-y."
And at this point, I knew what the results would be before I even made them, just from reading the recipe. The huge side benefit to the project has been my new, easy familiarity with sweet yeast dough. It's a friendship I plan to nurture in coming years.
So, of all the recipes we tried, Grandma Ida's was the favorite. I've made the recipe a few times more, just to confirm what we knew at first taste: that Grandma Ida knew how to treat her family right.
But I have tweaked it a bit. I've substituted milk for water, and Michele's suggestion of scalding the milk produced superior rising ability. I also liked the extra richness that Our Best Bites' Overnight Cinnamon Rolls achieve with one extra egg.
Then, today, my son James had a burst of what can only be termed pure inspiration. "Why don't we frost this batch with Penuche Frosting?"
For the tragically uninitiated, Penuche Frosting is what graces the top of my mother's Applesauce Cake. (Click here for Comfortably Yum.) My children prefer it to all other frostings, and my brother-in-law Dave accurately calls it "crack."
Therefore, here's the new and improved version. I think these are the best cinnamon rolls I've ever eaten. Am I not generous to share the fruits of my months of labor with you? Try them and see what you think.
Ultimate Cinnamon Rolls
1 tablespoon yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons warm water
1 cup milk, scalded
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
5 cups flour
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast and the 2 tablespoons sugar in the warm water. Put the stick of butter in the hot milk and stir it around until it is completely melted. Let the milk/butter mixture cool until it is 118 degrees Fahrenheit or slightly below; you don't want to kill your yeast.
Add the eggs and the milk/butter to the yeast and blend well. Add the salt and the flour and use the dough hook of your mixer to knead the dough at a medium speed for five minutes. The dough should be soft and still sticking to the sides of the bowl. Cover the bowl and put it in a warm area for two hours. (See here for a trick if you don't have a warm spot in your house.)
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus an extra tablespoon for buttering the baking pan
Lavishly butter a 9x13" pan. Mix the brown sugar and the cinnamon together. Take your nicely risen dough out of its bowl and place it on a well-floured countertop. Roll it out into a large rectangle about a half inch thick. Use a bench scraper or big pancake spatula to make sure it isn't sticking to the countertop. The dough will be floppy and hard to handle; this means it will be tender when baked.
Spread the softened butter evenly over the dough. Top it with the sugar/cinnamon mixture. Roll up the dough evenly and firmly from one long side to the other. Slice the rolls using an 18-inch length of dental floss: hold the floss tightly, slide it under the roll, and bring the two ends up and across the top of the roll until the dough is sliced through. Place the rolls in the buttered pan, cover the pan with a dishtowel, and let the rolls rise somewhere warm for another half hour. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Uncover the rolls and bake them for 20-25 minutes, until they are golden brown on top. (Don't overbake them! These took 25 minutes in my NY oven, but only 20 in my CA oven.) While they're baking, make the frosting:
2 tablespoons white sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
Heat and stir the white sugar in a medium saucepan until it is golden and dissolved. Add the butter, brown sugar, and salt; heat and stir until melted and dissolved. Add the cream, one tablespoon at a time, stirring all the while. Boil for one minute. Remove from heat and scrape into a mixer bowl. Add the powdered sugar and stir until it's mixed in, then beat on high until the frosting is no longer glossy--about three to five minutes.
Spread the frosting over the hot rolls, then leave the house for about a half hour so that you don't burn your tongue by trying the rolls too early.
Alternatively, you can top these rolls with a simple glaze, and they'll still be amazing:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 tablespoons heavy cream
Stir until smooth and spread over hot rolls.