sticky cinnamon rolls
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There are a few recipes wherein I’m not entirely sure the world needs another version, but at the same time, I am so unsatisfied with all of those other versions that I simply must try to satisfy at least one person (myself) by trying to make something else.
Cinnamon rolls are one of those recipes (see also: The Cookies).
I will be “on the internet” answering cinnamon roll questions in the comments of this video, so please pop on over if you’ve got one (I know you’ve got one).
In my personal experience, cinnamon rolls have a lot of issues: too dry, only good day-of, too sweet, too much frosting (why is there frosting), too LARGE. I’m not saying other recipes don’t exist that satisfy some of these issues (people LOVE this King Arthur recipe which uses a very cool flour-hydration method a.k.a. Tangzhong which purportedly solves for the “too dry/only good day-of” issue), I’m just saying that after a bit of self-reflection it seemed that maybe I didn’t want a cinnamon roll at all.
But did I want a sticky bun? Honestly, no. I’ve never been able to get past the “wet nuts” of it all. But points for being sticky and unfrosted, so I sort of went for a mix between the two, hence the name (Sticky Cinnamon Rolls, rather than Cinnamony Sticky Rolls, which is a real mouthful).
The dough itself is a relatively classic enriched dough, not quite eggy or buttery enough to be brioche, but it comes close. The interior has the expected butter/brown sugar/cinnamon/salt filling which comes across as enough but never too much (who among us?). The stickiness comes from maple syrup, poured both into the bottom of the baking dish and used on top as a glaze. The syrup on the bottom soaks in gently to the bottom of the rolls (like French toast, almost), but also starts to reduce and caramelize as they bake, making it extra sticky and in some places, a little crunchy.
There is flaky salt on the top, but there is no frosting and there is no icing. I repeat, there is no frosting (but there is flaky salt). If you must frost, who am I to stop you, but I would imagine you’ll find the sticky bottom PLUS frosting maybe a bit too much (but don’t let me stop you from trying!).
Re: the baking vessel, I’ve used one 9-inch cake pan and 9x4-inch loaf pan, but I’ve baked these in a 9x13 baking dish before (which requires a bit more time in the oven, but not much). You can also use a cast-iron skillet-- I’ve really seen it all. The buns themselves are to me, just the perfect amount of cinnamon roll for one person, never needing to be “cut in half” (imagine!).
For more on all of this, at the risk of me repeating myself (which I do love to do!), head here for the full read.
CLICK HERE for a printable/saveable version.
STICKY CINNAMON ROLLS
Makes 12 rolls
This is a long recipe, both in how long they take to make (the dough should chill/proof for 12-24 hours!) and in length (17 steps!). I know. But maybe think of it as a meditative project, a soothing activity. Read the recipe. Spend time with it. Consider the roll. I think you will find that it really IS the journey, not the destination (just kidding, it is about the destination).
FOR THE DOUGH
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk (240g)
¼ cup sugar (50g)
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast (1 envelope)
3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour (540g)
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder (6g)
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt (5g)
2 large eggs
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter (113g), cold or room temperature, cut into ½” pieces
FOR THE FILLING
1 cup light brown sugar (220g)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt (3g)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon (8g)
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter (113g), softened or melted and cooled, plus more for greasing the pan as needed
Non-stick spray (optional)
⅔ cup maple syrup (225g), divided, plus more for brushing on top
Flaky salt (optional)
FOR THE DOUGH
1. Whisk buttermilk (or milk), sugar, and yeast together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.
2. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix on low speed until the dough starts to come together into a dry, shaggy mess. Add the eggs, one at a time, and mix on medium speed until you’ve got a smooth, sticky dough with no visible dry spots (you may want to stop the machine, scrape the bottom of the bowl with a spatula or dough scraper to make sure all the dry bits of flour are getting incorporated).
3. With the mixer running, add the butter a few pieces at a time, letting the butter incorporate before adding more pieces. Eventually, the dough will take all the butter, disappearing into a silky, sticky mass. Knead this on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough into a greased (with non-stick spray, softened butter or neutral oil) medium bowl and immediately cover with plastic. Place in the refrigerator for 12–24 hours (during this time, the dough is slowly rising which develops excellent flavor, the flour is hydrating which firms the dough up, and the butter is resolidifying, making everything easy to roll out).
FOR THE FILLING AND ASSEMBLY:
Once you’re ready to bake, prepare the filling and your workspace for THE ASSEMBLY (i.e. make sure you have a clean countertop, free of clutter to properly roll out the dough).
5. Grease a 9” x 13” or 3 qt. baking dish with non-stick spray or grease with softened butter. Pour 2/3 cup maple syrup and swirl to coat the bottom; set aside. (Alternatively, grease up/maple syrup one 9” cake pan and one 8”x 4” loaf pan).
6. Combine light brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
7. Remove the dough from the fridge. It should be firm, and not at all sticky (see?! magic). Lightly flour your work surface (ditch the cutting board, go straight onto your countertop), and turn the dough out.
8. Using a rolling pin (I love mine from Herriott Grace) or wine bottle or whatever, roll the dough, flouring only as needed (a light dusting here and there will not hurt), roll to about 12” long and 24” wide.
9. Using an offset spatula or back of a spoon if your butter is softened (or pastry brush if it’s melted), spread the butter onto the full surface of the dough. Scatter the brown sugar mixture on top and like you’re playing in the sand, run your hand over it to make sure it’s as lightly packed and evenly distributed as possible.
10. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll the dough up, pressing and tucking lightly to eliminate the possibility of air pockets. Try to work quickly here, as the dough will have been out of the fridge for a while and the butter will likely begin to soften which will make it trickier to work with. Don’t rush but…..you know.
11. Cut the dough in half so you have two pieces, roughly 12” each.
12. Working with one piece at a time, cut each log of dough into six 2” pieces. Do not worry if your slices look weird and misshapen-- they will plump up and issues will resolve themselves as they proof and bake.
13. Place cinnamon rolls in your baking dish or cake pans. They should be pretty spaced apart and might appear a little sparse or lonely-- don’t worry, they will get closer as they proof and even closer when they bake.
14. Cover each pan with plastic wrap (if saving one for later, place it in the fridge now).
15. Preheat oven to 350°. Place your wrapped pan of cinnamon rolls in a gently warm place (on top of the oven, fridge or radiator are popular places) and let the rolls proof, looking puffy and almost doubled in size, anywhere from 45-95 minutes— they should definitely all be touching now.
16. Place buns in the oven and bake until they are puffed, deeply golden brown on the edges and into the centers, 35–40 for the 9x13 baking dish, and closer to 30–35 for the cake pans. They should feel firm when tapped, but still a little squishy towards the center. (Not to freak anyone out, but an underbaked cinnamon roll will be gummy and a little deflated, and an overbaked cinnamon roll will be dry and too hard to enjoy, so I hate to say: this part is important).
17. Once out of the oven, immediately brush cinnamon rolls with a bit of maple syrup. Not so much to try and “soak” them, more just “glaze” them. This must happen when they are hot, otherwise, the maple syrup will just stay “wet” instead of “sticky.” Sprinkle with salt and let cool slightly before eating.