I made you a promise yesterday. I like to keep my promises.
Raise your hand if you like cinnamon buns.
I don’t know about you, but my hand is in the air.
One of my fondest memories is making cinnamon buns with my Nana when I was a little girl. While it was a long process, especially for a child, I loved the fact that at the end of it all, we had such a special treat waiting for us to eat. We cheated a little and used a breadmaker to make the dough, but Nana taught me the care and patience required to roll the dough out into a perfect rectangle, spread it generously with butter, sprinkle it with brown sugar and cinnamon, and then wait until the little rolls had blossomed into pillowy buns waiting to be baked. The sweet aroma would fill the kitchen, and I would anticipate that first delicious bite of a freshly baked, warm cinnamon bun.
Shortly after Nana passed away, just over 4 years ago, I tried to make our cinnamon buns again. I followed the same recipe, even used the same breadmaker, and the buns were a total flop…twice. The first batch never rose, and the second batch just didn’t taste anything like I remembered. Clearly I was missing Nana’s special touch. I decided that cinnamon rolls were better left as a wonderful memory of Nana, and that I would stop trying to replicate those special treats that Nana and I created together.
And then, a few days before this past Mother’s Day, I asked my mama what she wanted for the Mother’s Day brunch I wanted to make her. “Cinnamon buns,” she replied. And I knew that store-bought cinnamon buns would not cut it. I started my search for an amazing cinnamon bun recipe, one that would live up to my Nana memories. I remembered how Pioneer Woman’s recipe for Cinnamon Rolls had called out to me the first time I saw it. And I decided that there was no time like the present to give it a try, adding my own little twist, one that Nana taught me.
The cinnamon rolls exceeded my expectations, and were declared by my mom as the best cinnamon buns she ever had. Nana would be proud.
Cinnamon Buns (adapted from Pioneer Woman)
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup white sugar
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1/2 tsp. baking powder (heaping)
1/2 tsp. baking soda (scant)
1/2 TBSP. salt
3/4 cup melted butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
Lots of cinnamon
For the glaze:
1 1/2 cups icing sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 TBSP. (plus extra if needed) milk
To start, I follow Pioneer Woman’s recipe for the dough to a tee, except that I cut it in half. In a saucepan over medium heat, mix together the milk, canola oil, and white sugar. Scald the mixture (take it off the heat just before boiling), remove from heat, and allow to cool for about half an hour. When I can stick my pinky finger into the mixture without burning it, I know it’s ready! Sprinkle the package of yeast over top, and let it mingle with the milk mixture for a couple of minutes. Add 4 cups of all-purpose flour, and mix together with a wooden spoon. Cover with a towel and allow it to rise for at least an hour.
Then add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, the baking power, baking soda, and salt. Stir the mixture together, or do as I did and mix it together with your hands. Once everything is blended together, you’re ready to make some cinnamon buns!
Sprinkle your work surface with flour to prevent the dough from sticking. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a large rectangle. I roll my dough out quite thin (about 1/8″ thick). Drizzle it with about 1/2 cup of melted butter. You’re not allowed to think about how many calories these cinnamon buns have while you do this. Deal?
This is where I started to add my own spin. First, I used brown sugar instead of white sugar for the filling of the rolls. Sprinkle about 1 cup of the brown sugar over the butter, and top it with a very generous coating of cinnamon. You’ll also want to prepare your pans. I used one 9 x 13″ pan and one 9″ pan. I used the remaining 1/4 cup of butter to coat the bottom of the pans. Then I used the remaining 1/2 cup of brown sugar to sprinkle into the bottom of the pans, finishing with another healthy dose of cinnamon. My Nana taught me this trick of coating the bottom of the pans with the same mixture that fills the cinnamon buns. The end result is cinnamon buns with a lovely oooey-gooey bottom. Yum!
Begin rolling the dough up, trying to keep it tightly rolled. Once finished, pinch the end of the roll into itself, so that it doesn’t start to open up when you begin cutting. Using a sharp knife dipped in hot water (to make the job easier), slice the rolls about 1 inch thick and lay them flat into your pans. I fit 12 rolls in the larger pan, 9 rolls into the smaller pan. Cover the pans and let them rise again, for at least half an hour (or longer if you have time).
Preheat your oven to 350°F, and bake the rolls for about 15-20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Mix together the glaze ingredients. Add more milk if the mixture is too thick, or more icing sugar if too thin. Pour over warm cinnamon buns so that the glaze can seep into them. Enjoy while warm. You’ll find it hard to stop at one. Happy eating!