Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cinnamon Buns

When I still lived in Hawaii, I had a co-worker who hobbied in all things yeast. He brewed his own beer. He baked his own bread. Occasional I was able to sample the fruits of his labors. One day, sitting on the table in the office was a beautiful hardcover book full of photo after photo of gorgeous artisan breads...focaccia, baguettes, rolls, buns, bagels, made my mouth water.

I have since procured my own copy of Peter Reinhart's book and tried my hand at what I thought may be the simpler of the basic breads. They were all flops. The dough did exactly what it was suppose to, at least to the novice's eye. However, once baked the loaves were dry, dense, mostly crust and without that beautiful golden glow.

But after pressing on, and having minor success with pie crusts and dinner rolls, I returned to the book. The cinnamon buns called out to be made...

adpated from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart

makes 8 to 12 large or 12 to 16 smaller buns

The Ingredients:
6 1/2 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
5 1/2 Tbsp shortening or unsalted butter at room temperature
1 large egg
1 tsp lemon extract or lemon zest
3 1/2 cups unbleached bread or all purpose flour
2 tsp instant yeast
1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or butter milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 Tbsp sugar + 1 1/2 Tbsp cinnamon)

White fondant glaze
4 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp orange, lemon, or vanilla extract
6 Tbsp to 1/2 cup warm milk

The Process:
*In his book, Reinhart goes into amazing depth about what each ingredient does as well as what happens during every step of the bread making process. It is certainly worth while reading, but is a bit too much info for a single recipe.*

Cream together the sugar, salt and shortening on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or by hand with a large metal spoon). Whip in the egg and lemon extract until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to a dough hook and increase speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough double in size.

Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top of the dough with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for large buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches wide for small buns. Don't roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. Will the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 even pieces each about 1 3/4 inched thick for large buns; or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.

Line one or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren't touching but are close to one another. Mist the dough with spray oil and cove loosely with plastic wrap.

Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size.Preheat the oven to 350 with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops while the buns are are warm, but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

For the fondant glaze:
sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 tsp of lemon or orange extract and between 6 tbsp to 1/2 cup warm milk, Briskly whisking until all of the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and use only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

My Modifications:
I followed the recipe as close to the letter as I could. I opted for buttermilk instead of whole milk, and used lemon zest instead of extract. Not having any unsalted butter, I used shortening instead. For the fondant I used vanilla extract in lieu of the citrus suggested. And all mixing and kneading was done by hand as 1) I lack a stand mixer and 2) hand kneading builds character and upper arm strength.

The Review:
This entire experience was a joy to the senses. The tactile joy of kneading the dough. The visual allure of the swirls of cinnamon nestled in the rolls. The yeasty assault on the nose as the the dough rose followed by the divine aromas emanating from the oven as the buns baked. The hushed moans of pleasure as we both partook of our bites. All culminating in that sweet, cinnimony and yeasty bliss upon the tongue.

Yes. These rolls were that heavenly. They will give Cinnabon a run for their money.

They were light, tender and full of delicate cinnamon flavor. The lemon and buttermilk offered just tartness to leave a clean aftertaste. After so many yeast baked good failures, to bite into something this amazing...this complex...and this successful made me feel as though I had summited Mt. Everest.

My only qualms is I fear I may have overbaked them a minute or two...the buns on the outer circle boasted much more crust. And glazes and fondants of confectioners sugar always seem far too cloying. Too overpoweringly sweet without much depth of flavor. A richer butter cream or cheese cheese frosty would probably do these heavenly buns more justice.

When I have the time to watch dough rise again, I will definitely be making these.

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