Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Holy Trinity: Salt, Cream Cheese, and Butter. Okay, and Brown Sugar.

There are no two ways around it--my mother taught me to bake. I never realized until recently how ingrained the things that she taught me were; then I started saying things like, "You mean you don't have a springform pan?" and, "What do you mean, what's a waterbath?" My house was the one growing up where everyone wanted to eat, and my lunches were always envied because my cookies didn't have a nautically-themed, store-bought name. I was spoiled, in fact. There are many things that I just can't eat now because I had them too often when I was young. Yes, I know, poor me, having eaten so many brownies and peanut-butter bars that I can't face them any longer. My life has been so hard.

But these cinnamon rolls...I don't think I'll ever be on such bad terms with them. I think I could eat them every day, every meal, until I weigh so much that they have to lift me out of the house with a crane. And that would be fine, just as long as I could bring the pan with me.

To begin with, they have cream cheese frosting. Nothing bad ever came from a recipe with cream cheese frosting. And under the frosting, they're dripping with caramelized brown sugar. It clings to every swirl of the dough, and coats the bottom of the pan so that you can't take a single bite without the very real threat of rotting out every tooth in your head. Like I said, though, it would be worth it.

And, as it always is with baking, the devil's in the details. I will do my best to tell you every little trick that my mother taught me so that these turn out. Because if they do, I guarantee you, you'll never look back. They're so good that my dog wanted to help me bake this last batch, and ended up with a nose full of flour to show for it. They will convert you to the faith of gooey, dripping frosting and brown sugar. As I have said, so it shall be.

Perfect Cinnamon Rolls
Adapted from Alton Brown

4 large egg yolks, room temp
1 large whole egg, room temp
2 ounces sugar, approx. 1/4 cup
3 ounces unsalted melted butter, approx. 6 tbs
6 ounces buttermilk, room temperature (If you don't have buttermilk, you can use 1 cup of milk to 2 1/2 tbs of lime juice)
20 ounces all-purpose flour, approx. 6 cups, and extra for dusting
1 package instant dry yeast, approx. 2 1/4 tsp
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
Vegetable oil or cooking spray

16 ounces light brown sugar, approx. 2 cup packed
2 tbs cinnamon
Pinch of salt
A large chunk of softened butter, approx. 3 tbs

4 ounces cream cheese, approx. 1/3 cup
3 ounces unsalted butter, approx. 6 tbs
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
6 ounces powdered sugar

For the dough: Whisk together the egg yolks, whole egg, sugar, butter, and buttermilk. Add approximately 2 cups of the flour, the yeast and the salt; whisk until moistened and combined. In an electric mixer, use a dough hook to mix together the egg, sugar and buttermilk mixture and all but 3/4 cup of the remaining flour and knead on low speed for 5 minutes. The dough should feel soft and moist but not sticky; add more flour if necessary. Knead on low for an additional 5 minutes or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for an additional 30 seconds. Lightly oil the sides of a large bowl and transfer the dough into it. Lightly oil the top of the dough, cover and let it double in volume, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Mix until well incorporated. Set aside.

Butter a 9x13 inch glass baking dish. Line the bottom of the dish with parchment paper, and then butter the top of the paper. Punch down the risen dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Shape the dough into a rectangle with the long side nearest you by hand. Using the rolling pin, roll the dough into an 18x12 inch rectangle. Using your hands, (or a knife if you must,) spread the butter evenly on the dough, leaving a 3/4 inch border along the top edge. Do the same with half of the filling. Beginning with the edge nearest you, tightly roll the dough into a cylinder. Pinch the unbuttered seam closed to seal the roll. Gently squeeze the cylinder to create an even thickness. Cut the rolls using a serrated knife into 1 1/2-inch rolls, creating 12 rolls.

Spread the other half of the filling in the pan with the parchment paper. Evenly space the rolls in the baking dish, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow the rolls to rise in the fridge overnight.

The next morning...

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the rolls on the center rack and bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the rolls from the oven and invert the pan onto a large serving platter so that all the melted sugar on the bottom spreads over the top. While the rolls cool slightly, whisk the cream cheese in an electric mixer until creamy. Add the butter and vanilla and whisk until combined, then add the salt and powdered sugar a bit at a time. Whisk until smooth. Spread over the rolls and serve immediately.

Baking tips from my mother, to me, to you:
*Oiling the bowl helps the bread to rise better, because it isn't clinging to the sides.
*Parchment paper, parchment paper, parchment paper. If you're planning to turn something out of a pan, (not just these rolls, but cakes or anything else,) parchment paper is going to make your life much easier. Just be sure to butter the pan and the paper.
*A little salt in the cream cheese frosting helps to cut the sweetness of the sugar. People underestimate the importance of salt in dessert. Even though it looks like a small amount, don't skip the salt.

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