There it is ladies and gentleman… the queen bee to the hive; the sunshine to a beach day; the Kim Kar”ugh”ian to the land of all things inessential, unproductive and space-wasting… the center ring to a warm, ooey, gooey, cinnamon bun. You know exactly what I am talking about. Whether you are the type who starts slowly around the outside, unraveling the winding cinnamon sugar dough ring by ring… or the type to scoop one out of the tray with your hand, hold it like a baseball, and run around trying to get the kiddies dressed while at the same time trying to hide it so you don’t have share 12 year old style like I do fork and knife it in a sophisticated manner while doing your best duck lips and pretending like you don’t want to just ditch the fork and knife method (because we all know you do)… there is one thing that remains true in the face of whichever technique you employ… the pure bliss of that center ring is 98% of the cinnamon bun experience. Forever the perfect bite size, the dough is always dreamily warm and soft while the ratio of cinnamon:butter:sugar:dough:alternate-universe-type-of-delight is ideal. It is the paradise of baked goods.
So here’s the deal. You owe it to yourself to try this recipe… you owe it to your soul. Whether that soul of yours wants to sit quietly and enjoy a sinfully delightful warm treat with a cup of coffee and the paper on a quiet sunny morning, or it wants to share a few with friends and/or family around a table full of chit chat and smiles (you’ll probably hear a lot of “uhmygaaahd, these are so good” too)… I challenge you to find someone that doesn’t LOVE these.
We are talking rich, warm dough brushed with butter that encloses rings of cinnamon, sugar, maple syrup, vanilla and a touch of cloves (for that fall/winter kick). Do you know what makes this dough super delicious? It is filled with layers of cream cheese… and do you know how that cream cheese gets there? It will be magically crafted in … by you. Grab your rolling pin and let’s get to it (well, you go get to it. I already have and ate SIX in the last 48 hours… s’good!
Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls
For the Dough:
1 package (2¼ teaspoons) instant yeast
½ teaspoons, plus ¼ cup sugar, divided
½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
2¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
¾ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the Filling:
½ cup sugar
¼ dark brown sugar, packed
¼ cup finely chopped pecans (I didn’t add)
¼ cup finely chopped walnuts (I didn’t add)
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 tablespoons maple syrup
4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided in half, melted
For the Icing:
1½ cups powdered sugar
3 tablespoons whole milk
1. To Make the Dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer combine yeast, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 cup water heated to 115°F. Stir to combine and let sit until frothy and foamy, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the remaining sugar, milk, light brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk. Beat with a wire whisk until well combined. Fit the bowl onto the mixer, fitting with the dough hook attachment. Add the flour and salt and mix on medium speed until the dough just begins to come together. Turn the machine on medium-high and knead the dough for 4 minutes.
3. Add the butter and continue to knead for about 6 minutes. The dough will be wet and sticky. Place the dough on a well floured work surface, and knead about 1/3 cup all-purpose flour into the dough. The dough still might be a little sticky, which is ok. Set the dough to rest in a large greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
4. While the dough rises, make the filling. Combine the sugar, dark brown sugar, pecans, walnuts, cinnamon, salt and cloves in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Stir in the maple syrup. Set aside.
5. When the dough has doubled in size, dump it from the bowl onto a heavily floured work surface. Gently knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, adding more flour as needed. Work the dough for about 1 or 2 minutes. Once it’s no longer sticky, place a kitchen towel over the dough and let rest for 5 minutes before you roll it out.
6. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10 x 10-inch square.
7. In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese with a knife until it’s smooth and spreadable.
8. Spread the cream cheese evenly over the dough square. Fold the square into thirds like you would fold a letter to fit into an envelope. Take the open ends of the rectangle and fold into thirds again, to make a smaller dough square.
9. Invert the dough so that the seam is face down and, using the rolling pin, gently roll it into a 10 x 20-inch rectangle. You may find that some cream cheese sneaks through. Be as gentle as possible with the dough, but continue to work it until you reach the size you need.
10. Turn the dough so that the short sides are parallel to you.
11. Brush the top of the dough with half of the melted butter. We’ll use the rest of the butter after the rolls are baked.
12. Pour all of the filling onto the dough. Spread evenly, leaving a 1-inch boarder at one of the short edges of the dough so the roll can be properly sealed. Lightly press the filling into the dough.
13. Using your hands, lift up the bottom edge of the dough and roll it forward into a tight cylinder. Place dough cylinder seam side down on a cutting board. Using a sharp, thin knife, trim off the uneven edges.
14. Cut the cylinder into 8 equal slices. (Slice in the middle first, then divide those two in half, then divde those 4 in half) Nestle the slices, cut side up and evenly spaced in a butter 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to let rise for 2 hours. You may also refrigerate rolls overnight. (I DO)
15. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Uncover the rolls. If you refrigerated the rolls, let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before baking. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
16. Transfer the pan of cinnamon rolls to a cooling rack. Brush with remaining melted butter. Let cool for 5 minutes.
17. Make the icing: Whisk together the sugar and milk in a small bowl until smooth, adding more sugar or milk to reach your desired consistency.
18. Dip the tines of a fork into the icing and drizzle over the rolls. Serve warm or at room temperature.
The morning of… pre-baked beauties.