Start to Finish: 4 hours
Servings: 6
Difficulty: Moderate

Any cinnamon roll is a good cinnamon roll, but some are better than others. The best cinnamon rolls have a pillowy, tender crumb you can only get from homemade rich dough, which uses butter for lift. The rolls absorb a generous coating of caramelized cinnamon butter as they bake, anointing each flaky layer with flavor. Fine cinnamon rolls have another agent of flavor working, too: maturity. Making the cinnamon dough a day before baking allows the yeast to develop and ferment, resulting in a complex flavor and aroma unavailable otherwise.

(Recipe adapted from executive pastry chef Deborah Racicot, as listed at foodandwine.com)


Ingredients

Dough

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1/2 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Filling

  • 1/2 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup muscavado sugar or dark brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 egg, beaten

Glaze

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cream or milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract

Making the Dough

Microwave the milk until warm, about 15 to 20 seconds. Stir in the yeast and let the mixture stand until foamy, about 3 minutes.

Beat the butter, sugar and salt in a stand mixture on medium speed using the paddle attachment. Mix until the butter aerates and pales slightly in color. Add the egg and continue mixing until incorporated.

Set the mixer speed to low and sprinkle in 1 cup of the flour. Mix until combined and add the yeast mixture. Replace the paddle attachment with a dough hook.

Add the remaining flour and continue mixing until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes.

Transfer the dough to an oiled mixing bowl. Lay a piece of plastic wrap on the dough and let it rest in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.

Filling and Rolling the Dough

Turn the dough out onto a floured table and press it gently using the palms of your hands. Don’t flatten it.

Line a sheet pan with lightly floured parchment paper. Roll the dough into a 1/4-inch-thick rectangle using a floured rolling pin. This is a sticky, loose dough. Add scant amounts of flour as needed when you roll it. Place the dough on the sheet pan.

Trim the dough to a 12-inch-by-16-inch rectangle and place it in the freezer. Heat the butter, brown sugar and a pinch of salt in a saucepan over medium heat until browned, about 5 minutes. Set the butter aside.

Take the dough from the freezer after 15 minutes. Stir the cinnamon butter, scraping the bottom of the saucepan as you do to release the caramelized milk solids.

Brush the cinnamon butter over the sheet of dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border on the long sides. Brush the beaten egg on the unbuttered edges.

Grasp the long side of the parchment paper and use it to roll the dough into a tight cylinder. Pinch the edges of the dough to seal them. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Remove the dough from the freezer and slice it crosswise into 2-inch pieces. If desired, you can wrap each roll in plastic wrap and store them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake them, up to 24 hours.

Arrange the rolls on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Set the rolls in a warm place for their second rise, which takes about 1 hour.

Baking and Glazing

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Warm the reserved cinnamon butter and brush it over the top and sides of the rolls.

Bake the rolls for 35 to 40 minutes or until the internal temperature in the center reaches 175 F. Let the rolls stand at room temperature for 5 minutes.

Mix the powdered sugar, cream and vanilla while the rolls bake. Drizzle the glaze over the rolls.

Cooking Notes

  • No stand mixer? No problem. Add the yeast mixture to a large mixing bowl. Next, mix in the dough’s wet ingredients using a whisk. Add the dry ingredients and combine using long wooden spoon until the dough just comes together. Knead the dough for 5 minutes and continue with the remainder of the recipe.

  • Sprinkle crushed pecans over the buttered sheet of dough for a nutty filling.