Friday, October 12, 2012

Cinnamon Rolls with Orange Frosting

Matt and Jenna and Sam visited us last weekend (Matt and Steve went to the PSU game...which Penn State surprised everyone by winning).  Matt and Jenna requested "Orange Danish" during their visit (and to take home afterwards).

When the kids were growing up and I was still popping things out of Pillsbury cans, they loved Orange Danish.  The recipe that follows is a version of the cinnamon rolls we learned to make at Zingerman's with an orange frosting adapted from a vintage Betty Crocker cookbook.  You may be seeing a trend here.  Many of my recipes have evolved from the original, and sometimes I will paste together recipes from two different sources.  Usually it happens either because the original recipe didn't taste quite how I imagined it would or I'm trying to recapture the taste of something I've eaten in the past.  Or I will apply techniques I've acquired along the way to improve on a recipe.  I'm not really an intuitive cook so much as an intellectual one, I guess.  I want to understand why things taste the way they do, and I want to be able to get consistent, excellent results.

For many years I was terrified of yeast in any form, feeling like a bad mother because I couldn't keep the little organisms alive.  I even tried measuring the temperature of the water used to proof the yeast with a thermometer to be sure it was exactly right.  Still, without fail, the yeast underperformed if it performed at all.  Little flat, brick-like loaves were all I seemed able to produce.  Then, a few years ago, I discovered SAF Red Instant Yeast at King Arthur Flour
and everything changed.  This is a yeast that doesn't need to be proofed, but is added in with the dry ingredients.  And while it comes in a 1 lb bag, it is good for a year in an airtight container in the freezer.  Here's an interesting history about instant yeast.  Manufacturers had brought out instant yeast years ago, but had also required adding rather hot water (130 degrees F) to the dough.  Bread bakers were creatures of habit, though, so they would try to proof it anyway, and when they went ahead and tried to proof it with 110 degrees F water (which had been standard for proofing forever), they got poor results.  Consequently earlier versions of instant yeast  failed and no one would buy it.  But in Europe, and in bakeries, instant yeast has been used successfully for years.

So now I have this excellent instant yeast, but most recipes still call for proofing, which requires some mental gymnastics to get around when you use this yeast.  You have to add the proofing liquid in with the rest of the wet ingredients, then add the yeast along with the first half of the flour.  It took me a while to work this out, but for any recipes I provide for you here, it will be perfectly clear and easy.

Another ingredient note on sugars.  At Zingerman's, they use Muscovado sugar as their standard light brown sugar.  Typical brown sugars (such as Domino's in the East or C&H in the West), are really just refined sugar with molasses added to it, a little for light brown sugar, and a lot for dark brown.  Muscovado is unrefined cane sugar, which is less sweet.  The best brand, should you decide to try it, is Billington's.  They also make a dark brown, which is unrefined sugar with molasses added.  As a side note, I did a side-by-side comparison when Jennifer and Briana were here, making two batches of blondies.  In that recipe, we all agreed that the ones made with Muscovado were good, but the ones with regular brown sugar were GREAT.  In these cinnamon rolls, I always use the Muscovado, because I think it helps them not be cloyingly sweet.  Oh, and by the way, if you don't already have some, buy brown sugar bears for your brown sugars:

He's made out of unglazed pottery.  You just soak him in water for 30 minutes, dry him off, and bury him in the sugar.  Every three or four months, bring him out and re-wet him, and your brown sugar will be soft and lump-free.


Poolish:  Traditional bakers used a variety of methods to get dough to rise, usually involving wild yeasts (such as are in the air around us) and time.  A poolish combines commercial instant yeast with a little bit of time, and it creates a dough that inflates easily, resulting in a light, fluffy baked good.  And it's easy!

Poolish Ingredients:

1 cup (8 oz) milk
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/4 cups (11 7/8 oz) bread flour (I use King Arthur's Organic Bread Flour)

In the mixer bowl, combine the milk, yeast and bread flour.

Mix with the paddle attachment until the mixture forms a dough.  This is a firm poolish.

Scrape down the sides so it sits in the bottom of the bowl, then cover with plastic wrap.  Ferment at room temperature for 1 hour.  [Room temperature is between 68-72 degrees F for poolish or bread dough]

[You may have noticed that I have a special paddle attachment for my Kitchenaid mixer.  It has a rubber blade attached so that I don't have to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides.  Optional, but extremely handy.]


1 cup (8 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup (4 oz) sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, room temperature
2 1/4 cups (11 7/8 oz) bread flour

On low speed, cream the butter, sugar, and salt until combined.  Increase the speed to medium and beat until creamy.

Add eggs one at a time.  Scrape down the bowl as necessary.

It will look sort of curdled when you have all the eggs in it.

With the mixer on low speed, break up poolish into small pieces and add to the creamed mixture.

Once all the poolish is added, increase to medium speed and beat until the mixture is light and creamy.

On low speed, add the flour and mix for 3 minutes.  Scrape down the bowl if necessary.

Here's what it should look like when you're done mixing:

Remove the bowl, double-wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight, before rolling.

Rolling and Filling:

Look how much the dough has risen and strengthened overnight in the refrigerator:

Next, make the cinnamon-sugar filling:

Cinnamon Sugar Filling:

1/2 cup (4 oz) light brown sugar or Muscavado
2 Tablespoons cinnamon (I use Penzey's Vietnamese or Chinese Cassia)
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Set aside until needed to fill the rolls.

Before you begin, assemble everything you will need to roll out the rolls:  flour, rolling pin, bench scraper, pastry brush, sharp knife, ruler, half sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

This is important, because once you start, you'll have messy, flour-covered hands.

Now, remove the sweet dough from the refrigerator, unwrap the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface.  Lightly flour the top of the dough.

Begin by tapping the dough until it is approximately 8x10", with the long side facing you.  This softens the dough slightly, making it less likely to have fissures as you roll it out, although it will inevitably have some.  Check to see that the dough is not sticking to the surface (flour lightly if necessary).

Now, it's ready to roll out.  I use a tapered rolling pin because it gives more control over the shape you are trying to achieve.  There is only about a 4" area of contact with the dough.  In order to create a rectangular shape, you start in the center and roll towards the corners like this:

I use a ruler, both to check to see when I have reached 14x18", and to square up the edges to neaten them as I'm doing here:

Once you have reached the desired size, brush away the flour underneath the dough.  I learned this the hard way, when the extra flour ended up inside the rolls.

When you are done, it should look about like this.  Notice that there are imperfections around the edges.  This dough, just like people, does not need to be perfect.


Melt 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, and brush over the surface of the dough, making sure to go all the way to the edges (it's the only glue you have to help it stay together).

Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over the butter, except for 1/2-inch along the top and bottom edge.

Using the sharp knife, cut the dough in half in the middle, creating two pieces that are 7"x18".

Starting with the middle, begin rolling the dough, from one side to the other, keeping the rolling as snug as possible.

Continue rolling the dough up and pinch the seam together.

Roll the seam to the bottom and cut the roll in half.

Cut each half in half again.  Then cut each quarter piece into 3 even pieces.

The pieces will be approximately 1 1/2-inches wide.

Repeat with the other half of the dough.

Place the rolls on the half-sheet, four across and six rows down.  I like to scoop up any left over brown sugar-cinnamon mixture and sprinkle it over the top...why waste it?

With the palm of your hand, press the rolls down until they are 3/4" thick.

Cover the rolls with plastic wrap and let proof at room temperature for 2 hours.

After 1 and a half hours, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove plastic wrap.  They'll have risen nicely and look like this:

Place in pre-heated oven.  Bake 15-18 minutes, or until the cinnamon rolls are a golden brown.  Check the bottom of the rolls to see if they have taken on color.  They will continue to puff up in the oven

While the rolls are baking, make the icing.

Orange Icing:

4 Tablespoons (2 oz) unsalted butter, softened
2 cups (8 oz ) powdered sugar
Zest of 1 orange
2 1/2 Tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon orange oil
1/8 teaspoon sea salt

Whisk ingredients together to form a smooth paste (the butter will melt as you spread it, so don't make it too thin).  Spread icing over cinnamon rolls immediately after they come out of the oven.

These are delicious right out of the oven, but almost as good frozen and reheated.  To freeze:  once they have cooled, use a spatula to separate them, and place in a good quality freezer bag.  When you're ready to eat them, place a single roll on a plate, and microwave for exactly 24 seconds.

It does take some time management to make these rolls.  What I have done is to make the dough the night before and put it in the refrigerator overnight.   As soon as I get up in the morning, I roll it out, and 2 hours later they're ready to go in the oven.  If you're up at 7:00, they're ready to go in the oven at 9:30.  Alternately, you could make the dough in the middle of the day, let it rise for 4 hours, roll out the rolls, and put them in the refrigerator overnight covered in plastic wrap (twice wrapped to be safe).  They should sit at room temperature for an hour before going into the oven.

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