Against January: Lemony Cardamom Cinnamon Rolls
Yesterday was grey and I felt blue, so I turned on all the lights, put some music on, and made some cinnamon rolls. It’s hard to stay blue when the kitchen is bright and fragrant with yeast and lemon zest, cinnamon and cardamom. Isn’t this, after all, how the Swedes get through their dark and endless winters, with sweet rolls and coffee cakes? And how can anyone feel too terrible when there’s a batch of cinnamon rolls on the way.
It’s been a punishing month – the loss of a loved one, the weather one long terrible tone-poem of gray winter mush. And so it’s probably no coincidence that I’ve been making a lot of yeasted rolls and breads lately. Last week I made some curious and lovely ensaimadas that I found at delicious:days, and I’ve made a few batches of yeast-risen waffles.
Working with dough just makes you feel better. Kneading is like a meditation. Let your mind go blank. Become the dough. And there’s the small miracle of putting together some flour, some yeast, some liquid, and having it come together in your hands – elastic, resilient, whole. It builds a small victory over doubt into your day: the dough will rise.
I found my cinnamon roll recipe over at The Paupered Chef. This is the best cinnamon roll recipe I have ever found and made. I couldn’t be happier with the results. The dough is very forgiving and easy to work with, so I could roll the dough out quite thinly, which is how I like to make them. You actually put the cream cheese frosting inside the roll, which keeps it tidy. And since my husband and I shouldn’t (but, totally could, and would, and sometimes: might) eat this whole batch in two days, I’ll put some aside in the freezer. Since the frosting’s on the inside, I don’t have to worry about having cream cheese frosting fixings on hand when I thaw them out.
This recipe puts lemon zest into the dough – I was tempted to skip this, but the zest makes it special. It basically makes them taste like sunshine. If you think that’s something you would like, and I suspect that it is, take that extra step and put in the zest. The original recipe has cardamom in the dough, too, but it made more sense to me to have the cardamom and cinnamon mingling directly, so I put it in the cinnamon/brown sugar filling.
These are best fresh and still warm, but they reheat quite nicely, too. To eat them on the second day, or if you’ve put some in the freezer, I recommend zapping them in the microwave to take the chill off or thaw them, if they’re frozen, then wrapping them in foil and popping them in toaster oven for a few minutes.
Cardamom Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from The Paupered Chef
For the dough
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), melted
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup warm milk
- 1 package or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- zest of 1 lemon
For the cinnamon filling
- 1 cup light brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon ground cardamom
For the frosting filling
- 4 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
Put the butter, sugar, and salt in a a large mixing bowl. Pour the warm milk into the bowl and stir to combine.
Proof the yeast by putting it into a small bowl with a 1/2 teaspoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons warm water. When it begins to foam, add it to the milk mixture; if nothing happens, start with new yeast and make sure the water isn’t warmer than wrist temperature.
Add about half the flour and the lemon zest to the milk mixture and stir well with a wooden spoon.
Add the eggs and yeast mixture and stir until well-mixed.
Continue adding flour and stirring with a wooden spoon until it’s too thick to do so. Switch to kneading with your hands, continuing to add flour until the dough no longer sticks to your fingers, but is still quite tacky. Add more flour, as needed, to reach this consistency. Knead for about ten minutes. The dough should be smooth and tacky.
Sprinkle the dough with a little flour and cover with a kitchen towel. Allow to rise in a warm place for at least an hour, up to two, until it’s about doubled in size.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the brown sugar, cardamom, and cinnamon and set aside. In a medium mixing bowl, combine the butter, cream cheese, and confectioners sugar and beat until smooth, then set aside.
When the dough is ready, divide it into 2 pieces, and turn one piece onto a lightly floured surface. Roll it into a large rectangle, at least a foot wide and 1.5 times as long. The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick at the most.
Scoop out about half the frosting, and spread it evenly across the dough. Sprinkle with half the brown sugar mixture, and roll the rectangle lengthwise into a long cylinder.
Using a very sharp knife, or a serrated bread knife, cut the cylinder into 1-inch wide pieces. Transfer these to a rectangular baking dish. I used two pie plates; you could also use a 9X13 dish, and put the extra in a pie plate, or two 9X9 dishes. The rolls should be almost just, almost touching.
In any case, cover with a piece of plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place for 45 minutes, or until they’ve plumped out a bit.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the rolls have risen, remove the plastic wrap. Bake until the tops of the inner rolls are just beginning to brown, about 16-20 minutes.