Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dark and Dangerous Cinnamon Buns

There is nothing like the smell of cinnamon rolls. It warms me up and makes me feel nostalgic--for what, I wonder?--whether I catch the scent when I'm at a bakery, at Bottletree with my girlfriends, or even walking past the Cinnabon stand in the airport. At the same time, I think about that commercial that shows a woman walking down the street with two huge cinnamon buns attached to her, well, buns. Sure, they're fattening, I get it, you want to sell us some processed preservative-laden "health" food with the shelf life of a McDonald's hamburger (like the picture of Dorian Gray, they never seem to age). Do you ever wonder why it is that the most commercially viable emotional response to food we have as a nation is guilt? We buy synthetic foods because they are marketed as "guilt-free." We trust the packaging more than our own instincts--if we have any food instincts left after decades of corporate brainwashing in the name of "convenience." But really, do we trust our food? Do we know what's in it, where those ingredients came from, what it took to convert those elements into the final food item we are about to consume? I venture that most of us probably don't. How can we trust something we don't understand?

Cinnamon rolls evoke the warmth and pleasures of home, of a simpler past. I'd guess they do this for everyone, whether or not you lived in a home where baking bread was common (I didn't). Despite this pleasure, we have learned to be guilty because they contain fat. We've learned to be wary of what smells good or tastes good. Aren't we the nation that, several years ago, declared that bread was evil? That we should replace it with bacon? Don't get me wrong--bacon is perhaps second only to sliced bread (ironic, eh?) in its importance to American culinary culture. But we're looking for simplicity in all the wrong places. Why cut one thing and replace it with another? Here's a simple idea: Eat real food, food with identifiable ingredients, and eat everything in moderation. No rules or point systems or guilt. Just learn to enjoy your food--everything you put into your mouth. If you start feeling guilty--we have been trained, after all--stop it. I mean it--focus on the smell, flavor, and texture of what you're eating. Think about how you would describe them to someone you love. You'll forget to feel guilty. Then make a habit of this forgetfulness.

Well, I wasn't looking for a healthy cinnamon roll recipe. My husband and I were in the midst of our no-white-flour Lent, and I couldn't shake my desire for cinnamon rolls. I checked out my new favorite baking book, King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking, and found the answer: Dark and Dangerous Cinnamon Buns. They are made from 100% whole wheat flour, they are delicious, they freeze well, and the only danger is that there may be more demand than you anticipated!

A few tips: Weigh everything! Get a digital kitchen scale and weigh everything. It really makes a difference for every recipe in this book. If I ever forget to mention this in the future, weigh everything! Also, this dough can be left overnight in the fridge for its second rise. Just let it come to room temperature and proof it. (Place a 9x13 inch pan filled with boiling water on bottom rack and the rolls on the middle rack. Leave for 30 mins., then remove rolls from oven and preheat to 350 degrees. The water can remain in the oven during the baking process.)

Dark and Dangerous Cinnamon Buns


3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (7 ounces) lukewarm water

1/4 cup (2 ounces) fresh squeezed orange juice

5 tablespoons (3 ounces) honey

1 large egg, yolk and white separated (reserve the white)

4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into chunks

3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) traditional whole wheat flour (or white whole wheat)

1/2 cup (1.75 ouncees) old-fashioned rolled oats

1/2 cup (1.25 ounces) dry potato flakes

1/4 cup (1 ounce) nonfat dry milk powder

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons instant yeast


1 cup (7.5 ounces) packed dark brown sugar

1 large egg white

2 tablespoons cinnamon

Scant 1/8 teaspoon salt


2 cups (8 ounces) confectioners' sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Pinch of salt

2-4 tablespoons milk

To make the dough:

In a large mixing bowl, weigh and mix together water, orange juice, honey, egg yolk, butter, flours, oats, potato flakes, dry milk, salt and yeast just until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment on medium-low speed for 5-8 minutes. Cover the dough and let rest for 45 minutes so the flour can absorb the liquid and the yeast can get a head start--do not skip this step. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface until you have a medium-soft and smooth dough. If using a stand mixer, use the dough hook on low speed for about 13-15 minutes. Place in a large lightly greased bowl and cover - let rise in a warm place until it is very puffy, though it probably will not double in size - about 2 hours.

To make the filling:

In a medium bowl, stir together brown sugar, egg white, cinnamon and salt until completely combined.

To assemble the rolls:

Gently turn out the dough onto a lightly greased surface. Roll the dough out until it is a 12 x 16" rectangle. Use wet fingers to spread the filling evenly over the dough, leaving a 1" margin along one of the long edges. (You may want to keep a bowl of lukewarm water next to you for dipping your fingers--the filling is very sticky. Try to get it as even as possible.) Roll the dough into a log (not too tight to allow for rising), starting with the long end that has the filling all the way to the edge, turning it so the seam will be flat against the surface. Use a serrated knife and gently cut the dough into 16 1" pieces. Evenly space the buns into a 9x13 inch baking dish coated lightly with cooking spray. They probably won't touch--that's fine. (At this point you can cover with plastic wrap and place them in the fridge to rise overnight, letting them come to room temperature before proofing--see tips prior to recipe--and baking. If you don't want to let them sit for an overnight rise, then use the following directions.)

Either follow the tips for proofing or preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (Placing rolls in off-oven with boiling water is not necessary, but it helps them rise and stay moist, so I suggest it.) Cover and let rise for 1 to 1 1/4 hours - they will not double in size, but should rise by about half as large as they started out. Place in the oven and bake until they are a deep golden brown on top, about 24-28 minutes. Remove the pan and set on a wire rack for about 3 minutes. Carefully turn the rolls out onto a wire rack and then flip them back again (so the tops are up) onto another wire cooling rack.

To make the icing:

In a large mixing bowl, mix together confectioners' sugar, vanilla, butter, salt and 2 tablespoons milk. Add in additional milk, if necessary, to achieve a creamy spreadable icing. Spread the icing over the baked rolls. The warmer the rolls are when you spread the icing, the thinner the glaze will be. It's totally up to you.

Makes 16 buns.