I’ve prepared and tasted hundreds of cinnamon rolls in my time in the kitchen, and I’ve come to understand that, like scones and madeleines, they’re best when still warm from the oven. After only a few hours at room temperature, a roll that was soft, moist, and delightful when warm becomes brittle, dry, and tasteless.
However, I was confident that a cinnamon roll with a longer shelf life was conceivable given all the methods available for creating soft, flexible dough textures.
I wanted to create one that was not only moist and tender even after being refrigerated, but also stood out visually with a characteristic swirl and was topped with a cream cheese frosting that wasn’t overly sugary.
I utilised a time-honored method for making enriched doughs (like those used to create cinnamon rolls) generate gobs of gluten so that they would rise to the lofty heights I had in mind. The term “scalding” is used to describe the process of bringing milk to a temperature just below the boiling point and holding it there until certain proteins in the milk denature. These proteins prevent gluten, the elastic fibres responsible for bread’s bounce and chew, from forming without scorching, thus the dough is likely to be lacking in structure and elasticity. It may seem contradictory, but creating a lot of gluten is crucial here because it confines the gas created by the yeast, giving the baked dish a light, airy feel.
Then I added a tangzhong, a cooked roux-like combination of flour and milk, to boost moisture and softness, as well as to lengthen the dough’s shelf life. Because of its capacity to boost the dough’s ability to keep moisture, tangzhong is used in various Asian breads, such Japanese milk bread, to create a pillowy texture, making the cooked rolls fluffier, springier, and less prone to dry out. As a result, when pulled apart, they reveal delicate strands of dough that are both velvety and gratifying.
The dough is too sticky to deal with by hand, thus a stand mixer is required for its preparation. Don’t be tempted to increase the speed of the mixer; a slower mix time produces a more robust gluten network. The dough is refrigerated for a long time, which enhances its flavour and helps the flour absorb more of the liquid components, making it simpler to roll out and fill.
I wanted a good cinnamon swirl, but I didn’t want to overpower the buns with sweetness by using an excessive amount of cinnamon sugar. The solution was to add finely crushed speculoos biscuits, which give both texture and a mildly spiced, molasses-y flavour without a lot of extra sugar. If you can’t locate speculoos cookies, you may use graham crackers or gingersnaps instead.
I wrap the rolls with aluminium foil for the first half of baking to avoid moisture loss in the oven, keeping the buns flexible and allowing for optimal expansion during baking. Instead of using a glass baking dish, use a light-colored metal one for more consistent results every time. The vanilla cream cheese frosting used as a topping helps lock in even more moisture.
The rolls can sit out in the open for a whole day and only incur little damage because of a few key techniques and components. You may prepare them in advance if you prefer, but they’re best served hot, just out of the oven. Even though they’re delicious cold, just imagine how much better they’ll be.