Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls

King Arthur Flour (KAF) has done it again. This recipe produces a very soft and pillowy roll that tastes fresh even the next day. They prove again, that technique is important. The vanilla icing is rich and wonderful. As they state, “the result is truly the ultimate cinnamon roll.”

Whenever you bake, it’s important to use fresh and quality ingredients. Make sure your yeast is still fresh, the flour is the correct flour for the recipe and not expired. I sometimes only use a flour once because of a recipe, and it just sits on the shelf until the fateful expiration-date-trash-toss. You can freeze flour if you don’t think you will be using it soon. It’s important to have the right space. If you have to roll a dough, you should have the space to roll it and for excess flour to splash about. I cover counter items with dish towels so I don’t have flour between olive oil bottles and such. Most importantly, you need to make time. Look at the recipe and see if it accounts for the prep, bake, or total time. Add on to whatever time is stated. Professional bakers are more skilled. The equipment they use is not the same as ours. I have started using a kitchen scale to weigh my ingredients. It does make a difference.

I’m not a librarian but I play one in real life. I love to research. So, I approached this recipe with caution. I was glad there wasn’t a “best” snuck into the title. There is no “best.” I follow KAF on Instagram (@kingarthurbaking). They made a video on how make this recipe. Several tips, not included in the recipe, were shown in the video. I was unfamiliar with the Japanese technique, tangzhong. After watching the video, I knew how to do it and what it should look like. Confidence booster. This technique pre-gelatinizes the flour’s starches, which helps them retain liquid, thus enhancing softness and shelf life. Food science! I also followed the suggestion of adding the rest of the milk to the tangzhong, when it was done, to take the chill off the milk. One more trick I learned was to brush the rolled out dough with some milk, to make the cinnamon filling stick. Also, somewhere between the video and printed tips, I learned that rolling it too tightly, makes the center “pop” when it’s cooked. Yes. More information that I needed to stop the cursed mountain-looking roll.

Ingredients

Tangzhong:

1/2 cup (113 grams) whole milk

3 tablespoons (23 grams) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour

Dough:

2/3 cup (151) whole milk, cold

2 1/2 cups (300 grams) King Arthur Flour Unbleached Bread Flour

1 tsp. (6 grams) salt

2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar

2 teaspoons instant yeast

4 tablespoons (57 grams) unsalted butter, softened

Filling

1 tablespoon (14 grams) butter, melted

1/2 cup (107 grams) light brown sugar, packed

2 tablespoons (15 grams) King Arthur Flour Unbleached Bread Flour

3 to 4 teaspoons (8 grams to 10 grams) cinnamon

1/16 teaspoon (pinch) salt

Icing:

3 tablespoons (42 grams) butter, melted and divided

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1/16 tsp. (pinch) salt

1 1/2 cups (170 grams) confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 to 2 tablespoons (14 grams to 28 grams) milk or cream enough to thin to desired consistency ( I like it thick)

Instructions:

To make the tangzhong, combine both ingredients in a small saucepan, and whisk until there are no lumps. Place the saucepan over a medium heat and cook the mixture, stirring regularly, until thickened. It should be thick as paste. If you drag a spoon along the bottom of the pan, the mixture does not cover the drag line. It should take about 1-3 minutes. Remove the pan from heat. Add the 2/3 cup of milk to the pan, to take the chill off. Warm milk helps the yeast rise quicker. Hot milk, over 110 degrees, will kill the yeast.

To make the dough, transfer the tangzhong and milk from the pan into a the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the ingredients to the mixing bowl in the order listed. If you didn’t add the milk to the tangzhong, add the 2/3 cup of milk to mixer, to warm the cold milk.

Mix on low speed of a stand mixer with the dough hook. Once it’s mixed, knead the dough until it’s smooth, elastic, and tacky. This will take about 10-12 minutes on medium-low speed of a mixer. I periodically stopped the mixer and scraped the dough off the hook, and then turned it back on. I wanted to make sure it was getting kneaded.

Shape the dough into a ball, place it in a bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a reusable cover (shower cap!) Let the dough rise until puffy, but not necessarily doubled in bulk. This should take from 60-90 minutes depending on the warmth of your kitchen. I like to turn my over on to 200 degrees, and place the dough near the back of the stove, so the heat from the oven helps it rise. Keep an eye on it. I turn the pan so both sides get some warmth. If the pan seems hot, pull it toward the front of the stove. You don’t want them to cook, just warm enough to help the rise.

To make the filling, while the dough is rising, put the melted butter into a medium bowl and add the rest of the remaining ingredients, stirring until the mixture is the texture of damp sand. I used Vietnamese cinnamon. It’s very strong. I used 3 tablespoons and it was still strong. Next time I will use only 2 tablespoons. If you are using regular grocery store cinnamon, use the recipe recommended amount. You can add less and then add more once you have tasted it. Always taste. Set the bowl aside.

Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper. I prefer parchment paper.

To assemble the rolls, transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface and press it into a 10″ x 12″ rectangle. I treated myself to this rolling mat and don’t regret it. It’s made of silicone, so there’s no sticking, no grease to wipe off. I use it when I roll out my pie dough too. Handy but not necessary. For evenly shaped rolls, try to pat the dough into an actual rectangle (with corners). You don’t need a rolling pin for this. I did use one after I patted it into a rectangle.Try to handle it as little as possible. You don’t want it to snap back on you. If it does, give it a rest before you continue. It’s very pliable, so it should be easy to shape.

To help the cinnamon mixture stick, I brushed the dough with a little milk. Sprinkle the filling over the dough, covering all but the 1/2″ strip along one long side.

Starting with the filling-covered long side, roll the dough into a log. Don’t roll it too tightly. This will cause the center to pop out when it’s baking. Pinch the seam together with your fingers. This recipe makes 8 generous rolls. I would not change the size, but you can. I score the log in the middle. Then I score each half, at the half point. And then again to make 8 scores. Using dental floss is the best way to cut the dough into individual rolls. Slip it under the dough, cross it on the score mark, and pull the ends. Voila! The rolls are not squished. Save the minty floss for your teeth. Only use unflavored floss for your rolls. But you knew that!

Place the rolls on your baking sheet. The directions say to space them 2 inches apart. I like to space them closer. I like when they rise and bake to be touching. Pulling apart warm rolls is one of life’s joys. Keeping them close helps keep the rolls from unraveling too. I put them about an inch apart. You can lay them out in a 3-2-3 pattern. If you do space them further apart, to hold the ends in place, you can tuck the ends of the spirals underneath the rolls.

Cover the rolls with a clean dish towel and let the rise for 30-60 minutes (depending on the warmth of your kitchen). The rolls should be puffy and the dough shouldn’t bounce back immediately when pressed. About 20 minutes before you’re ready to bake, position a rack in the top third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the rolls for 14 to 18 minutes, until they’re a light golden brown and a digital thermometer inserted into the center of one roll reads 190 degrees. Bake for the lesser amount of time for extra-soft rolls, and the longer amount of time for rolls with a bit more color and slightly firmer texture.

Remove rolls from the oven, place pan on a cooling rack, and brush the hot rolls with 1 1/2 tablespoons of melted butter. Let the rolls cool for 10 to 15 minutes before icing.

To make icing, combine the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons (21 grams) of melted butter with the remaining icing ingredients in a medium bowl. I sift my sugar through a mesh strainer. Nothing fancy. Mix with a spatula until smooth. I did not divide my butter. I used only one bowl to melt the butter. and brushed enough to coat the rolls. I used the remaining melted butter for the icing. Not quite what the directions said, but it worked out wonderfully. I had to add a little more milk. I like the icing to be thick. When the rolls are warm, thick icing melts a little into crevices, while some stays on top. It’s magical.

If you have any left you can store them at room temperature for a few days, or freeze them up to 1 month.

Next time I may add cooked cinnamon sugar apples to the filling. You can also add raisins.

Enjoy!