Love the smell of freshly baked cinnamon rolls? You know the smell of the those jumbo mall varieties? Gooey, sticky, sweet rolls…mmmmmmmmmmm.
Well, a couple weeks ago on a Friday during lunch, a strong, sudden desire overcame me to make cinnamon rolls that weekend. After lunch, as I was teaching my high school English class, we were correcting vocabulary and the word “synonym” came up, but I said “cinnamon” instead. Needless to say, the kids thought is was quite funny and I had to explain that I had cinnamon rolls on the brain.
Mind you, this recipe isn’t for the faint of heart…in terms of kitchen and effort, I mean. It takes a couple rounds of rising, some muscle power for rolling, and even more muscle power for kneading if you don’t have a large stand mixer. All worth it, though, if you love cinnamon rolls. (By the way, keep an eye on the stand mixer if you use one; the dough was so thick that my mixer was dancing across the counter and almost danced its way into the sink, but I spied it just in time!)
This recipe calls for spreading a layer of cream cheese on the rolled out dough, then folding it up again, thereby creating a flaky tenderness to the dough. Plus, the filling contains goodies beyond just sugar, cinnamon, and butter. It is loaded with spices and nuts and even chewy raisins (which I left out). I’m drooling again just writing about it…oh-so-heavenly! Roll the dough tightly. Even though I thought I rolled it snugly, each roll still spread more than I wanted during baking.
By the way, these cinnamon rolls aren’t for the faint of heart in terms of calories, either. I’m sure they are total fat bombs, but we need those once in awhile, right?
So, back to that cream cheese layer. Don’t do what I did: cut the folded dough in half once it is spread with cream cheese. I had doubled the recipe (do double it and freeze half the baked cinnamon rolls to enjoy later) and had too little counter space to roll out the dough. Brilliant me just cut it in half. Hah! However, I should have cut the dough in half before rolling it out the first time and spreading the cream cheese layer, because when I cut it, instead of the cream cheese being tucked away neatly inside the folded up dough, during rolling it oozed out all over the place, creating quite the mess. I finally just folded it up some more and solved the problem.
Like I said, it’s worth doubling the recipe because it takes so many steps to make and it’s easy to freeze. Just work in batches small enough to fit on your dough-rolling space.
Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls
- 1 pkg. (2 1/4 tsp.) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup water, heated to 115 degrees F
- 1/2 tsp. + 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup milk, room temperature
- 2 tbsp. light brown sugar
- 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for kneading
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature plus more for greasing the pan
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
- 2 tbsp. maple syrup
- 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
- 8 tbsp. (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided and melted (half needed before baking; half needed after baking)
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
- 3 tbsp. whole milk
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine yeast, 1/2 tsp. granulated sugar, and 1/4 cup water heated to 115 degrees F (I used hot tap water). Stir to combine and let sit until frothy and foamy, about 10 minutes.
- Add remaining granulated sugar, milk, light brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk. Beat with wire whisk until well combined.
- Fit the bowl onto the mixer; attach dough hook. Add flour and salt; mix on medium speed until dough just begins to come together. Turn mixer to medium-high and knead for 4 minutes.
- Add butter; continue to knead for about 6 minutes. The dough will be wet and sticky.
- Transfer dough to a well-floured work surface; knead about 1/3 cup flour into the dough. At this point, the dough might still be a bit sticky; that’s okay.
- Set dough to rest in a large, greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel; allow to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 – 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- While dough rises, make filling. Combine sugar, dark brown sugar, pecans, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, salt, and cloves in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Stir in maple syrup. Set aside.
- When dough has doubled in size, transfer it onto heavily floured work surface. Gently knead dough until it is no longer sticky, adding more flour as needed. Work the dough for about 1-2 minutes. Once it is no longer sticky, place a kitchen towel over the dough and let rest for 5 minutes before rolling it out.
- Using a floured rolling pin, roll dough into a 10 x 10-inch square.
- In small bowl, mix cream cheese with knife until it is smooth and spreadable. Spread evenly over dough square. Fold square into thirds like you would fold a letter to fit into an envelope. Take the open ends of the rectangle and fold into thirds again, making a smaller dough square.
- Invert dough so seam is face down. Using rolling pin, gently roll it into a 10 x 20-inch rectangle. Some cream cheese may sneak through. Just continue to gently roll the dough.
- Turn dough so short sides are parallel to you. You will roll from the short sides of the dough.
- Brush the top of the dough with 4 tbsp. of melted butter.
- Pour all of the filling onto the dough. Spread evenly, leaving a 1-inch border at one of the short edges of the dough so the roll can be properly sealed. Lightly press the filling into the dough (I used the back of a spoon for this).
- Using your hands, lift up the bottom edge of the dough and roll it forward into a tight cylinder. Place dough cylinder seam side down on cutting board. Using a sharp, thin knife, trim off the uneven edges.
- Cut cylinder into 8 equal slices. Nestle the slices, cut side up, and evenly spaced in a buttered 9 x 13-inch metal baking dish. Cover pan with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to rise for 2 hours. You may also refrigerate rolls overnight.
- When ready to bake, heat oven to 375 degrees F. Uncover rolls. If you refrigerated the rolls, let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before baking. Bake until golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.
- Transfer cinnamon rolls to cooling rack. Brush with remaining 4 tbsp. melted butter. Let cool for 5 minutes.
- While rolls are baking, whisk together sugar and buttermilk in a small bowl until smooth. After rolls have cooled for 5 minutes, drizzle with icing. Serve warm.