There was no need to fiddle with a recipe that needed no fiddling. I have made Molly Wizenberg’s irresistibly soft and sticky cinnamon rolls countless times always to rave reviews.
But when I received a note from a friend over the weekend describing the pearl-sugar topped cinnamon rolls her Swedish friend had made for her, I couldn’t resist experimenting. Besides, I wasn’t going to change the core recipe, just the topping and perhaps the baking method: instead of using a square pan, I would use my muffin tin.
But these two simple changes, small as they seem, produce a dramatically different effect, a cross between a morning bun and a cinnamon roll. Unconstrained by neighboring rolls, these buns spiral vertically into snow-capped peaks with trails of cinnamon and sugar bursting through their doughy seams.
While these buns are deliciously soft in the interior, they are crisper on the edges than traditional cinnamon rolls, and if you’re a soft-batch cookie lover, they might not be for you. But if you’re the type that orders your bacon extra crispy, that dips your dry toast into your coffee, that picks at the charred potatoes from the skillet, then these are for you. And while the presence of pearl sugar precludes the need for any sort of icing, it’s completely cool to pass a little on the side. Happy baking/weekend, Everyone.
Cinnamon Rolls with Pearl Sugar
Yield 12 cinnamon rolls
Adapted slightly from Molly Wizenberg, Bon Appetit & Epicurious
Note: Until this week, I baked these cinnamon rolls the traditional way in two buttered 8×8-inch or one 9×13-inch baking pan. You can find my original post here. They are delicious, and if you can’t find pearl sugar, the cream cheese icing is delicious. These are just a little crisper on the edges than traditional rolls, but still super soft and sticky in the interior, and there is something really fun and festive about the shape. The pearl sugar offers such a nice crunch, too, and looks so pretty. You can find pearl sugar here.
If you want to prepare these ahead of time, this is what I suggest: Follow the recipe until the rolls are cut and placed in the muffin tins, then stick them in the fridge to rest overnight. Allow yourself about four hours to mix the dough, let it rise, assemble the rolls, etc. — so if you go to bed at 10, make sure you’ve started the rolls by 6, and if you have the time, you’re best off starting them even earlier in the day. The following morning, remove the rolls from the fridge as early as possible. If you have it in you, set your alarm for 6 am, take the rolls out, then go back to bed. (If you don’t, you can bring the rolls to room temperature faster by preheating your oven for 1 minute (1 minute total — just turn your oven on to say 350 and turn it off after a minute…your oven will just be the slightest bit warm) and sticking the pan of cinnamon rolls there to rise for 45 minutes or so. Then continue with the recipe: preheat the oven to 350ºF. Brush the rolls with egg wash (this can be done right after the rolls have been removed from the fridge or later — it doesn’t really matter) and sprinkle with the pearl sugar. When the dough feels softer to the touch, which might take a few hours (if you haven’t done the warm oven trick), stick them in the oven.
- 1 cup whole milk
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 1/2 cups (446 g) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
- 1/2 cup (114 g) sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon table salt
- 2 1/4 teaspoons rapid-rise or instant yeast
- olive oil or butter for greasing
- 3/4 cup (156 g) packed golden brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons ground cinnamon (I use 1 tablespoon)
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature (… the rest of the stick from the dough recipe)
- egg wash: 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 teaspoon of milk/cream/half & half
- pearl sugar for sprinkling
Update 12-15: I baked off a batch this morning (2 photos below), which I had assembled last night with a slightly less fussy method. I didn’t use the stand mixer, and I didn’t knead the dough. This is what I did: Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. (If you don’t own a microwave, gently heat the butter and milk together in a small skillet.) Place 1 cup (128 g) of the flour, the sugar, the egg and the salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly pour the warm milk and butter mixture into the bowl, whisking to combine. (Note: If you pour slowly you will ensure not cooking the egg if your mixture is a little too hot). Touch the mixture to make sure it is just barely warm. Sprinkle yeast over top and stir. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups (318 g) flour to the mixing bowl. Mix until all of the flour has been absorbed. Dough will be quite sticky. Don’t add any more flour. Continue to step 2, then at step 4, after you have placed the rolls in the muffin cups, stick the pan of rolls in the fridge covered with plastic wrap overnight. Bring to room temperature in the morning. You can do this quickly by creating a warm spot in your oven: Preheating your oven for 1 minute (1 minute total — just turn your oven on to say 350 and turn it off after a minute…your oven will just be the slightest bit warm) and then stick the pan of cinnamon rolls there to rise for 45 minutes or so. Brush with egg wash; sprinkle with sugar; bake at 350ºF for 20 minutes; let cool 5 minutes before serving.
- Combine milk and butter in glass measuring cup. Microwave on high until butter melts and mixture is just warmed to 120°F to 130°F, 30 to 45 seconds. (If you don’t own a microwave, gently heat the butter and milk together in a small skillet.) Place 1 cup (128 g) of the flour, the sugar, the egg and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook and mix on low speed. Slowly pour the warm milk and butter mixture into the bowl. (Note: If you pour slowly you will ensure not cooking the egg if your mixture is a little too hot). Beat on low speed 3 minutes, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides of bowl. Touch the mixture to make sure it is just barely warm. Sprinkle yeast over top and stir. Add remaining 2 1/2 cups (318 g) flour to the mixing bowl. Continue beating on low speed until flour is absorbed and dough is smooth and elastic (or actually quite sticky), about 8 minutes. Note: In the past, I have added more flour (only about a quarter cup) but most recently I don’t add any more flour. The dough will not gather around the hook — it will look like a sticky mess — but after the two hour rise, it is surprisingly easy to work with.
- Lightly grease a large bowl with butter or oil. Transfer dough to bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 2 hours.
- Meanwhile, mix brown sugar and cinnamon in medium bowl. Punch down dough. Transfer to floured work surface. Roll out to 15×11-inch rectangle. Spread butter over dough, leaving 1/2-inch border. Sprinkle cinnamon sugar evenly over butter. Starting at 1 long side, roll dough into log, pinching gently to keep it rolled up. With seam side down, cut dough crosswise with thin sharp knife into 12 equal slices.
- Butter a standard 12-cup muffin tin. Place one roll in each cup. Brush each roll with egg wash. Sprinkle each roll liberally with the pearl sugar (not quite a teaspoon per roll). Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until almost doubled in volume, 40 to 45 minutes.
- Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. (One thought: The cinnamon and sugar tends to ooze out of these rolls and can spill onto your oven. You could either place the pan on a parchment paper lined sheetpan while baking. Or you could line your oven floor with aluminum foil.) Bake rolls until tops are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool briefly, then turn out onto cooling rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature.
This was the no-knead batch. I could not tell a difference in taste: