The secret to making the best cinnamon rolls recipe is using all the best ingredients and the method that adds the most flavor.
Table of contents
A VISIT TO VERMONT
We drove through Vermont, photographing the changing leaves. Stopping at a small bakery, we had some really incredible cinnamon rolls. The baker was nice enough to tell us the secret – the flavor was from the maple syrup that is produced in the area.
THE BEST CINNAMON ROLLS RECIPE
The cinnamon rolls in Vermont inspired us to improve on our usual recipe. We added maple syrup, as suggested, but didn’t stop there. Instead, we decided to try to create the best cinnamon rolls recipe ever. After a little research, we realized that the best flavor was achieved by using all the best ingredients, and then using a method that allowed the flavors to develop. The flavors develop during a slow rise, which comes from putting the dough in the refrigerator for twelve hours. When there are eggs and milk in the dough, it must be refrigerated in order to slow the rise, and not just allowed to rise at room temperature with less yeast.
These are not the fluffy, tasteless, overly sweet cinnamon rolls you may be used to. These are the cinnamon rolls where every ingredient adds flavor. That make you think of the old fashioned, homemade ones that your Grandmother used to make. Ok, that my Grandmother used to make. That make you think you are in Vermont.
THE INGREDIENTS AND METHOD FOR MAKING THE BEST CINNAMON ROLLS RECIPE
THE SCIENCE OF MAKING ENRICHED BREAD
It is important to understand a little of the science of making enriched bread. There are very few ingredients, so each ingredient has a key roll. Enriched breads are different from hearth or sandwich breads in that they have additions like eggs, milk, sugar and butter. They are often made for holidays and celebrations. These ingredients are an opportunity to add a lot of flavor, but make it harder for the dough to rise.
Table of contents
INGREDIENTS FOR MAKING ENRICHED BREADS
Brands vary in quality, weight and consistency, so it is important to choose quality brands for the main ingredients and stick with them as you change other ingredients in the bread. These are the brands we use.
FLOUR – Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose Flour has a lower protein amount than bread flour and some all purpose flours – 10.5 percent protein. This is a good flour for baking enriched breads, since it makes the baked goods more tender. In addition, the company ensures that the protein content is carefully calibrated, so you get consistent results. Also, it is important to use the unbleached flour. Bleaching makes the flour whiter, but it interferes with the activity of the yeast.
SUGAR – We use Wholesome organic sugar, because it is produced from sugar cane fields that are green cut and are not burned or treated with herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Burning sugar cane fields contributes to air pollution and climate change, and is a major cause of the destruction of the rain forest. Buying sugar from fields that are green cut helps prevent this destruction. The sugar also has a better taste because of how it is produced, but mostly we use it because it is a sustainable choice. It is more expensive than buying the standard brands, but the difference is only a few cents per recipe, so it’s worth it. We also save money by buying this in bulk direct from the company and storing it in jars in the pantry. Instead of buying brown sugar, we add some molasses, since brown sugar is just sugar with molasses added. This saves money, since brown sugar is more expensive than white sugar, and it saves storage.
HOMEMADE BROWNED BUTTER FROM HORIZON ORGANIC BUTTER – Using browned butter, or buerre noistte as it is known in France, adds a huge amount of flavor to baked goods. We use Horizon Organic butter to make browned butter. We think Horizon products taste better than any other dairy products we have tried. This is probably because the products are organic and from family farming partners. Just as important, Horizon is a certified B corporation that has committed to becoming carbon positive across their entire supply chain by 2025.
HOMEMADE CREAM CHEESE FROM HORIZON CREAM – We use Horizon Organic cream to make cream cheese. It’s real cream cheese, made with nothing but a culture and Horizon cream. We save money by buying cream by the half gallon at a big box store. It’s also easy because we make it in the Instant Pot.
WATER – Using more water allows the gluten to form naturally without kneading the dough.
YEAST – The yeast must be good quality and not past its expiration date. We use saf-instant. Instant yeast is easier to work with and is more reliable because of how it’s processed. If it’s in date, it doesn’t need to be proofed (soaked in water to prove it is active) before using it. It can just be added to the mix, but soaking it will hydrate it and give it a head start. The water temperature should be between 95 and 115 degrees F, ideally 110 degrees F (over 120 will harm the yeast). Store the yeast in an air tight container in the freezer.
SALT – We like the quality of Diamond Kosher salt and don’t want the iodine taste. The weight and structure of salt varies between brands so it is important to chose a salt and stick with it to be consistent. Salt will interfere with the activity of the yeast. This might be a problem, or it might be something that is desired in order to slow down the yeast. Mixing the salt with the flour before adding the yeast will help limit the effect. Don’t use salt with iodine, because the taste can be disagreeable.
BARLEY MALT SYRUP or MAPLE SYRUP – Many of the same flavors of baked bread are found in barley malt syrup, so we often add some to the dough to increase the flavor. Maple syrup can also add a rich flavor to sweet enriched breads.
SPICES – Ordering spices in bulk from a spice dealer will give you a great price and the best quality. This will make a huge difference in your baking. We order most spices from World Spice Merchants, because they carry a huge variety of top quality spices.
TIME – Time can also be considered an ingredient, and it makes a huge impact on the finished product. Over time, the starch in the flour converts to sugars and other flavors are released. This process requires about twelve hours. At the same time, the yeast is increasing and causing the dough to rise. Most recipes allow the bread to raise for only a few hours at room temperature. Slowing this process down, by putting the dough in a cold place, will allow the flavors to develop before the yeast has caused the dough to rise. This is easy to do at home just by putting the dough in the refrigerator. It can be much harder for a bakery to do because of the limited space in the refrigerator, so bakery bread is often made with a portion of refrigerated dough (a poolish or a biga) and a portion of fresh flour and water making the recipes more complicated. This explanation is an over simplification of a much more complicated process, but it does give a clearer picture of why this works. Another method of slowing down the fermentation is by using less yeast and allowing the dough to ferment at room temperature, but enriched doughs contain eggs and dairy products, so it is not safe to allow the dough to remain at room temperature for that long.
METHOD FOR MAKING BREAD
WEIGH THE INGREDIENTS – It is very difficult to accurately measure dry ingredients, like flour, in a volume container, like a measuring cup. The ingredients for baking bread need to be measured by weight, using a scale. And it is easier and more accurate to use grams instead of having to do the math on ounces and pounds. Using weight to measure the ingredients is also easier – just place the bowl on the scale and zero the scale after each measurement.
KITCHEN THERMOMETER – The milk needs to be at a certain temperature range to activate the yeast and not kill it, so a thermometer is very important.
HYDRATING THE YEAST – Sprinkling the yeast on warm milk or water before mixing it with the other ingredients allows the yeast to warm up and become active before the dough is refrigerated, so it can be put into the refrigerator immediately after mixing.
WETTER DOUGH -The method for making this bread is to use more water. Using more water allows the gluten to form naturally without much kneading.
LONGER FERMENTATION – During the first rise, The dough develops flavors as the carbohydrates are broken down and sugars and other compounds form. This takes 12 to 18 hours. Any longer and the dough will start to develop a sourdough taste. In most recipes, the dough is only allowed to rise for a couple of hours, and the flavors have not developed. Refrigerating the dough will slow down the fermentation and allow the dough to rise for twelve hours while the flavors develop. The slow rise improves the taste, but also makes it much easier to make. The bread dough can be made in the evening and baked the following day at a convenient time. A batch of dough comes together in minutes with very little work, and next morning it is ready to shape and bake. Folding the dough a couple of times about an hour after refrigerating it will help it cool down evenly and improves the shape. These folds also help the dough develop elasticity and will improve the rise. Dough that has been refrigerated will have more flavor but will be a little lower in height.
ALLOW THE DOUGH TO WARM UP – when the dough has completed the fermentation, it is removed from the refrigerator and allowed to warm up for 30-60 minutes.This will result in a better crumb.
PROOFING THE DOUGH – The dough is shaped while it’s still fairly cool, and then left to proof at room temperature. Proofing will take longer than if it was left at room temperature during the fermentation stage, usually about an extra hour.
DIVIDE THE DOUGH – Cut the dough with a scissors or sharp knife instead of pulling and tearing it, which can deflate it.
SHAPE THE DOUGH – Place the dough smooth side down on a lightly floured counter. Push on it slightly while making circular motions. This causes the dough to connect to the surface enough to develop a skin, which will improve the rise.
ALLOW BREAD TO COOL COMPLETELY – The bread will continue to bake with residual heat after removed from the oven. Do not cut into it until it is completely cooled.
No Affiliates Statement
We call this our “no affiliates” statement because we accept no advertising, have no affiliates and accept no payment. We are not paid to mention brands – we just love buying the best, sharing that information and saving the planet at the same time. The effort put into writing and photographing the blog is solely based on our dedication to the cause.
Photos by Tony Fitzgerald Photography