Daring Bakers Challenge: Cinnamon Rolls and Sticky Buns

September 30th, 2007


The Daring Bakers got a two-for-one challenge this month, courtesy of our lovely hostess Marce: a recipe for cinnamon rolls that could also be turned into sticky buns! Although yeast is not really my forte, I do have a terrible weakness for morning pastries: the sweeter and gooey-er, the better. Bear claws and almond croissants were made for me. So I rejoiced at the chance to make my own sweet morning treats – surely they would be so much better than those horrid mass-produced things you see in the coffee shops.

The recipe is from Peter Reinhardt’s excellent The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, so I knew the Daring Bakers would be in good hands. The instructions were straightforward and clear, and the accompanying photos cleared up and potential confusion (I wish more cookbooks showed how-to process during the baking process; I myself am not talented to do this, although I’m sure many of my more accomplished fellow bakers will have some in their posts!)

The number one about working with yeast, I’m sure, is the terror that it won’t work. You stare at your little baby blob of dough, nestled under its plastic wrap blanket in the bowl, and you wonder if it really will double in size in the next few hours like the recipe says, or will you find the same little blob, sad and inert, when you check? You sniff the kitchen air in anticipation of that rich yeasty scent to let you know the dough is working, you pat the top of the dough reassuringly while covertly trying to determine if it feels any bigger, you pace the kitchen wondering just how long can a couple of hours take to pass?


As luck would have it, the day I planned on doing the rolls was cold and rainy; absolutely terrible weather to be hoping your yeasted dough would poof up in a jiffy. The dough itself takes almost no time to put together, but waiting for it to proof that day was an entirely different matter. I was quite afraid it would take literally all day for these cinnamon rolls to happen! Fortunately, there are a couple of things the impatient baker can do to speed up the process. Yeast need heat to develop, so anything that raises the ambient temperature will help. If you oven is below your stovetop, you can place the dough on the stove and turn the oven on (low temperature, please – you don’t want to overheat and kill the yeast!). Or you can turn on one of the stovetop burners and place your dough near it to catch the heat. You can also place the dough inside the oven with a bowl of steaming hot water and close the door; it will get nice and humid inside and help the dough proof faster.

Waiting for the dough to rise the first time and again after shaping the rolls was surely the most onerous part of this recipe; the rest of it was, I’m happy to report, trouble-free. I split my batch into half cinnamon rolls and half sticky buns; I would also recommend slicing them into the smaller portions given in the recipe as they grew plenty large for me – slicing them larger would have resulted in buns that were Cinnabon size! (Of course, if that’s your preference, please go ahead!)

The cinnamon rolls were wonderful: be generous with the cinnamon sugar so you get as much melty-sweet goodness as possible. My dough baked plump and puffy, slightly chewy but with a lovely fluffy texture inside. It’s not strongly flavored though, so definitely be sure you spread the cinnamon sugar thoroughly over the dough; the fondant glaze is lovely as well.

The sticky buns have the added benefit of baking in a buttery caramel glaze, almost like a tarte tatin, so they get an extra boost of moistness and flavor. I neglected to add nuts and raisin to mine, but they were still fabulous nuggets of sticky-fingered happiness, dripping with oozy caramel, warm from the pan.


Sometimes I think to myself that I just don’t work with yeast enough; thanks to Marce for giving me this opportunity to play with it again and spice up my breakfast for a few days! Be sure to check the Daring Bakers blogroll to see everyone else’s lovely rolls – there must have surely been many happy mornings out there after this challenge!

CInnamon and Sticky Buns

from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice

Days to Make: One (1)
Active/Resting/Baking Time: 15 minutes to mix, 3 1/2 hours fermentation/shaping/proofing, 20 – 40 minutes to bake
Recipe Quantity: Eight(1) – twelve (12) large rolls or twelve (12) – sixteen (16) small rolls

Making the Dough


·         6 1/2 tablespoons (3.25 ounces) granulated sugar

·         1 teaspoon salt

·         5 1/2 tablespoons (2.75 ounces) shortening or unsalted butter or margarine

·         1 large egg, slightly beaten

·         1 teaspoon lemon extract OR 1 teaspoon grated zest of 1 lemon

·         3 1/2 cups (16 ounces) unbleached bread or all-purpose flour

·         2 teaspoons instant yeast*

·         1 1/8 to 1 1/4 cups whole milk or buttermilk, at room temperature OR 3 tablespoons powdered milk (DMS) and 1 cup water

·         1/2 cup cinnamon sugar (6 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar plus 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, or any other spices you want to use, cardamom, ginger, allspice, etc.)

·         White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns or caramel glaze for sticky buns (at the end of the recipe.)

·         Walnuts, pecans, or other nuts (for sticky buns.)

·         Raisins or other dried fruit, such as dried cranberries or dried cherries (for sticky buns, optional.)

*Instant yeast contains about 25% more living cells per spoonful than active dry yeast, regardless of the brand. Instant yeast is also called rapid-rise or fast-rising.

Step 1 – Making the Dough: Cream together the sugar, salt, and shortening or butter on medium-high speed in an electric mixer with a paddle attachment (or use a large metal spoon and mixing bowl and do it by hand).

Note: if you are using powdered milk, cream the milk with the sugar, and add the water with the flour and yeast.

Whip in the egg and lemon extract/zest until smooth. Then add the flour, yeast, and milk. Mix on low speed (or stir by hand) until the dough forms a ball. Switch to the dough hook and increase the speed to medium, mixing for approximately 10 minutes (or knead by hand for 12 to 15 minutes), or until the dough is silky and supple, tacky but not sticky. You may have to add a little flour or water while mixing to achieve this texture. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Step 2 – Fermentation: Ferment at room temperature for approximately 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

Step 3 – Form the Buns: Mist the counter with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter. Proceed as shown in the photo below for shaping the buns.

(Transcription in case photo did not print: (A) Roll out the dough with a rolling pin, lightly dusting the top with flour to keep it from sticking to the pin. Roll it into a rectangle about 2/3 inch thick and 14 inches wide by 12 inches long for larger buns, or 18 inches wide by 9 inches long for smaller buns. Don´t roll out the dough too thin, or the finished buns will be tough and chewy rather than soft and plump. (B)Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the surface of the dough and (C) roll the dough up into a cigar-shaped log, creating a cinnamon-sugar spiral as you roll. With the seam side down, cut the dough into 8 to 12 pieces each about 1 3/4 inches thick for larger buns, or 12 to 16 pieces each 1 1/4 inch thick for smaller buns.)

Step 4 – Prepare the Buns for Proofing:

·         For cinnamon buns: line 1 or more sheet pans with baking parchment. Place the buns approximately 1/2 inch apart so that they aren´t touching but are close to one another.

·         For sticky buns: coat the bottom of 1 or more baking dishes or baking pans with sides at least 1 1/2 inches high with a 1/4 inch layer of the caramel glaze. Sprinkle on the nuts and raisins (if you are using raisins or dried fruit.) You do not need a lot of nuts and raisins, only a sprinkling. Lay the pieces of dough on top of the caramel glaze, spacing them about 1/2 inch apart. Mist the dough with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a food-grade plastic bag.

Step 5 – Proof the Buns: Proof at room temperature for 75 to 90 minutes, or until the pieces have grown into one another and have nearly doubled in size. You may also retard the shaped buns in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, pulling the pans out of the refrigerator 3 to 4 hours before baking to allow the dough to proof.

Step 6 – Bake the Buns:

·         Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C) with the oven rack in the middle shelf for cinnamon buns but on the lowest shelf for sticky buns.

·         Bake the cinnamon buns for 20 to 30 minutes or the sticky buns 30 to 40 minutes, or until golden brown. If you are baking sticky buns, remember that they are really upside down (regular cinnamon buns are baked right side up), so the heat has to penetrate through the pan and into the glaze to caramelize it. The tops will become the bottoms, so they may appear dark and done, but the real key is whether the underside is fully baked. It takes practice to know just when to pull the buns out of the oven.

Step 8 – Cool the buns:

·         For cinnamon buns, cool the buns in the pan for about 10 minutes and then streak white fondant glaze across the tops, while the buns are warm but not too hot. Remove the buns from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. Wait for at least 20 minutes before serving.

·         For the sticky buns, cool the buns in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes and then remove them by flipping them over into another pan. Carefully scoop any run-off glaze back over the buns with a spatula. Wait at least 20 minutes before serving.

Toppings for the Buns:

White fondant glaze for cinnamon buns

Cinnamon buns are usually topped with a thick white glaze called fondant. There are many ways to make fondant glaze, but here is a delicious and simple version, enlivened by the addition of citrus flavor, either lemon or orange. You can also substitute vanilla extract or rum extract, or simply make the glaze without any flavorings.

Sift 4 cups of powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon of lemon or orange extract and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup of warm milk, briskly whisking until all the sugar is dissolved. Add the milk slowly and only as much as is needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

When the buns have cooled but are still warm, streak the glaze over them by dipping the tines of a fork or a whisk into the glaze and waving the fork or whisk over the tops. Or, form the streaks by dipping your fingers in the glaze and letting it drip off as you wave them over the tops of the buns. (Remember to wear latex gloves.)

Caramel glaze for sticky buns

Caramel glaze is essentially some combination of sugar and fat, cooked until it caramelizes. The trick is catching it just when the sugar melts and lightly caramelizes to a golden amber. Then it will cool to a soft, creamy caramel. If you wait too long and the glaze turns dark brown, it will cool to a hard, crack-your-teeth consistency. Most sticky bun glazes contain other ingredients to influence flavor and texture, such as corn syrup to keep the sugar from crystallizing and flavor extracts or oils, such as vanilla or lemon. This version makes the best sticky bun glaze of any I´ve tried. It was developed by my wife, Susan, for Brother Juniper´s Cafe in Forestville, California.
NOTE: you can substitute the corn syrup for any neutral flavor syrup, like cane syrup or gold syrup.

1. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature.

2. Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed with the paddle attachment. Add 1/2 cup corn syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

3. Use as much of this as you need to cover the bottom of the pan with a 1/4-inch layer. Refrigerate and save any excess for future use; it will keep for months in a sealed container.


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