Do we really have to start talking about goals for 2014? Because I’m still busy eating cinnamon buns in my PJs. I wanted to wrap up the year with something cozy and perfect for sharing and fantastically delicious – something you’ll want to make during your pajama week, or file away for a time when a pan of warm cinnamon bun therapy is called for. I know on January first it will be out with the Toblerone, in with the kale for a lot of you. I like to ring in the first morning of a fresh year with something I swore off in so many past years, to remind myself that it’s not all or nothing-a balancing act of how long can I stay on the unicycle and keep it moving forward before it tips.
I’ll get to the new year when it gets here, and you can be sure kale will find its way back onto the menu regardless. In the meantime, I have some extra gooey cinnamon buns for you. Someone told me about a month ago that they couldn’t find a cinnamon bun recipe here, and I blamed it on my malfunctioning search and sorely neglected index. But then I couldn’t find one either – in my notes or archives – and realized that I never really have come up with the cinnamon bun of my dreams.
I realize plenty of you did the overnight thing on Christmas eve, but for some reason I never do this – there’s inevitably a feast before we hang up our stockings, which are of course filled with chocolate the next morning, and then the day unfolds with sweets and snacks and a massive turkey dinner, and adding cinnamon buns to the mix just seems like too much. I like to make cinnamon buns on a day when the morning can be spent in anticipation of their arrival – the rising and the rolling of the dough and the rising again – so that by the time they’re baked you’re good and ready and on your second cup of coffee, and when you inevitably pull apart two or three because they’re just that good, you don’t risk spoiling your dinner.
Rule #1: they must have goo. My preliminary research – which included looking up such famed cinnamon buns as the Pioneer Woman’s and Joy the Baker’s and all 5 of The Kitchn’s favourite cinnamon roll recipes and not one of the aforementioned, while completely delicious-looking, utilized that delicious buttery syrupy goo in the bottom of the pan. What? Whaaaaaat?
And so I put the call out – is goo not as big a deal as I think it is? Do folks actually prefer non-goo cinnamon buns? It appears I keep company with a lot of like-minded people. When asked: to goo or not to goo? The answer was unanimous.
And so we began with goo: brown sugar, butter, Rogers’ golden syrup and enough water to keep the combination from transforming into stickiness that might compromise your dental work after a stint in the oven. The soft, rich dough is rolled out into a rectangle, brushed with butter (you don’t need as much as you think here – truly) then topped with brown sugar and sprinkled with cinnamon. The kind of brown sugar you use makes a difference, surprisingly – the golden brown is lumpier and more difficult to sweep into a smooth covering with your hand than darker brown sugar – sometimes labeled “best brown” – despite the fact that the latter contains more molasses.
The dough is tacky before its first rise, then perfectly smooth and easy to work with; cut the roll into thirds, then each piece into thirds, with a sharp serrated knife – this is easier than eyeballing 9 slices out of one log of dough.
Once cut, place them over the goo in your pie plates and let rise again – although the great thing about this recipe is that it makes two pans, so you can bake one and tuck the other away in the freezer for another day. Just let it thaw, then rise as it warms, and it’s ready to go into the oven.
(That is, freeze them unbaked. Or put them in the fridge overnight and bake them in the morning.)
At the risk of overselling these, my dad popped by for a sample, which I wrapped and sent home with him, and emailed me later that evening to say it had been the best cinnamon bun he had ever eaten. And he takes his cinnamon buns seriously; a few years ago he embarked on a quest for the best cinnamon bun in Calgary, enlisting my help in testing buns from coffee shops to bakeries to IKEA.
These have, in our humble yet cinnamon bun-experienced opinions, the perfect ratio of dough:filling:goo – not too squidgy or awkward to eat, not teeth-pulling or sickeningly sweet, with a rich, chewy dough that’s even delicious if you wind up with a naked edge. Once they’re deep golden and baked through (pull at the middle one and you’ll see if the dough at the bottom is baked or not), flip the pan over onto a roomy plate while it’s still very warm, and the goo hasn’t had a chance to cool.
This is just the sort of recipe to have and to get to know and to make over and over for holidays and lazy weekends and friends and family and comfort and joy. May your new year be as delicious.
The Ultimate Gooey Cinnamon Bun
1/2 cup water
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk, warmed
2 large eggs
5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup Rogers’ golden syrup, corn syrup or honey
1/4 cup water
1 cup pecan halves (optional)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 cup dark brown sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon (approximately)
To make the dough, put the warm water in a large bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer) and sprinkle with the yeast and a pinch of the sugar. Let stand 5 minutes, or until foamy. (If it doesn’t foam, toss it and buy fresh yeast.)
In a small bowl, mix the warm milk and eggs together with a fork. Add to the yeast mixture along with 3 cups of the flour and the remaining sugar; mix until well blended and sticky. Add the butter and remaining flour and stir or beat with the dough hook attachment of your stand mixer until you have a soft, sticky dough; knead for about 8 minutes, until smooth and elastic. It will still be slightly tacky. Place back in the bowl, cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in bulk.
Meanwhile, make the goo: combine the butter, brown sugar, syrup and water in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until the butter is melted. Divide between two buttered pie plates, 9-inch cake pans or 8×8-inch pans (or one of each), pouring it over the bottom. If you like, scatter with pecan halves.
To make the buns, divide the dough in half, shape each into a rough rectangle (this will make it roll out more evenly) and on a lightly floured surface, roll into a rectangle that’s about 10×15-inches (or slightly bigger, even) and about 1/4-inch thick. Brush each piece with half the melted butter and scatter with brown sugar; smooth the sugar to evenly distribute it with your hand. Sprinkle with cinnamon.
Starting on a long side, roll the dough up into a log, and using a serrated knife, cut it crosswise into thirds. Cut each piece into thirds – this is easier than eyeballing it to get 9 even pieces. Place cut-side-up into the pans, placing one in the middle and the rest around it, or in the case of a square pan, in 3 rows of 3. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for another hour, until doubled in bulk. (If you’re making them the night before, cover and place in the fridge for a slow rise; take them out and leave them on the countertop for 1/2 hour or so before baking.)
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350F. Put a baking sheet on the rack underneath (to catch any drips) and bake for 30-40 minutes, until deep golden. Let cool for 5-10 minutes, but invert onto a plate while still warm. (If you wait too long and they get stuck in the pan, slide back into a hot oven to rewarm the goo, then try again.) Eat warm.
Makes 1 1/2 dozen cinnamon buns.