The one essential recipe you'll ever need for cinnamon rolls.
It would likely be embarrassing to tell you how often we eat cinnamon rolls, and no, I don't always make them from scratch. There are a few local places that make lovely versions. I am not above purchasing them when the mood strikes: the giant fluffy rolls that the Mennonite women sell at the Farmer's market, the heavy buttery spirals from my good friend's french bakery, and the grainy, sugary small ones from a family-run burger place--they have their spots in my list of favorites.
This recipe, however, is for a standard-sized roll, soft and cakey, with a thick, vanilla buttercream (instead of cream cheese frosting) and my Grandmommy's brown butter candied walnuts over the top. Why the standard size? So I can eat three, of course, and not feel guilty.
Feel free to let pecans stand-in for the walnuts if you prefer them...though I strongly recommend the walnuts...
Notes: Butter is unsalted.
SOFT CINNAMON ROLLS WITH BROWN BUTTER CANDIED WALNUTS
Ingredients: 2 3/4 cups + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour, 1/2 tsp. sea salt, one packet rapid rise yeast, 1/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup milk, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, one large egg at room temperature, and 3 tbsp. softened butter. For the filling: 3 tbsp. softened butter, 1/3 cup light brown sugar, scant 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon. For the buttercream icing: 5 tbsp. softened butter, 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract, and 2-3 tsp. milk. For the brown butter candied walnuts: 2 tbsp. butter, 1/4 cup sugar, a pinch of sea salt, and 1/2 cup broken walnuts.
1. Make the dough by whisking the flour, sea salt, yeast, and sugar in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer.) Combine butter and milk in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on half power in 30-second increments until the butter is just melted and the mixture is warm to your fingertip. Add into the dry ingredients along with the vanilla and egg, and mix until a soft dough forms. It will be slightly sticky.
2. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface for 3-4 minutes. Adding pinches of flour as you need to keep it from sticking to the counter. (Try not to add too much flour, the stickier the dough, the softer the roll...) Place dough ball into a greased bowl to rest for 15 minutes.
3. Roll out the dough into a rectangle, about 13 x 8 inches. Spread over the softened butter for the filling. Stir together brown sugar and cinnamon, then sprinkle over, getting it to all the edges. Roll up into a tube, then cut into 12-14 rolls. Place rolls into a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined baking dish (you can use 11 x 9 inch or a 9-10 inch round). Cover with a dish towel or foil to rise for 90 minutes in a warm place--see tips below.
4. Preheat the oven to 375*F. Bake rolls for 22-25 minutes, until golden. Check at 15 minutes; if they are browning too quickly, lay over a piece of foil. Remove to cool.
5. Make the buttercream icing: Beat the butter while slowly adding the powdered sugar. Once combined, add vanilla followed by milk by the teaspoon until the consistency is soft and loose but not runny. Set aside.
6. Make the brown butter walnuts: (this can also be done while the rolls bake). Heat the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, watching closely and occasionally swirling, until the butter turns brown. This should take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Butter will stop foaming and simmering, smell nutty, and have little brown bits in it. Turn heat to medium, and add walnuts, sugar, and salt. Stir to coat gently for 3-5 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and has coated the walnuts. Remove to cool.
7. Spread the buttercream icing over the rolls and sprinkle the brown butter walnuts over the top.
For rising the rolls in a warm place, turn the oven on to 150*F for five minutes, then turn it off. Put the rolls inside and keep the door cracked. After 15 minutes, close the door and keep rising for another 60-75 minutes.
To get butter appropriate softened, take it out and place it on the counter near the oven for 3 hours before beginning the recipe.