I can’t seem to get into the holiday spirit this year; no matter how hard I try I can’t get into Christmas movies or even find the motivation to set up the tree, which usually goes up the day after Thanksgiving. Something’s just different this year and I can’t seem to put my finger on it, and several people I know seem to be experiencing the same thing. Maybe it’s the snow piling up, maybe its the long cold winter ahead, or maybe its just a lack of optimism.
Today I decided to cheer us both up by filling our home with the aromas of holiday spices. Even as the furnace struggles against frosty winds and rattling window panes, my kitchen is made cozy by swirling cinnamon, sweet vanilla, and glorious nutmeg. Have you ever noticed that if you squint just right, the glow of an oven lamp looks a little bit like a fireplace? Or is it just me?
As I pull the warm, buttery, cinnamon rolls out of the oven, I instantly feel a twinge of holiday cheer which only grows as I generously drizzle gooey spoonfuls of frosting over them, carefully covering every inch. Feeling a bit better now, I pull one apart and savor the chewy steamy center and sip a mug of hot dark roast coffee.
This recipe is quick and simple, but it will satisfy anyone’s cravings, whether for breakfast, dessert, or in my case for both! The usual cinnamon is wonderfully enhanced by nutmeg giving them a distinctive holiday flavor, though you will likely end up craving them all year round. They are best straight out of the oven, but keep well if tightly wrapped, and are perfect for heating up in the microwave or toaster oven.
Homemade Cinnamon Rolls
yields 24 small or 12 large rolls
1 cup warm water (97’F)
3/4 cup room temperature milk, I used 1%
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons melted butter
3 pkgs of active-rise yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs, whisked
5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon nutmeg, I highly recommend freshly grating it yourself
3 tablespoons cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, softened
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tablespoon vanilla
4 tablespoons milk (you may need a bit more, add in 1/2 tsp increments until it reaches the perfect consistency)
For the dough, you can either mix ingredients by hand for a little workout or use a stand mixer with a dough hook. Pour the yeast into a large mixing bowl along with the sugar, milk and water. Let it sit for roughly 20 minutes to proof. You will know it’s ready when you see a dense layer of froth. Add the melted butter, eggs, flour and salt and combine. When the dough starts to form, transfer to a floured surface and fold gently as if making bread. Pull the far side of the dough up towards you, fold down and press with your palms. Repeat this until dough is smooth and elastic. Place back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm room. In the winter I use the laundry room, making sure to turn up the thermostat a degree or two so the furnace kicks on. Allow to rise until doubled in size, 20-30 minutes depending on temperature.
While your dough is rising prepare the filling by combining the sugars, cinnamon, nutmeg, and melted butter then set aside. When the dough has risen, punch down and turn out onto a floured work surface. Roll out into a rectangle, about 18″x15″. Brush the the dough all over with melted butter then sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar mixture evenly, pressing down lightly. Gently roll the dough into a tight log then with a sharp knife cut into 3/4″ thick slices for 24 small rolls and 1-1/2″ thick for 12 larger rolls. Carefully arrange the slices in a lightly buttered ceramic baking dish, or a baking sheet if you don’t have one large enough. Cover and allow to rise in a warm place for another 15 minutes while the oven preheats to 375’F
While the rolls are rising, prepare the frosting. Place the softened butter into a medium bowl and add the powdered sugar. Gently stir to incorporate and once the frosting is thick, add vanilla and stir again. Start adding milk 1 teaspoon at a time until you have a semi thick, smooth frosting.
Bake cinnamon rolls for 15-20 minutes keeping a close eye on them so they don’t burn. Gently press down on one to test for doneness; if it springs back they are done. Allow to cool for 10 minutes then drizzle with the frosting, spooning it all over to cover the tops, then step back to admire your handiwork while licking the bowl. Okay stop licking the bowl now and serve them immediately! You can store any leftovers (no judgements!) tightly covered, for up to three days.