By Erika Mathieu
This time of year is stressful. Days are darker, nights are busy, and vitamin D is in short supply. Even if you aren’t keen on the holiday season, there is something deeply comforting in having your home smell like warm winter spices. I am a huge fan of taking foundational recipes, the tried and true classics, and making small tweaks to create something different. I am going to share with you a fantastic base recipe for cinnamon buns. If you have the space, I always recommend making a double batch and freezing half raw after you have cut into rounds to have on hand.
These are not the sticky cinnamon bun variety; they are a soft fluffy bun with a fantastic chew. For the dough, bloom 2 and 1/4 teaspoons of yeast in 1 cup of lukewarm milk and a pinch of sugar until frothy. (The last time I made these, I was out of regular dairy milk and opted to use canned coconut milk, and the result was lovely. The high-fat content of the milk made for a rich and soft dough.) in a separate bowl, add 1/2 cup of granulated sugar, 1/3 softened butter, 2 eggs and 4 cups of sifted flour to a bowl and mix with 1 teaspoon of salt. At this stage, you can also add an optional one teaspoon of crystallized ginger and ground ginger, and a tablespoon of molasses. Once combined, add the yeast mixture and knead until the dough is smooth. This recipe can be made by hand or in a stand mixer. Placed in a greased bowl to rest and rise for at least one hour, in a warm spot in your kitchen.
While the dough is resting, make your filling and optional icing. For the filling, combine 1 cup of brown sugar (I prefer the darkest kind I can find,) with 3 tablespoons of ground cinnamon and set aside. The filling requires 1/3 of a cup of very soft butter or margarine. You need to be able to spread it easily without tearing your dough later.
Once the dough has risen, punch down and roll it into a 16×12-inch rectangle. Spread your softened butter across the entire dough sheet and sprinkle generously with the filling mix. Roll the dough into a log shape and set it in the fridge to firm up for 30 mins before cutting into 1 and 1/5-inch rounds using unflavoured dental floss. Arrange on a baking sheet and let rise for 45 minutes.
While the dough is doing its second rise, make the optional frosting. For a stiffer pipe-able icing, cream 6 tablespoons of butter with 1 1/2 cups of icing sugar before adding 1/4 cup of cream cheese- the sugar will become coated with butter fat, making it less likely to draw the moisture out of the cream cheese, and thus creates a stiffer icing. If you prefer a looser, frosting, cream the butter and sugar together in the same quantities, and add the powdered sugar last. To finish grate in one 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg a teeny pinch of ground cardamom for pizazz, and a splash of vanilla extract or scraped vanilla bean to taste. Whip to combine.
Bake proofed buns at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 19-22 minutes until your house smells annoyingly cozy and the buns are golden brown. Pipe with icing and serve.
Note: If you are in a pinch to soften butter there are a few methods I have discovered which speeds up the process. The first is the greater method. Grating a cold block of butter reduces the total time needed to soften significantly. I use a box grater to grate the stick into a warm, (not hot) bowl and let it sit until room temperature.
You can also take your butter, and cube or grate in a bowl and put the warm lid on top. Heat the lid by running it under hot water, dry it well, and insulate your frigid butter to create a sort of sauna. Finally, if you have the patience and willpower, you can beat the butter, using friction to warm it with a hand or stand mixer. Be sure to measure the butter first though, as mixing will incorporate air into the butter making measuring by volume after inaccurate.