Homemade cinnamon rolls were not commonplace in our house growing up. Granted, we always had them on Christmas morning (a tradition carried over from several generations back), but throughout the year I don’t have many memories of having had them. So when they were made, they were an extra special treat. The whole house would fill with the warm, comforting scent of cinnamon, yeast, and butter. My mother (or grandmother) would whip together a simple cream cheese glaze, and smother the rolls with the rich, cheesy, vanilla flavored frosting. I would practically make myself sick eating much more than my fair share. And these days, when I do make cinnamon rolls, it still feels luxurious and special.
With half of a batch of my grandmother Browning’s roll dough left over, I decided what better way to use it than to make a batch of cinnamon rolls, just like my grandmother used to make (with maybe a few extra touches thrown in for fun). (Store bought pizza dough, or thawed frozen bread dough would make a perfect substitution. I would simply take it out of its package, knead in a half a stick or so of softened butter.. and as much flour as is needed to make a tacky but not sticky dough, and then let it proof once before proceeding. And you can also do this process the night before and refrigerate, as cold dough is much easier to roll out.) I began by rolling the dough out into a rough rectangle, about a fourth of an inch thick, on a lightly floured board. I then melted one stick of salted butter, to which I added about a half of a cup each of light brown, and white granulated sugar, about three tablespoons of cinnamon, a small dash of freshly grated nutmeg, the zest of one orange, and a pinch of salt. I spread the cinnamon mixture evenly onto the dough, leaving a one inch border along the top. I decided to sprinkle on a few raisins (though, to be honest, I do vacillate between loving and detesting raisins in cinnamon rolls… but today, it sounded like a good idea. If I were not allergic to them, I might also add toasted, chopped pecans or walnuts, which would add a delicious flavor and texture, but alas.) I then rolled up the dough tightly, and pinched the seam between my fingers to crimp it closed. After slicing the log into about one and a half inch slices (best done with a sharp serrated knife), I placed them two inches apart on a parchment lined baking sheet. I covered them with a clean kitchen towel, and let them rise in a warm place for about an hour and a half, or until they were almost doubled in size (I have also been known to do this process the night before and let them proof over night to be slipped in the oven before breakfast… so feel free to be casual with the timing). They bake at 375º for about 20 minutes, or until they are golden brown and set in the middle. While they were baking I softened one stick of butter and one 8 oz package of cream cheese in the microwave, and beat them together with about one and a half to two cups of confectioners sugar (or to taste….keeping in mind that the less sweet the frosting is the more you can pack on the rolls without it becoming cloying), a splash of vanilla (and vanilla bean seeds or paste certainly wouldn’t hurt), the zest of two oranges, and a little squeeze of fresh orange juice (though the frosting could also be made even days in advance and refrigerated). When the rolls are hot out of the oven, I spoon a generous amount of the glaze over each, and let it melt into the buttery layers of dough.
These rolls are light, feathery, sweet, cheesy, and comforting. The orange and cinnamon are a perfect pairing that make these decadent breakfast treats seem all the more special. Enjoy!