Friday, December 16, 2011

I Brag Freely About This Skill

What's that you say? You need a surefire way to make people ooh and aah over your cooking prowess this Christmas? Look no further, I have just what you're looking for! It's a recipe you might have heard of, I've seen it at least ten times on Pinterest in the last month and it is guaranteed to please. Trust me, I know this.

Ladies and gentleman ('cause we all know a good man can throw his weight around in the baking department, am I right?), it is the one and only Pioneer Woman Cinnamon Rolls.

Now, I know that these little lovelies might have the reputation for being difficult to make, but that's why I'm writing this post. Do they take a little time and intentionality? Yes, it's true. But what good thing doesn't require that? And believe me, y'all, these are Very Good Things. With a little time and practice, you'll be whipping up a half batch of these suckers in no time. This recipe is my go-to for when we have company, when I need to take something to a breakfast or when I just want to have four pans of goodness sitting in my freezer just waiting for Saturday morning. 

Ree's recipe is for a full batch which makes a LOT of cinnamon rolls (8-9 round pans, to be exact). I've only needed that many at once on a few occasions, so I like to go for the half batch. I made some this week for our Chapel Department Christmas Breakfast and took pics while I did. I thought I'd walk you through the process so you can see just how doable it is.

I am on a mission, y'all. Your people need these cinnamon rolls.

For the dough starter:
- 2 cups whole milk (Don't skimp, buy the good stuff. There's no lowfat in cinnamon rolls, m'kay?)
- 1/2 cup of vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup of sugar

Combine these in a pot that is large enough so you can add 4 1/2 cups of flour in the next step. Our large saucepan is big enough for me when I'm making a half batch. Stir the milk, oil and sugar together and set over medium to medium-high heat. You're going to "scald" this mixture, which just means heat it up until you see that it's just on the verge of boiling. I wait until I see the little boiling bubbles just starting to form, but DON'T let it boil. 

Once it's reached that point, take it off the stove and set it aside. Let it cool until the side of your pan is just warm to the touch, which means the mixture is likely lukewarm. That usually takes about forty-five minutes. I took Knox to the field to run around while this was happening. See? Multi-tasking.

Here's what you'll need for the next step:
- 1 packet (0.25 oz) of Active Dry Yeast
- 4 cups of all-purpose flour

Once the mixture is lukewarm, sprinkle the packet of yeast on top and let it sit for one minute. Then, add the four cups of flour and mix it all together gently (I use a wooden spoon) until it's combined. It will look mushy and that's just right. Cover your pot/pan with a clean towel and set this in a warm place for at least an hour to rise. I've discovered that if I turn our oven on to 200 degrees and sit the pan in the middle of the stove top, it is just the right amount of warmth to get the dough to rise. While I waited for it to rise, I went upstairs and worked on our Christmas cards. I think the ability to multi-task while I make this recipe is probably the root of my pride. And I'm ok with that.

To finish the dough, you will need:
- 1/2 cup of flour
- 1/2 heaping teaspoon of Baking Powder
- 1/2 scant teaspoon of Baking Soda
- 1/2 heaping Tablespoon of Salt

Add these to the dough and mix gently and well. Now, at this point I had to go to book club. So I put the lid on the saucepan and stuck the dough in the fridge. That's the beauty of this dough- you can use it right away or stick it in the fridge for a day or two until you have time to do the next steps. If you do put it in the fridge, just make sure you take it out about 30 minutes before you plan to use it so it will be pliable and rollable. 

I went to book club, ate some amazing goodies, drank hot chocolate, and worked on some knitting while we discussed Tina Fey's "Bossypants" and other sundry topics I won't divulge here. Came home, took my dough out of the fridge, let it sit for about 20 minutes and voila!

Isn't it pretty? I love a good dough. Make sure you sprinkle your countertop with plenty of flour before you plop your dough onto it. Something about the half batch dough is that it ends up being a little more tacky than the full batch. I've found that the flour on counter and flour on my rolling pin takes care of that and makes it easy to work with and roll out. Knead the dough just a bit using the flour on the counter to eliminate the residual tackiness. Roll out the dough into a large rectangle that is about 20 inches from left to right and 12 inches from top to bottom. Be careful not to roll it out too thin, as that can get problematic once you load it up with the next group of ingredients.

Here's what you'll need for the absolutely amazing filling:
- 2 sticks of butter, melted
- Sugar
- Light or dark brown sugar 
- Cinnamon

Pour the butter over the rectangle of dough and spread it around with the back of a spoon. Next, sprinkle the entire surface with sugar. I use about a cup, I guess. I don't really know, I just sprinkle until the butter no longer has a sheen to it. Generously sprinkle the cinnamon over the sugar. Now, Ree doesn't call for brown sugar but I've found it adds a rich flavor to the filling that I really love. I don't use as much brown sugar because, um, hello? There's already sugar on there. So, I just dot the entire surface with it. 

At this point, it's good to just step back and take it all in. I like to think this is what Monet would have painted if he had been acquainted with Ree and Paula Deen.

You're ready to roll! No, seriously. You're ready to roll up the dough. Starting at the top of the rectangle, roll the dough towards you keeping it pretty tight. I like to sort of lift my dough as I roll it, so it comes up over the buttery sugary goodness instead of squishing it forward. Does that make sense? Roll, roll, roll, until you have one long cinnamon roll log. 

Now you need to get your four pans ready. I buy the aluminum cake pans (NOT pie pans). They are the perfect size for this recipe and it makes it so much easier to give them away, if that's your goal. If you're keeping them for yourself, these pans work just fine for eating an entire pan in one sitting and then throwing the evidence away. Not that I've ever done that before....

Ree says to spread butter around in the pans, but I just spray them with olive oil spray. You know, because I'm so health-conscious. Using a sharp knive, cut 1 inch slices and place them in the pans. I alternate cutting slices off the cinnamon roll log from opposite ends AND distribute them into the four pans at once (instead of filling up one pan, then the next, etc.) so that there's a more even distribution to the pans. I usually end up with eight to nine slices in each pan.

The next thing is to cover the rolls and let them rise for 20 minutes. Again, I sit them on my stove top while the oven preheats to 375. While they rise, I clean off my counter and wash any dishes I've used. After you've let them rise, pop them in the oven (four pans fit nicely all at once, by the way) and let them bake for 15 to 17 minutes. 

While your rolls are baking, go ahead and make the icing. My experience with the half batch is that you do NOT want to halve the icing recipe. I've actually found that what Ree lists in her recipe is enough (with a little left over) for a half batch, and I need to double it for a whole batch. Trust me on this, one of the beautiful things about these cinnamon rolls is the icing to dough ratio. It's perfection. Don't mess with it.

For the icing you will need:
- 1/4 cup melted butter (I just melt a whole stick, because you'll definitely need more)
- 1/2 cup of whole milk (I end up using more, but start with that)
- 1/4 cup of strong coffee (I keep Starbucks VIA on hand so I can make a single cup, again you'll probably end up using more than 1/4 cup)
- 2 pound bag of powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons Maple or Vanilla flavoring. Ree calls for maple, but I don't care for it so I use vanilla.

In a large mixing bowl, dump in the powdered sugar and mix in 1/4 cup of melted butter, 1/2 cup of milk, 1/4 cup of coffee and 2 teaspoons of your chosen flavoring. Using a large whisk, mix it together really well. At this point, my icing is still too thick so I add smaller amounts of each of the wet ingredients until it tastes right and is a slightly thick and pourable (BUT NOT TOO RUNNY) consistency. Oh yes, you've GOT to taste test it as you go. I always make sure I can taste a hint of coffee and that the powdered sugar isn't the first taste that hits my tongue. That's when I know I've got it just right.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the rolls in the oven. Ree suggests baking them for 15-17 minutes, but your oven may need longer like mine. I take them out when they're lightly golden brown on top and I can tell that the center roll is baked through and not too mushy. Like this...

Give the rolls a couple of minutes to sit and then using a 1 cup measuring cup, generously pour it over the rolls while they are still good and warm. You want icing to fill up every crevice and even fill up the little spots in the pan that are empty. I usually pour one cup over each pan, let it soak in for a minute and then pour another half cup or so over each pan. You'll wind up with this breathtaking sight...

I know that looks like a WHOLE lot of icing, but those darling little rolls are going to soak it all up and be so delicious. You've got a couple of options at this point:

A.) Grab a fork and chow down. Whether or not you invite others to join you is up to your discretion.
B.) Let them cool for a bit, cover with foil and pop them in the fridge if you know you'll eat them/take them to a party/give them away in the next few days.
C.) Let them cool completely, cover them with foil, place each pan in a gallon freezer bag and stick them in the freezer. When you're ready to eat them, take out however many pans you need and warm them in a 275 oven for 20-25 minutes (foil off).

And there you have it! I know this post is insanely long and you might think it would take a long time to make these. I started this batch at 5:30 and was done by 11, and don't forget all the stuff I was able to accomplish in between. 

So, go forth! Make cinnamon rolls! The world will be a better, happier, more delicious place for it. 


  1. Um, YUM. Methinks you need to host our next book club and make THESE for us to munch on while we discuss sundry topics. ;)

  2. You make these look so good and easy, but I lack the motivation! Maybe I'll attempt these next week...and have a new Christmas morn breakfast. xoxo

  3. Ok wait--a question. What if you don't like coffee in your icing (and don't have any around). Is there an alternate recipe?! (And we are so kitchen twins--I always clean up as I go.)

  4. Tianna, I'd love to! As long as that ONE particular topic is never discussed again ;)

    Sarah Jo, Our mamas raised us right, that's why we clean as we go! And yes, I suppose you could leave the coffee out altogether and it would be just fine. It's not a strong flavor when all is said and done, I promise.

  5. Love your post! And having made these for the first time today, you have it spot ON! Wish I had read your blog before I finished though and would have added some brown sugar. But they are delicious as they are! And I used vanilla instead of maple, too. YUM! Glad you mentioned doing a half batch b/c that is so much more manageable than a full batch. Will do that next time. Not that I'm complaining about the 5 pans in my fridge right now......

  6. Adam makes a mean pioneer woman cinnamon roll, and I love them. A lot.


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