Thursday, March 20, 2014

Apple Walnut Raisin Cinnamon Rolls

Today's Breakfast Week recipe is an extra special one.  As if Apple Walnut Raisin Cinnamon Rolls don't sound good enough on their own (and they definitely are, believe me), today also happens to be my little sister's birthday!  Breakfast Week, like I mentioned on Monday, was a sort of collaborative venture between the two of us, and the reason for that is simple.  My sister is literally obsessed with breakfast and brunch foods.  Brunch is her favorite meal of the day, and if it were possible to have brunch during the week instead of just during the weekends, I'm sure she would go for that without hesitation.  I'm pretty sure I would do the same, and honestly, who wouldn't?  What's not to love about brunch and special weekend breakfasts?  They help break away from the monotony of the work week and our normal hectic schedules.  I love nothing more than whipping up a stack of huge fluffy pancakes on a Saturday morning, and not just because I love pancakes, but because I can actually sit down and enjoy them, rather than scarfing down some eggs and juice in five minutes like I normally do during the week.  So, in honor of my sister's birthday, this week has been an extended celebration of breakfast and brunch and easy, carefree weekends.

While I love more elaborate weekend breakfasts, I typically gravitate towards easy things to prepare like pancakes and waffles, because they're usually pretty quick to assemble and don't require much planning.  Every now and then though, I crave something more.  Lately, I've found myself craving homemade cinnamon rolls, something I haven't made in way too long.  I'm pretty sure this craving came about simply from waiting for my train in Penn Station every night after work.  I usually get to Penn about ten minutes or so before my train is scheduled to depart, which means that I need to stand in the station in front of a giant switchboard until the platform for my train is announced.  The giant switchboard is conveniently located in front of a Cinnabon, so I can't help but get enormous whiffs of cinnamon roll deliciousness as I wait for the platform to be announced.  It's true, there are other switchboards I could wait by, but those are also conveniently located by other Cinnabons or Auntie Anne's pretzel shops, so it seems that escaping the cinnamon sugar aroma is completely impossible, a coincidence that I'm sure was planned on purpose.

In any case, just waiting in Penn Station everyday gave me a massive cinnamon roll craving, one that I could only cure by making a batch of rolls myself.  I could have easily just bought a cinnamon roll, but where's the fun in that?  The idea for breakfast week had already been thought up, so I figured that throwing in a batch of homemade cinnamon rolls onto the schedule only made sense.  When I finally got around to selecting a recipe to try, it seemed pretty obvious that the one I needed to try came from of course, the Pioneer Woman herself.  Her recipe is Oklahoma-ranch sized and makes more cinnamon rolls than I could possibly ever figure out what to do with, but fortunately for me, Joy the Baker did a lovely job of downsizing the recipe to more manageable, suburban proportions.  I wanted to change up the recipe ever so slightly, so I added some chopped apples, walnuts, and golden raisins into the filling.  The cinnamon roll filling might be a bit different than the Pioneer Woman's original filling, but the rolls themselves were not changed one bit, which is a good thing, because they are truly fantastic.

I love this recipe for cinnamon rolls so much, not only because of how amazing the rolls themselves turn out, but also because they're really quite simple to prepare, and that's not an understatement!  Typically, I get lazier than I like to admit when it comes to working with yeast, but these rolls are an exception.  There's no kneading, no stand mixer, and nothing overly fussy.  All these rolls need is a large Dutch oven (or any other large pot) and a wooden spoon.  I couldn't believe that making cinnamon rolls by stirring ingredients together in a pot without kneading would actually work, and I was happily surprised when I saw that my dough had not only doubled in bulk after an hour's rise, but was perfectly smooth and soft and fluffy.  It was like magic!  I loved how the rolls baked together in the square baking tins; they puffed up and the cinnamon filling was bubbling away like crazy.  After they cooled a little bit but were still warm, a simple vanilla glaze was drizzled over the tops of the rolls, as if they weren't sweet enough already.  I personally don't like my cinnamon rolls glazed too heavily (I find a little drizzle more than enough), so I made a quarter of what the Pioneer Woman recommends, and I still had a lot of glaze left over.  If you like your cinnamon rolls with more glaze, simply double the ingredients I listed below.

These cinnamon rolls are a truly decadent way of celebrating breakfast, and birthdays!  They do take a little bit more time and planning than other breakfast recipes, but trust me, they're so worth it.  This is the cinnamon roll recipe that you're going to make once, just once, and it will immediately become your go-to recipe.  It's perfect in every way.  And, even better, they apparently freeze well!  I made these rolls before my sister came home from school for spring break, but I froze her a couple to see if they held up well.  She microwaved one straight from the freezer for a few seconds and then heated it up in the toaster oven, and she says it actually tasted fine!  Maybe this means that cinnamon rolls could become a part of our breakfast and brunch routine more often.  Just make sure to enjoy one of these cinnamon rolls while they're still warm from the oven at least once!  

Apple Walnut Raisin Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from The Pioneer Woman


For the Rolls

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
4 1/2 cups flour, divided
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
scant 2 teaspoons salt

For the Filling

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

2/3 cup brown sugar, divided
ground cinnamon, to taste
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, diced, divided
1/2 cup golden raisins, divided
2/3 cup chopped walnuts, divided

For the Glaze

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons milk
splash vanilla extract


Begin by preparing the dough.  Combine the milk, oil, and sugar and in a large saucepan (I used a large Dutch oven) set over medium heat , and bring the mixture to just below a boil.  Set the mixture aside and cool until warm (105-110 degrees F), about an hour. Sprinkle the yeast over the milk, and let it sit for a minute.  

Add 4 cups of flour directly into the Dutch oven or saucepan, stirring until just combined.  Cover the pot with the lid and set in a warm-ish spot for an hour.  After an hour, remove the lid and add the baking powder, baking soda, salt, and remaining half cup of flour.  Stir thoroughly to combine.  At this point, you can use the dough right away or refrigerate the dough to use for later.  I was impatient so I made and baked my rolls right away!

To form the rolls, remove half of the dough and place it on a clean, lightly floured work surface.  Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a rectangle that is about 12 inches long by 8 inches wide.  Pour half of the melted butter over the dough and brush it all over the surface of the dough.  Not gonna lie, this is a lot of butter, and I am not as fearless as the Pioneer Woman when it comes to using enormous quantities of butter, so I cheated and used about half the recommended amount of butter at this stage (I used around 2-3 tablespoons of butter per half of dough).  Sprinkle 1/3 cup brown sugar, cinnamon to taste, 1/4 cup golden raisins, and 1/3 cup chopped walnuts all over the dough in an even layer.  Do the same with the chopped apples.  

Roll up the dough on the long edge of the rectangle, rolling tightly towards you.  Finish rolling seam side down, and tuck in the ends if they seem a little loose (or simply trim them off).  Slice the dough into 9 equal pieces, and arrange them in a greased 8x8-inch square baking pan.  Set this first batch of rolls aside, and repeat the process with the remaining dough, placing the rolls in a second greased 8-inch pan.  Allow the finished rolls to rest for 15-20 minutes.

While the rolls are resting, position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F.  Bake the rolls for about 20-22 minutes, until the rolls are golden brown and the filling is bubbling.

While the rolls are baking, prepare the glaze by whisking together the powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla extract until the icing reaches a drizzling consistency.

Remove the rolls from the oven, and allow them to rest in the pan for about ten minutes.  Drizzle the glaze over the warm rolls, and serve warm.  Enjoy!

Makes 18 cinnamon rolls


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