I love cinnamon rolls as a special breakfast, particularly for thanksgiving or christmas. problem is our holiday mornings tend to be pretty quiet - just j and i if i’m lucky, sometimes even just me. so a big pan of 12 rolls is a bit overkill. trust, i don’t need 10 cinnamon rolls hanging around.
so i’ve been on the hunt for a great small batch recipe, and my testing went a little something like this:
first try: disaster. the dough was too wet and fell apart when i was rolling it up into a log. those barely made it to the fridge for their second rise before i tossed them. they were hideously sloppy.
my second try: i switched recipes, using the one listed below but i tried to do the second rise overnight in the fridge. disaster strikes again. the rolls baked up ugly, and dense…another batch of fuglies, and yet another example of why you don’t deviate from the recipe the first time around. [i should know this by now.] i love that this recipe only makes 4 rolls, but did learn the hard way it needs to be prepared all in one go. if that simply won’t do, there is this overnight recipe that yields about 8 rolls, which i would highly recommend.
i wasn’t quite ready to give up on that second recipe so i gave it another shot for my third try: this time [almost] exactly as written [i made the recipe non-vegan] with total success.
that being said, there are a couple tricks to this smallest-batch recipe:
1) i do my rising in the oven with just the oven light on. i find that creates the best “warm-but-not-hot” environment for getting the yeast to work it’s magic.
2) if you’re into aesthetics take care when selecting a pan to bake your rolls in. you want them far enough apart from each other that they have room to puff up, and bake fully throughout, and yet you want them close enough together that they push against each other and bake more upward than out. i like my rolls a bit taller and tighter, as opposed to wider so i use the 8” pie plate [pictured above] or my 7” springform pan [pictured below.]
3) the original recipe noted you can trim the ends of your cinnamon roll “log” before cutting, which i thought was a genius tip. that makes for a uniform batch, avoiding those “end” rolls looking obviously different from the rest of the pan.
recipe adapted from oh lady cakes
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water*
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons buttermilk**
4 teaspoons sugar + a pinch of sugar, divided
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup flour + extra for working and rolling dough
1/2 tablespoon of butter
2-3 tablespoons brown sugar
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup powdered cane sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons milk
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
in a mug add 1/4 cup of warm water (*not HOT! we want to activate the yeast, but not kill it) and a pinch of sugar. add in the yeast and let sit for about 10 minutes, until puffy. if your yeast doesn’t puff up, it’s not activated. toss that mugful and try the whole process again.
in a medium sized mixing bowl, whisk 1 cup of flour and the sea salt. make a well in the middle and set aside.
in a small mixing bowl, melt the butter and stir in the sugar until fully incorporated. finally, whisk in the buttermilk (you can also use regular milk). pour the mixture into the well in your bowl of flour, and add the mugful of yeast and water. mix with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon until the dough comes together. turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. add a little extra flour to the top of the dough and gently knead with your hands until the dough is no longer sticky (adding more flour as needed), smooth and elastic.
rinse out one of the mixing bowls you used, dry it, and oil it. pop your little dough ball into the bowl, cover with a towel and let sit in a warm, dry place for about 30 minutes, until the dough is doubled in size. (i set mine in the oven with the oven light on.)
once ready, turn your dough out onto a lightly floured surface. if the top of your dough is sticky from the oil in the bowl, dust with a little extra flour once more, and smooth it over the dough. if your dough is too wet, it will be difficult to shape and cut. gently roll the dough out or press using your hands into an approximately 5” x 12” rectangle.
melt your butter and let cool a little (ensure it’s not too hot! if your butter is steaming it will start to melt your dough upon contact, again making it difficult to get a neat roll) while the butter is cooling, measure out and whisk together your sugars and cinnamon. gently brush the slightly cooled butter over your dough rectangle, then sprinkle the cinnamon sugar(s) mixture over top. roll your dough starting with one of the short ends, all the way down. you should have a smooth cinnamon roll log at this point.
cut your log into quarters, and transfer to a greased or buttered baking pan or dish [see notes above.] place the rolls back in your warm dry place and let rise 30-60 minutes more.
remove your rolls from the oven if they are in there, and preheat to 375 f. bake your rolls for 12-14 minutes, until puffed and golden on top.
let the rolls cool for about 10 minutes, and prepare your frosting. beat cream cheese on medium for a minute or two, then add in the milk and powdered sugar and whip until thoroughly combined, stopping to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed. if you desire a thicker frosting, you can add a little more powdered sugar, or if it’s too thick, thin it out with a bit of milk.
these would be wonderful with a little pumpkin puree for thanksgiving morning, or with a little homemade caramel sauce drizzled in. [i’m doing everything i can to get rid of that stuff!]