If there’s one thing I think of when I hear the words “labour of love”, it’s cinnamon buns. I remember when I used to go over to my grandma’s to bake them and it was basically a day long process. She must have had a really cold kitchen because the dough always took a couple of hours to rise. Which was ok because it gave me ample time to beat her at crib. Then I got the honour of rolling it out and dousing it with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. One more rise and it was time to hit the oven. Man that smell. I would be all over cinnamon bun perfume, all over it. When they finally came out it was time to taste our efforts. All I can say is, you haven’t lived if you’ve never tasted a freshly baked, homemade cinnamon bun. Cinzeo just doesn’t cut it.
There’s a few things I’ve changed since then but the overall reaction is always the same. Seriously, the way to my heart is probably through cinnamon buns. Unless they are really crappy cinnamon buns, then that’s probably the way AWAY from my heart. You just can’t win.
For me, there are a couple key points to the perfect cinnamon bun. First is the sticky factor. To achieve this we put caramel in the bottom of the pan so when you flip the buns out they soak up the bubbly goodness. Some people in fact call cinnamon buns “sticky buns”. Alas there is a difference. Only cinnamon buns are associated with cream cheese icing, which is key point #2. It may seem extreme to use both caramel and icing but don’t argue with me, it’s a necessity. Finally, we are going to add diced apple to the filling of our buns. I stole this idea from Harvest in Canmore. They used to make my favorite cinnamon buns but their inconsistency lost them my business. I would drive in to get some on Sunday morning only to find a) they had ran out b) they didn’t make any c) they were closed altogether. Thus I gave up and decided to just make them myself. Frankly, I think they’re better. Of course I do, but that’s beside the point.
My last tip for all of you eager cinny bun bakers; get everything ready the night before. There is no way to get your family/friends/significant other to love you more than to bake them fresh cinnamon buns for breakfast. Plus, the main reason they take so long to make is because you have to wait for them to rise. So just let them to this while you sleep and dream of cinnamon bun magnificence.
2 tbsp. light cream cheese
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
3/4 cup – 1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbsp. instant yeast
1/2 tsp. salt
3 1/2 cups flour
Combine all ingredients in a boil and then knead until smooth and elastic. You may need more or less water depending on what type of climate you live in. Calgary and area is usually incredibly dry so I used closer to 1 cup. Place the dough in a well-oiled bowl and allow it to rise for 1-1.5 hours or until doubled in bulk.
1 apple, small dice
1 tbsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar (Who am I kidding? I probably used the most heaping 1 cup of sugar ever. So feel free to use closer to 1 1/2 cups because cinnamon buns need lots of brown sugar, that’s just a rule.)
After the dough has risen, flip it onto the counter and stretch it into a rectangle, about 1/4-1/2 an inch thick. You could use a rolling pin or something fancy like that but I find this is a small enough batch of dough that stretching it is the easiest method. Slather it with butter, get in there, use your hands. Then go to town with the sugar, cinnamon and apple. As long as it is relatively evenly distributed, you’re good to go. Roll it up nice and tight and slice it into 1.5-2 inch portions. Place the buns into a caramel-lined (see recipe below) 9×13 pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Alternatively, if you want to bake them ASAP, leave the buns at room temperature and allow them to rise until doubled again, about an hour. When you are ready, bake at 350F for about 25 minutes. Allow them to cool slightly before turning them out of the pan. Smear with a healthy helping of cream cheese icing (also see recipe below) and serve (devour) warm.
1 cup white sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
Put the sugar in a small saucepan and add a splash of water. Cook over high heat, swirling the pot occasionally but not stirring it. When it starts to turn colour, watch it carefully. It can go from golden to burned in seconds. Once it achieves a rich, caramel tone, remove the sugar from the heat and add the cream. Careful, it will bubble up so I wouldn’t recommend sticking your face right over the pot as you do this. Unless you want a caramel facial, then go to town. Stir to incorporate all of the cream in with the sugar. Pour the caramel into a 9×13 pan, swirling to ensure it coats the bottom evenly.
Cream Cheese Icing
1 cup light cream cheese
1/2 cup icing sugar
2 tbsp. maple syrup
Whip until smooth. Try to avoid eating it all before it gets on the cinnamon buns.