Opinion seems to be that the next phase of the Great Quarantine Bake-Off is going to involve cinnamon rolls. That makes a lot of sense to me. Not only are cinnamon rolls wonderful, but (in my mind, at least) they are pretty firmly linked to the holiday season. When I was a kid, my mother always baked cinnamon rolls for breakfast on Christmas morning. I think we had them at other festive times as well, such as Easter and maybe Thanksgiving. But on Christmas morning, we always had cinnamon rolls and oranges.
Aunts and uncles on both sides of the family reminisce about cinnamon rolls from their childhoods too, so I guess this tradition has been around for a while. I make lots of things my mother made (as well as a good few she didn't), but when I bake cinnamon rolls I always feel like I'm participating in a family ritual: making what all those women before me made, calling up the sweet-scented memories, using humble ingredients to create warmth and comfort.
The other day I decided this year could use a lot more warmth and comfort. Why shouldn't I made a small batch of cinnamon rolls any old weekend? Why not indeed? If you or anyone in your house needs cheering up, please give these rolls a try. They are phenomenally light, sweet, and pillowy-soft: just the thing to cushion the rough corners of life.
Unlike many of the recipes I post, this recipe is not gluten-free.
I normally use a stand mixer to make cinnamon rolls (and other yeasted breads) but it turns out that a half recipe is just too small for that: there isn't enough volume for the dough hook to grab onto, so you have to mix the dough the old-fashioned way. The best thing to use is your (freshly washed) bare hands.
If you are used to making loaf breads, you will have to resist the urge to knead a lot more flour into the dough than what is called for: compared to a loaf bread, this dough is extremely soft and sticky. But do resist the urge: even though the dough may seem almost too sticky to handle, this texture is essential the softness and lightness of the finished product.
In order to have these hot out of the oven at breakfast time, you'd have to get up a 4 in the morning. I make mine at least a day before I plan to serve them. Then I wrap the cooled rolls in aluminum foil and store them in a large freezer bag. You can also freeze the rolls at this point; just allow them to thaw at room temperature overnight. Then in the morning, remove the rolls from the plastic storage bag, but leave them wrapped in aluminum foil. Place on a baking sheet and warm in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes before serving. The "warm" setting on your oven should be fine, or about 200 F if you don't have a "warm" setting.
I'm pretty sure my mother made cinnamon rolls using her standard white bread recipe. Almost any recipe for cinnamon rolls will turn out tasty – with all that cinnamon and sugar, how can you go wrong? Nevertheless, this recipe was a game-changer for me. This is a half-size version of the "Cinnamon Rolls" recipe from Prairie, the cookbook of the Prairie Restaurant in Chicago. The soft enriched dough makes rolls of exceptionally fine texture and taste.
The pecans are my own addition. You can, of course, leave them off ... but here at Headquarters we feel they add quite a lot.