Unlike babka, whose introduction started with ‘the babka incident’, cinnamon rolls have always had a ubiquitous presence in my life.
I don’t recall my first cinnamon roll, although while at university in Manchester, my friend Anthony and I once visited Rollers thanks to the intoxicating scent of cinnamon hitting us like a brick as we walked past their shop. Led by our noses and, as our eyes told us that yes this is very good idea, we guzzled cinnamon rolls the size of large grapefruits, perky and light and covered in sticky cream cheese frosting. Anthony still remembers that day with a shudder.
I, on the other hand, think of those cinnamon rolls with a sense of contentment in much the same way I reminisce about the vanilla cheesecakes we would buy from Tescos and finish in one sitting, or the fact the only reason I went clubbing was to have the valid excuse to order a fried chicken meal deal with fries and gravy on my way home. It was all part of the university experience and the required university weight-gain. (Speaking of clubbing, now, 10 years later, I’ve started saying ‘clubbing’ in that semi-ironic way like I’m pronouncing a foreign language (‘am I saying it right – klub-ing??’) I’ve even added the rock star hand gesture.)
But anyway. My uncoolness aside.
What is it about cinnamon rolls that makes them so delectable, so tempting? Is it the comforting autumnal scent of cinnamon or the cream cheese glaze, sweet enough to make your teeth tingle? Or is it the buttery soft texture of the buns themselves, barely needing to be chewed?
Whatever their mysterious magic is, making cinnamon rolls myself has always seemed futile because of my under-equipped kitchen – something I lamented about four years ago, and naturally, in that time nothing has changed.
Cinnamon rolls is one of those bakes in which every recipe declares: ‘Now, attach the dough hook to your food mixer…’
Ugh I just my eyes so much it actually hurt. When will some food bloggers realise that not everyone who loves to cook owns a food mixer? Or a food processor? Or a pasta machine?!
Many food lovers live in rented properties, myself included, with the tiniest kitchens imaginable. Surface and cupboard space is limited. I would love to own a Kitchen Aid with a sausage maker attachment, but, aside from the outrageous price, it would have to live in our wardrobe. And the resulting sausages would spiral all over our bedroom floor.
I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel the sting. But as a result, I focused too much on what I couldn’t do rather than tweaking the recipe for my own means. As someone who makes doughnuts by hand, I really should have been more open-minded. Eventually I cottoned on, and therefore this recipe for cinnamon rolls is for those kneading machines at the end of our arms!
And, might I add, they turned out perfectly!
Tell me more about the apple and custard in these cinnamon rolls…
Everyone has their weaknesses and mine has always been apple. A bite of soft, juicy apple cooked with butter, sugar and cinnamon might as well be a kiss from a sailor on leave, it’s so irresistible and charming (and knows it too, the dirty dog). Meanwhile, custard, that comfort blanket spreading the love over plenty of classic desserts, is apple’s perfect partner – the calming presence to balance apple’s flirtation.
Wrapped together with cinnamon butter and you have the holy trinity, but then add the softest, pillowiest cinnamon roll dough and you have a godly miracle. No exaggeration.
While exploring the internet for cinnamon roll dough recipes, ideally for one that didn’t rely on a food mixer but to no avail, I stumbled across Ana’s Baking Chronicles which declared the dough made ‘the softest homemade cinnamon rolls’. I was intrigued, especially as the flour quantity was far lower than in any other recipe. However, that may be the secret because Ana was bang on – these cinnamon rolls are so light and soft that a spoon can glide right through without any resistance. And that is according to me who made it without a dough hook! (Ok ok, I’ll let it go.)
The custard no doubt also lends a hand. As I dolloped it all over the sheet of dough, I became wary that once again these greedy eyes had been bad influencers, and rolling the dough into a spiral was a messy challenge. However, since baking and eating the finished results, I’ve decided to not reduce the quantity of custard! I know, I know – a 5-egg custard?! Who are we feeding, an entire football team – but it’s so worth it because each mouthful is creamy and squishy blending with the cinnamon butter, and those little nuggets of tender apple simply add something to chew.
Plus, don’t forget the cream cheese glaze (the third recipe of which I’ve written for this blog in the last few months, maybe I have an addiction?) which is perfectly sticky, and after every bite there’ll be frosting on your lips and fingers but that just adds to the fun.
The recipe for these apple and custard cinnamon rolls is long but don’t feel daunted. It’s surprisingly easy, a pleasant project as you listen to the radio or an audiobook, and you’ll be well-rewarded at the end, with a springy oven-warm cinnamon roll dripping in frosting as you put your feet up and take a bite. Cooking without equipment isn’t so hard after all.
Apple and custard cinnamon rolls
- 375 g flour I used T55 which is recommended for doughs, so try strong-white flour if you can
- ½ tsp salt
- 120 ml warm water
- 65 ml warm milk
- 1 sachet of dried yeast
- 75 g sugar
- 60 g unsalted butter
- 1 egg
For the custard
- 500 ml full-fat milk
- 75 g sugar
- 5 egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 20 g flour
- 15 g cornflour
For the apples
- 2 eating apples
- 25 g unsalted butter
- 1 tsp brown sugar
For the cinnamon butter
- 100 g unsalted butter softened
- 50 g sugar
- 1 tbsp ground cinnamon
For the cream cheese glaze
- 60 g unsalted butter softened
- 135 g full-fat cream cheese
- 100 g icing sugar
- A splash of milk if necessary
- In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour and mix in the salt.
- If the milk and water isn't warmed already, warm them in a pan together. Don't let the liquid get too hot, you want it to just be warm.
- Prepare the yeast by mixing it in a jug with a teaspoon of the sugar and a tablespoon of the warm liquids. Leave to froth and bubble.
- Put the butter in a bowl and pour the remaining warm milk and water over it so it melts – it doesn't matter if the butter doesn't melt completely.
- Once the yeast is ready add it to the flour and salt, and add the liquids and butter, along with the egg. Mix everything with a wooden spoon until completely combined and the mixture is soft and elastic, it should take only 5-10 minutes.
- Tip it onto a floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes until it is less sticky and nice and smooth. Put it in a clean oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel while you make the fillings.
- Warm the milk in a saucepan. In a bowl, combine the egg yolks, vanilla, sugar, flour and cornflour. Once the milk is hot, add a splash to the egg mixture and whisk well to loosen it and to temper the eggs. Gradually add the rest of the milk, whisking all the while, until it's all combined.
- Pour everything back into the saucepan – if there is cooked milk at the bottom of the pan, wash it quickly first – then put it over medium heat. Whisk as it heats as it will thicken very quickly! Beat out any lumps as it starts to bubble, however, if you miss any, strain the custard through a sieve into a bowl.
- Cover the custard with cling film – make sure the film is against the custard's surface to prevent a skin forming. Chill it in the fridge until cold.
- Peel and core the apples and chop into small bite-sized pieces. They need to be small enough to be rolled up with the cinnamon buns.
- Melt the butter in a frying pan and add the brown sugar. Stir to dissolve then add the apple pieces. Toss to coat in the mixture, lower the heat and cook for 10 minutes until soft, stirring regularly. Once cooked and melt-in-the-mouth tender, take the pan off the heat to cool the apples.
The cinnamon butter
- In a bowl, combine the soft butter with the sugar and cinnamon. You will probably need to use a hand to mix it well, so get your (clean) hands dirty!
- Grease a 9 x 13 inch / 23 x 33 cm baking dish with butter. Take your ball of dough and shape it into a rough rectangle. Roll it out on a floured surface to approximately 30 x 40 cm.
- The dough is soft so you don't want to rip it by spreading over the cinnamon butter. Line lumps of cinnamon butter all over the sheet of dough, then using a soft spatula, spread them out gently until the whole thing is evenly covered.
- Next evenly distribute all the custard. There is A LOT. But go for it. Spread it all out with the spatula on top of the cinnamon butter.
- Then scatter over the apple pieces.
- Now, it's rolling time! Roll from one of the shorter ends all the way to the opposite side, and keep going even when custard makes an appearance at either end. It's worth it.
- With this lovely long sausage in front of you, it's time to trim the ends so it's even and tidy. The easiest way to cut the roll is with floss. Take a piece of floss and wrap it around the roll. Swap the hands holding each end and pull outwards in both directions. Discard the two ends, then cut the rest of the roll using the floss into 9-12 pieces.
- Line the rolls in the baking dish – 3 across then 3 or 4 lengthways. If you squash in 12, some will be consumed by the others, but it will all be covered with frosting anyway.
- Leave to proof for 45 minutes. If you don't plan to bake straight away cover the dish with cling film and store the rolls in the fridge for up to 24 hours. When you would like to bake them, remove from the fridge and bring to room temperature.
- If you will bake today, after 30 minutes, preheat the oven to 180°C/200°C fan/350°F.
- Bake the rolls for 25 minutes or until the edges are golden and it's all smelling delicious. Leave to cool as you make the frosting.
- Combine the softened butter and the cream cheese in a bowl with a wooden spoon or electric beaters. Sift over the icing sugar and stir gently to combine. Add the milk if it's too thick – a pourable consistency makes these cinnamon rolls really gooey.
- Cover the cinnamon rolls in cream cheese frosting, and eat one straight away.
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