Gooey cinnamon rolls with tangy cream cheese icing

It's currently 2:30 in the morning. I couldn't sleep. My small babe needed to be nursed not so long ago and I couldn't stop thinking about how I've been working on this cinnamon roll post for over a month and still haven't hit publish.

I can't decide if I have a problem with perfection, or if I'm just too dang tired to proof read everything. So, here I am in front of a glowing computer screen, listening to a snoring dog and writing to you. I lit the fire and turned on my twinkle lights to feel extra cozy. 

The early weeks and months of motherhood are lonely. Often I found myself in the wee hours of the morning, in a chair, freezing my buns off, nursing a small babe thinking how nice it would be to talk to someone right now. I have turned to my favorite movie (About Time) and my phone for company.

Recently, through many of these silent nights, I can't help but think of the reason we celebrate Christmas in the first place. That long ago, Mary had her own sweet baby boy in a very holy and sacred night. I'm sure there were so many times where she felt lonely and lost. I'm sure there were so many times where she looked down at her small little babe of a boy and had no idea what was to come. 

My heart hurts because I love this boy of mine so much. Even still, I have cried days upon days because of how hard this move and transition has been for me. I'm quite sure I had a touch of postpartum depression. I would get stuck on things like how am I supposed to feel okay taking my baby out in 23 degree weather? I would never have to deal with this at home in Southern California. How do I scrape ice off of a windshield again? No I'm not hungry, all I want is a blanket and hot chocolate because I'm too cold to think. I've been so worried about keeping my baby warm and safe and dry and healthy that I feel this change and the weather have added much unwanted stress. 

I think I'm okay now though. While I'm still not super used to everything, I haven't cried in at least two weeks and I found the time to make cinnamon rolls twice and deliver them to neighbors. 

I've also tried to think outside myself... I haven't done the best job of it, but I have tried. I've tried to remember why we really celebrate Christmas in the first place, and again, my thoughts are always brought back to that silent night.

Because I never had to ride a donkey for days to deliver my child. Or deliver him among animals outside in the middle of the night. I don't know if Mary every complained about how cold it was, or how alone she felt, but I'm sure, the moment she held her little boy in her arms, she felt her heart would burst out of her chest because of how much she loved him. 

That love, is something I want to focus on this Christmas. Because this year has been heartbreakingly hard for me, but it's also been so unexplainably wonderful because we've had Myles. 

And even though I miss sleep, I love the precious quiet of the early morning where it's just me and him. 

To get him back to sleep in the wee hours of the night I sing to him and he just lights up like a Christmas tree when I sing Silent Night. It's like he's trying to remind me of something. Funny, how such a small little person who only smiles, cries and sleeps, can really teach you everything. 

Happy Christmas my friends. I hope it's a good one. xo 

Gooey cinnamon rolls with tangy cream cheese icing

inspired by one of my favorites Sarah Kieffer of The Vanilla Bean blog, brioche dough recipe from the brilliant Zoe Francois 

We have cinnamon rolls every Christmas Eve. It's one of the amazing traditions my family started around this magical time of year and a Christmas without them just isn't right. My take on cinnamon rolls is that they have to be gooey, and the icing has to be tangy to balance all of that sweetness out. All too often a cinnamon roll is lathered in more too-sweet powdered-sugar-and-milk icing and it kills me. Give me the tang of cream cheese with my roll! I hope you like these as quickly as they disappear in my family. xo

bakers note - I completely over stuff my cinnamon rolls - so much so that the filling is spilling and bubbling out when baked and it makes gooey pools at the bottom of the pan. No one's ever complained thus far. So, if you're looking at this recipe like holy hell that's a lot of filling, it's because it is. I also make cinnamon rolls in the masses. Because why not? They're so fun to give away. But if you'd like, this recipe can be cut in half - just take note you'll need to knead the dough after the first rise, a little bit longer to develop the gluten. 

 

dough 

1 ½ cups / 350ml lukewarm water

1 tablespoon yeast (I used Active Dry, but Red Star Platinum, or Quick-Rise yeast is also recommended)  (1 packet)

1 to 1 ½ tablespoons kosher salt

8 large eggs at room temperature, lightly beaten

½ cup / 170ml honey 

1 ½ cups / 3 sticks / 340g unsalted butter, melted

7 ½ - 8 ½ cups / 875g - 1125g unbleached all-purpose flour (you'll also need more flour for kneading the dough and to add to the dough once it's risen a first time) 

 

Mix the honey with the lukewarm* water. Add the yeast. Stir it up just a bit with a spoon. 

In an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs just slightly. Add the yeast mixture and melted butter and mix. 

Add flour slowly, about ¼ cup at a time, with the mixer speed on low. Mix until it forms a very very wet, sticky, sticky dough. 

Pour sticky, almost-unmanageable dough into a large butter-greased bowl. Keep covered with a clean cloth or plastic wrap and let it rise at room temperature for at least 2 hours. Then let dough rest in the fridge for another 3 hours. This dough is really hard to work with when it's warm, so make sure it's throughly chilled. You can let the dough rest at this stage for up to 5 days in the refrigerator, just make sure it's covered in plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out. So, I made my dough one day ahead of time and let it rest over night in the fridge. I call this stage the "first rise". 

Knead your cold dough on a floured surface for about 30 seconds to 1 minute to develop the gluten. Then divide dough into three parts. With a rolling pin, roll each dough part into a rectangle-ish shape that's about ¼ inch to ½ inch thick. Remember the longer the rectangle, the wider your cinnamon rolls will be. (Work with just one dough ball at a time though, don't roll out 3 rectangles all at once okay?)

Now you're ready to make your filling. See below.  

* lukewarm = you stick your finger in the water and you can't feel the water. It should be body temperature. If the water is too warm it will kill the yeast.

 

Filling: 

Please note this makes enough filling for the entire dough recipe. If you're only using half of the dough, then cut this filling recipe in half. ;) 

2 cups / 4 sticks / 455g unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (please don't panic if you only have salted butter, use it!)

4 cups / 800g dark brown sugar (if you don't have dark brown sugar, use light!)

8 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg (totally optional)

½ teaspoon salt (if using salted butter, omit this salt) 


Mix the soft butter, brown sugar, salt and spices together in a bowl to create a paste. You'll have to divide the filling according to how you've divided the dough. I divided my dough in 3 large parts thus divided my filling to match. Does that make sense? I didn't measure it exactly. 

Spread your filling all over the surface of dough. It's like finger painting with sugary butter and everything about that concept is right.

Roll up the dough very tightly. With a strong piece of string cut the roll about every 1 ½ - 2 inches. This created the beautiful cinnamon spirals. Place those babies on a lightly butter-greased cookie sheet about 1 inch apart. Cover, and let rise until double in size (about 2-4 hours). I call this the "second rise". 

Bake at 350° degrees for 15-25 minutes, or until tops are golden brown. Try not to over bake. Frost while rolls are still warm. 

 

My Favorite Cream Cheese Frosting: 

adapted from Baking Illustrated

8 ounces of cream cheese, softened but still cool

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool

1 tablespoon sour cream

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ¼ cups (5 ounces) confectioners' (powdered) sugar

Whip in an electric mixer the cream cheese, butter, sour cream and vanilla until combined and smooth. Add the confectioners' sugar about ½ cup at a time, mixing in slowly at first so you avoid a powdered sugar facial.  Whip until lumps are gone. Spread over rolls while rolls are still warm so the frosting seeps into all the crooks and crannies.