Monday, March 11, 2013

Sweet Sunday - Chai Spiced Cinnamon Rolls

You know how sometimes you save a recipe, just waiting for the perfect time to make it and the perfect people to enjoy it?  You want to make it, you plan to make it, but you have to wait for just the right time.... if this doesn't happen to you, just indulge me....

...And enter these cinnamon rolls.  Or rather, enter the wonderful company right now of my husband's Aunt Liza and cousin Harley.  Liza is like my other half in the kitchen.  I'm sweet and she's savory.  I make the cake and she makes the steak.... you get the idea.  At Christmas, we combine to form a powerhouse in the kitchen, Liza making the delicious appetizers and entrees, and yours truly taking care of all things sweet.

So when I knew that Liza and 6-year-old Harley were coming to visit, I knew I had to make these spicy chai cinnamon rolls.  They are such a unique flavor and had to be shared with someone who can appreciate a stray from traditional cinnamon rolls (not that there is a thing wrong with the usual rolls, but it's okay to think outside the norm here).  I love chai flavored anything.  LOVE IT.  That combination of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and pepper (yes, pepper!) is just unreal.  I love chai tea, chai lattes, chai oatmeal, and now, these wonderful chai cinnamon rolls.

I have only once made a yeasted cinnamon roll, and you can be sure that they will make an appearance here someday.  My normal go-to is essentially a quick bread, just a simple sweet dough made with buttermilk and filled with the usual goodies of butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and, in this case, cinnamon chips, one of my absolute favorite kitchen goodies (no lie, there are at least 10 bags in my pantry right now, you have to stock up around here at Christmas, the only time to find such gems in the store at a decent price!).  These quick cinnamon rolls are undoubtedly delicious, but a yeasted roll?  They are to die for.  That's right, people.  TO DIE FOR.  I ate two this morning, but could have easily wiped out the pan.  Also, they are great because you can do the majority of the work the night before, as I did, and then just pop them into the oven in the morning!  So, before I ramble on any more, let me give you this recipe:

Chai Spiced Cinnamon Rolls

For the dough:

1 1/4 oz active dry yeast (a smidge over 2 teaspoons, I just measured 2 heaping teaspoons, or just use 1 envelope)
1/2 teaspoon sugar, plus 1/4 cup
1/4 warm water
1/2 cup milk, at room temperature, or warmed in the microwave for 15 seconds
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/3 cup
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
pinch of cloves
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, or slightly softened in the microwave

For the filling:

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon (that's right, a tablespoon, don't be afraid)
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (yep, pepper, trust me, you need it)
1/8 teaspoon cloves
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup (half a stick) unsalted butter, melted

For the icing:

1 cup powdered sugar
dash of each cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, more to taste
liquid to thin, your choice - cream, milk, water

To make the dough:  In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water, yeast, and 1/2 teaspoon of sugar.  Set aside for 5-10 minutes to become foamy.  In another bowl, whisk together the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, milk, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk.  Set aside.  In another bowl, combine 2 3/4 cups of flour with the cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and salt.  Once the yeast has proofed, add the egg mixture and whisk to combine.  Attach the bowl to your stand mixer and attach the dough hook.  Add the flour mixture and combine over a medium speed.  After a few minutes of kneading, add 1/2 cup of butter, about a tablespoon at a time.  Allow the dough to knead for a few more minutes.  Now add in the remaining 1/3 cup of flour and knead for a few more minutes.  Your dough may still seem a bit wet and sticky, but rest assured, all will be just fine.  Place the dough into a greased bowl, and allow to rise in a warm place for about 2 hours, or until doubled in size.

To make the filling:   While the dough is rising is a nice time to make the filling.  Combine the sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, salt, pepper, and cloves.  Add the maple syrup and stir until everything is well combined.  Your mixture will look a bit like wet sand (and it will taste SO good.... not that I did any sampling).

Assembling:  After the dough has risen, place it on a lightly floured work surface and roll out with a floured rolling pin.  You want to make a large rectangle, such that your dough is less than 1/4 inch thick, but not paper thin.  Just use your judgment, I assure you, you really cannot go wrong here.  With a pastry brush, spread the 1/4 cup of melted butter onto your dough rectangle, leaving about a 1-inch border on the long sides of the rectangle.  Next, spread the filling across the buttered surface, using all of it.  Finally, roll the dough into a long, tight cylinder.  Using a very sharp knife, slice the dough into rounds, about 1- to 1 1/2 inches thick (the original recipe directs you to slice into 8 huge rolls, I went my way and got 12 average sized rolls).

You have 2 options at this point - if you are making these the night before, just place the dough rounds into a greased 9 x 13 pan, evenly spaced, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the refrigerator.  The next morning, just allow them to "wake up" a bit for 15-30 minutes before baking.  OR,place the dough rounds into the 9 x 13 pan and allow them to rise for an hour in a warm place.

Regardless of your chosen previous step, bake the rolls in the oven at 375 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean.  While the rolls are baking, you can make the icing really quickly.  Just whisk the powdered sugar, spices, and a splash of liquid (okay start with a couple of tablespoons) until the icing consistency is to your liking.  Here's what the rolls look like fresh from the oven:

The last step is very important - TRY not to eat too many.  At one time..... (Oh, and maybe don't eat 2 rolls, have 2 cups of coffee, and then decide to go for your date with Shaun T and do some Pure Cardio.  You'll survive, as evidenced by the fact that I am still alive, but it will be painful.)  And one more yummy shot:

So there you go!  These rolls are everything a fresh cinnamon roll should be - golden, fluffy, gooey, just full of awesomeness.  If you make them, you will not be disappointed.  And be sure to check out the original recipe, which called for candied ginger, which was quite expensive (for me), so I omitted, but I can only imagine how much yumminess this would add.

I'll see you on Tuesday for a truly healthy, yummy treat!  (Because, remember! - its all about balance!)

Have a great week!

Recipe adapted from Joy the Baker