Wowowowowow Appeasing a Food Geek is two! If you read last year’s celebratory blog birthday post, you know that this blog was really a way for me to maintain my sanity in grad school and make life a little less lonely in central Pennsylvania.
As my life has changed, however, so too has this blog. I’m not really sure how I would define the purpose of Appeasing a Food Geek now. My life has so drastically changed professionally, logistically, and by far personally over the past several years, that one of the only constants has been this blog. It gives me an outlet to write down my thoughts and an excuse to seek out semolina to make homemade pasta. It is my virtual home with personal journal-ing and pretty photos. In fact, if we wanted to really define the purpose of Appeasing a Food Geek, it would be that this site is purely a place for me to be so quintessentially me.
So as I celebrate another year of snacks and food writing, I say cheers! With one of the best cinnamon rolls I’ve ever made. Mainly because it only takes a little over an hour to complete from start to finish, and I’m impatient as hell. Plus, it’s got all the best flavors like buttery, chocolatey, cinnamon-y, and coffee-y. (I’m just making up words now—that works when you add a hyphen, right?) And also ever since I baked the Cardamom Cake from Molly Yeh, I’ve been craving it in everything. So I threw that lovely spice in there too. Topped off with an espresso cream cheese frosting, I’m in heaven.
Soooo…sweet rolls. Yeast. But don’t cringe! I’m here for you. It’s not as difficult as you’re thinking right now.
We’ve visited yeast before in terms of steps of yeast utilization and “oven spring” for full activation—mostly in terms of sweet, fatty doughs such as Hawaiian rolls, donuts, and another extra-swirly chocolate roll. However, my celebratory blog birthday rolls have a super speedy preparation as compared to many other sweet rolls. How does it work? Well the real difference here is that the initial rise time is much shorter than normal for a first proof. But now you’re probably all-like, what is a first proof?
A first proof is when you give yeast time to jumpstart in the dough. It begins to eat those sugars and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. The carbon dioxide creates a bunch of air pockets in the dough which the gluten network traps—AKA why you begin to see leavening in your dough balls when left to rest. That also helps to develop the gluten network by stretching it and so on. Secondarily, the alcohol helps to develop those “yeasty” flavors which you definitely start to notice if you’ve ever had over-proofed dough.
A brief note: this is pretty simplified which is partly because these rolls depend less on the role of yeast than something like a French baguette, but also because yeast is really freaking complicated once you talk about the complex environment of dough. If you’re really interested in yeasty science, I suggest you seek out a few baking texts.
Anyway, we knock some of that carbon dioxide out and redistribute the nutrients in the dough a bit after the first proof once we begin to play with it—such as when we roll it out. Then once we have shaped the rolls, we set it aside for a second rise. That second rise picks up where we left off and the yeast gets to work on rising the dough in its final shape—no disruptions this time. Finally, the oven gives yeast its final productive bout before killing it off (Remember? Oven spring?). Voila! Breakfast for all!
These rolls don’t require much in the way of a first rise because we aren’t as worried about creating a strong gluten network from the carbon dioxide activity. We also know that we’re going to allow the yeast to do its thing later on after shaping for leavening purposes. We still give them as much time as other roll recipes to do that step.
On another note, there are so many other ingredients in these cinnamon rolls, that we aren’t relying on the yeast to impart much flavor complexity. Breads and simpler rolls greatly depend on that yeasty aroma to be the primary (and wonderful) experience when you take a bite which takes a lot of time for the yeast to develop. We’ve got cinnamon, espresso, cardamom, and chocolate. So I think we can sacrifice that bakery note in lieu of snappy results.
Quick Cinnamon Espresso Rolls with Cardamom and Chocolate
Adapted from Joy the Baker
Makes 12 rolls
½ cup whole milk
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 ½ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg yolk
4 tablespoons (¼ cup) butter, melted
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon instant coffee granules
¾ teaspoon cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
A pinch kosher salt
⅓ cup semisweet chocolate chips, roughly chopped
Espresso Cream Cheese Frosting
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons butter, softened
¾ cup powdered sugar
Splash vanilla extract
½ heaping tablespoon instant coffee granules dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
- Begin by making the dough. Combine the milk, butter, and sugar in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat, cooking just until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts. Remove from the heat and cool until the mixture is just warm to the touch.
- In a large bowl, pour the now-warm milk mixture. Sprinkle the yeast over the top and swirl to incorporate. Set aside for 5-7 minutes until the mixture is fragrant and the yeast is activated. It may foam slightly. Or it may not.
- To the bowl, add 1 ½ cups flour, salt, and egg yolk. Use a wooden spoon to stir the mixture until everything begins to come together. When you can no longer use the wooden spoon, switch to your hands. If the dough feels wet, add the extra two tablespoons of flour. Knead a few times to bring all of the ingredients together. Do not over-work! We don’t need a lot of gluten development.
- Return the dough ball to the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit in a warm place for 10 minutes.
- While waiting for the dough to relax in the bowl, combine the ingredients for the filling—all except for the butter and chocolate chips—in a small bowl. Set aside.
- On a lightly floured surface, dump the dough ball out of the bowl. Roll into a rectangle approximately 9×12 inches in dimension.
- Spread the melted 4 tablespoons of butter over the top of the dough. Sprinkle the sugar and spice mix from step 5 over the melted butter leaving a half inch edge free around the whole rectangle. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top.
- Roll the dough into a coil on the longer edge (aka the hot dog way, not the hamburger way).
- Use a sharp knife or a length of string to cut the coil into 12 pieces.
- Spray a 9×9 inch baking pan with cooking spray. Place the cinnamon roll pieces into the pan, equally spacing between them. Cover the pan with the plastic wrap and let rise for 30 minutes in a warm place, or until slightly swelled. The rolls should be grown in size, but not quite doubled.
- While waiting for the rolls to rise, preheat the oven to 350⁰F.
- Bake the rolls for 18 minutes, or until golden on top and the filling is bubbling. Remove to a wire rack and let cool.
- While the rolls cool, prepare the cream cheese frosting. Whisk together the cream cheese and butter. Add the vanilla and dissolved coffee. Whisk to combine. Add half of the powdered sugar and stir until it incorporates. Add the remaining powdered sugar. Stir and ensure there are no lumps.
- Top the cinnamon rolls with frosting while still warm so that it slightly melts on top of the rolls. Serve immediately.
- If saving for later, cover the top of the pan with aluminum foil and refrigerate. To reheat, heat the rolls in a 300⁰F oven with the foil on until warmed through. Check after 10 minutes and then every 4-5 minutes after that. Use a finger to touch the side of a roll at the center of the pan to check for complete warming.