Last Saturday night—correction: early Sunday morning—when my husband and I were punching down dough for sticky buns in the wee hours, my husband turned to me and said, “well, this gives whole new meaning to ‘late-night baking.'”
My husband, who has much more fortitude than I, had been enlisted to help me navigate my grandmother’s recipe for sticky buns that we were taking to an Easter brunch that following afternoon. It should be noted that what I had scribbled down was not really a recipe, but more of a suggestion of a recipe. My grandmother is one of those effortless and elegant cooks who has never consulted a recipe, and at the age of 90 still whips up a batch of these sinful sticky buns without a second thought to her perfect pink manicure.
I, however, am not a natural-born baker—I have neither the patience nor precision for baking. Which is why I had to consult a professional chef late-night to talk me off the roof when my dough wasn’t rising fast enough, and placed several panicked phone calls to my mother for reassurance—something that only happens in extreme cases of emergency. But the end results were positively stupendous. That said, it’s a LOT of work. Start this process the day before. Also, make sure you knead the hell out of the dough for the full 8-10 minutes. It helps both with rising as well as perfect texture.
Esther’s Cinnamon Rolls
Makes 24 rolls
1 3/4 cups sugar, plus 1 teaspoon, divided
½ cup hot water (105 to 110 degrees)
2 .25-ounce packages dry yeast
7 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups whole milk
3/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon salt
8 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
1 1/2-2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons cold milk
Vanilla extract, to taste
Grease two 13 x 9 x 2 baking dishes. To activate yeast, mix 1 teaspoon sugar, yeast and water. Let stand until foamy, about 8 minutes. I used RiZE yeast from Whole Foods, and after much googling discovered, ironically, that it takes longer to rise than, say, Fleischmann’s. Frankly, I’d go with Fleischmann’s next time.
Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and whole egg, and slowly beat in ¾ cup sugar. Add cream, milk, butter, vanilla, salt, and yeast mixture. Stir in 8-9 cups of flour, and mix until dough is soft.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and knead for 5 to 8 minutes, or until it’s smooth. Or knead it in an electric mixer, using the dough hook, for 4 to 7 minutes at medium speed. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to grease all sides, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a dish towel, and let it rise in warm place for 60 minutes, until nearly doubled in bulk.
Mix one cup sugar and cinnamon. (I probably used even more than 4 tablespoons cinnamon, but it’s up to you.)
Punch down and let rise again until double. Divide dough in half. Roll out ½ of dough into a rectangle. Brush generously with melted butter. Sprinkle generously with half of cinnamon sugar mixture. Starting at 1 long side, tightly roll up each rectangle into log. Cut each log into 12 rounds. Place 12 rounds, cut side down, in each prepared pan, spacing evenly.
Repeat with second half of dough. Let rolls in pan rise again, about 30-45 minutes.
[Note: at this point, rolls can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature for one hour before baking.]
Bake at 350 degrees until golden, about 20 minutes.
Cool for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, to make buttercream icing, cream butter with an electric mixer [I use an immersion blender] and slowly blend in sugar and vanilla. When cinnamon rolls have cooled, frost with buttercream icing and serve slightly warm.