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RECIPES: Knead it! Sweet roll recipes to bake now and enjoy all week long

by Kelly Brant | December 15, 2021 at 1:52 a.m.
Citrus-Cardamom Sweet Rolls With Cream Cheese Icing made with lemon and orange zests (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)


What's better than waking up on Christmas morning to an abundance of presents under the tree? If you're the family cook, a pan of sweet buns ready to be baked — or better yet, already baked and needing just a quick reheat and glaze before serving.

The dough for the following sweet roll recipes can be prepared in advance or even baked and kept at room temperature for a couple of days before glazing and serving. For fresh-from-the-oven taste, just heat them at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes, or just long enough to warm through. For single buns, 15 to 30 seconds in the microwave will do.

The make-ahead aspect is just one of the things we love about King Arthur Baking Co.'s recipe of the year: Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls. Their big-as-your-fist size is another. But their soft, supple texture that stays that way for days is our favorite. The bun's texture and ability to stay fresh longer is due to a new-to-us method called tangzhong.

According to King Arthur Baking Co., tangzhong is an Asian bread-making technique where some of the recipe's flour is dissolved and heated with some of the recipe's liquid before mixing with the remaining ingredients. Kind of like making a roux, but for bread dough. The process, which involves heating the mixture to about 150 degrees, "pre-gelatinizes the flour's starches, which makes them more able to retain liquid." This retained moisture makes the bread soft and helps keep it fresh as loss of moisture leads to staleness. The method has roots in Japan, where it is called yukone or yudane, and was popularized by Taiwanese cookbook author Yvonne Chen in her book "65 Degrees." Unfortunately, the book does not appear to be available in English.

If cinnamon isn't your jam, we've also got a recipe for Berry Buns — raspberry, strawberry or blackberry jam-filled sweet rolls topped with simple confectioners' sugar glaze and crushed, freeze-dried berries.

If you want something a little zestier, there's Citrus-Cardamom Sweet Rolls redolent of fresh citrus — any kind you like — and woodsy cardamom.

We were so impressed with the texture of the cinnamon rolls, we applied the tangzhong technique to our citrus rolls recipe with excellent results.

We are by no means experts in tangzhong, but based on what we've read, a simple formula for converting a recipe to use this method is to measure out all of the flour and all of the liquid called for, and then use 3 tablespoons of the flour and ½ cup of the liquid for the tangzhong. [We've included a video of the preparation process further on in the article, before the recipe for Citrus-Cardamom Sweet Rolls.] You will need to adjust the order in which you add the ingredients, as the yeast should not come in direct contact with the hot tangzhong slurry.

  photo  Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls get brushed with butter immediately after coming out of the oven. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls

  • Tangzhong:
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 3 tablespoons bread flour
  • Dough:
  • 2/3 cup whole milk, cold
  • 2 ½ cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • Filling:
  • 1 tablespoon butter, melted
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tablespoons bread flour
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Pinch salt
  • Icing:
  • 4 tablespoons butter, melted, divided use
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 ½ cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk, cream, or buttermilk; enough to thin to desired consistency
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons very soft cream cheese, optional

Make the tangzhong: Combine the ½ cup whole milk and 3 tablespoons bread flour in a small saucepan; whisk until no lumps remain. Place the saucepan over low heat and cook the mixture, stirring regularly, until thickened, paste-like, and the spoon or spatula leaves lines on the bottom of the pan. This should take 1 to 3 minutes, depending on your pan and stove. Remove from the heat and scrape the mixture into a large bowl.

Make the dough: Add the dough ingredients in the order listed — 2/3 cup cold milk, 2 ½ cups bread flour, salt, sugar, yeast and butter. (The heat from the tangzhong will help to warm the cold milk and activate the yeast.)

Mix by hand with a dough whisk or on low speed of a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment until the dough comes together. It will be a bit shaggy at first. Knead until smooth, elastic and tacky. This will take up to 15 minutes by hand or 10 to 12 minutes on medium-low speed of a mixer.

Shape the dough into a ball, place it in a bowl, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a reusable cover.

Let the dough rise until puffy but not necessarily doubled in bulk, 60 to 90 minutes (depending on the warmth of your kitchen).

Make the filling: While the dough is rising, combine 1 tablespoon melted butter, brown sugar, bread flour, cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl and stir until the mixture is the texture of damp sand. Set aside.

Lightly grease a baking sheet, or line it with parchment paper.

To assemble the rolls: Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface and press it into a 10- by 12-inch rectangle that's about ½ inch thick.

Sprinkle the filling over the dough, covering all but a ½ inch strip along one long side.

Starting with the filling-covered long side, roll the dough into a log.

Score the dough lightly into eight equal 1 ½- to 2-inch pieces; this will make large cinnamon rolls. Cut the dough at the score marks, using unflavored dental floss (the cleanest cut), a bench knife or sharp knife.

  photo  Tucking the ends under helps keeping Perfectly Pillowy Cinnamon Rolls from unraveling while baking. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  Place the rolls onto the prepared baking sheet, spacing them so there's at least 2 inches between each one and they're 2 inches away from the edges of the pan; a 3-2-3 arrangement works well. To prevent them from unraveling while they rise and bake, tuck the ends of the spirals underneath the rolls.

Cover the rolls with lightly greased plastic wrap or a reusable cover and let them rise for 30 to 60 minutes (depending on the warmth of your kitchen). The rolls should be puffy and the dough shouldn't bounce back immediately when gently pressed.

About 20 minutes before you're ready to bake, position a rack in the top third of the oven. Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the rolls for 14 to 18 minutes, until they're a light golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the center of one roll reads 190 degrees. Bake for the lesser amount of time for extra-soft rolls, and the longer amount of time for rolls with a bit more color and slightly firmer texture.

Remove the rolls from the oven, place the pan on a rack, and brush the hot rolls with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Let the rolls cool for 10 to 15 minutes before icing.

To make the icing: Combine the remaining 2 tablespoons melted butter with the remaining icing ingredients in a medium bowl, mixing with a spatula until smooth.

Ice the rolls and serve immediately. If you're planning to serve the rolls later, wait to ice them until just before serving. Store icing at room temperature, tightly covered, until you're ready to use it.

Store completely cooled rolls, un-iced and well wrapped, for a couple of days at room temperature or freeze for up to 1 month.

Makes 8 or 9 large rolls.

Recipe from King Arthur Baking Co.

  photo  Berry Buns (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Kelly Brant)  Berry Buns

  • ¾ cup whole milk, warmed to 100 degrees, plus a few tablespoons more for the glaze, divided use
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 2 eggs, divided use
  • 3 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, cut into thin slices
  • ¾ cup PLUS 1 tablespoon raspberry, strawberry or blackberry jam, divided use
  • ½ cup confectioners' sugar
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ounce freeze-dried strawberries or raspberries, crushed

In a large bowl, combine the warm milk and the yeast. Let yeast proof for 5 to 10 minutes. The mixture should be foamy. It if does not foam, discard and begin again with new yeast.

In a small bowl, beat one of the eggs with a fork and add it to the yeast-milk mixture, and then add the flour, sugar and salt. Mix with a wooden spoon or dough whisk until mixture forms a shaggy dough; add the sliced butter and continue mixing until mixture comes together.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead to form a smooth, supple dough, about 5 minutes.

Return dough to mixing bowl; cover and let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Return the dough to the lightly floured work surface and roll into a 12-by-18-inch rectangle. Spread the surface of the dough evenly with the jam, leaving a ½-in border on all sides. Tightly roll dough into an 18-inch long log. Cut using a serrated knife or length of unflavored floss into 12 even pieces.

Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper. Arrange the buns, spiraled-jam-side up, in the prepared baking pan, so that they're just touching each other with the seam-side facing inward. Cover the buns loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until puffy, about 1 hour. Alternately, cover and refrigerate overnight (8 to 12 hours). Let refrigerated shaped rolls come to room temperature before baking.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, whisk the remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water. Brush buns with egg wash.

Bake the buns 30 minutes or until browned.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners' sugar, remaining tablespoon of jam, the vanilla and enough milk to make smooth glaze.

Serve buns warm with a drizzle or slather of glaze and a sprinkle with crushed freeze-dried berries.

Leftover, unglazed buns can be kept in airtight container at room temperature for a few days or frozen for up to a month.

Makes 12 buns.

[Video not showing above? Click here to watch: arkansasonline.com/1215bread]

Citrus-Cardamom Sweet Rolls With Cream Cheese Icing

  • For the dough:
  • 1 1/4 cups cold whole milk, divided use
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour, divided use, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon fine salt
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated citrus zest (lemon, orange, mandarin, lime or grapefruit or a combination)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • For the filling:
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated citrus zest (lemon, orange, mandarin, lime or grapefruit or a combination)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons butter, very soft
  • For the icing:
  • 6 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons citrus juice (lemon, orange, mandarin, lime or grapefruit or a combination), plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon lemon paste, optional
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted

To make the dough:

Make the tangzhong: Combine the ½ cup whole milk and 3 tablespoons bread flour in a small saucepan; whisk until no lumps remain. Place the saucepan over low heat and cook the mixture, stirring regularly, until thickened, paste-like, and the spoon or spatula leaves lines on the bottom of the pan. This should take 1 to 3 minutes, depending on your pan and stove. Remove from the heat and scrape to a large mixing bowl.

To the mixing bowl, add the dough ingredients in the order listed: the remaining cold milk, the remaining flour, the salt, sugar, zest(s), cardamom, yeast, eggs and butter mix on low with a dough hook or by hand using a with a wooden spoon or dough whisk to combine. Knead using the dough hook or by hand for 5 to 10 minutes. The dough will be soft and somewhat sticky. Add up to ½ cup more flour if the dough is so sticky it is unmanageable.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 1 hour.

Make the filling:

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, zest(s), cardamom and a pinch of salt. Use your fingers to rub the zest into the sugar.

Assemble the rolls:

Butter a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper; set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and pat or roll it into a rectangle about 12-by-16-inches and ¼-inch thick. Gently spread the soft butter over the dough, and sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the top. Roll the dough into a tight 16-inch long log. Cut using a serrated knife or length of unflavored floss into 12 even pieces.

Arrange the buns, spiraled-side up, in the prepared baking pan, so that they're just touching each other with the seam-side facing inward. Cover the buns loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until puffy, about 1 hour. Alternately, cover and refrigerate 8 to 24 hours. Let the rolls rise at room temperature until doubled in size before baking.

Heat oven to 350 degrees and bake for about 30 minutes or until the rolls are golden and cooked through (internal temperature of 190 degrees).

To make the glaze: Whisk or beat the softened cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, 2 tablespoons citrus juice and the lemon paste, if using, to make a smooth, thick and spreadable icing. If the icing is too thick add another tablespoon or so of citrus juice.

Brush the rolls with melted butter and then let the rolls cool for about 5 minutes, then spread the icing over the top.

Makes 12 servings.

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