Many years ago, I was a fantasy geek. Yes, a unicorn loving, wizard obsessing, die-hard fantasy geek. My mother would lament that I wouldn’t read a book unless it had a dragon in it. I am not proud to admit that I read most of the Dragonriders of Pern series not once, but twice. But then I turned 13, and my fantasy obsession morphed into a more socially acceptable but equally geeky obsession with Jane Austen and all things 19th century English literature.
Well, my love of fantasy and science fiction was recently rekindled when my book club read Sunshine, a sci fi vampire novel by Robin McKinley. But I especially loved it because the main character, Sunshine, is a baker – one who is known for her cinnamon rolls.
So, of course, after reading about these cinnamon rolls for 300 plus pages, I got it into my head that I had to make them. But I didn’t just want to follow any cinnamon roll recipe. I’ve done that before – ones that have you add tons of yeast to make the dough rise quickly, and end up tasting like yeast and not much else. Then there are the ones that are all sugar – sugar in the dough, sugar in the filling, sugar in the icing – that taste merely sweet.
I wanted something richer and more buttery – more like a sweet breakfast roll and less like a doughnut in disguise. So I decided to make them with brioche dough – a soft, buttery, egg-filled dough that is richly flavored without being too sweet. I filled it with a simple cinnamon and sugar filling and topped them with a lemon glaze.
This isn’t as sweet as some other cinnamon rolls, but I like them that way. If you want to dial up the sugar content you can always add more icing or really slather on the cinnamon sugar filling, but it’s not necessary.
And yes, these would be awesome for breakfast on Christmas morning. If you do that then just freeze the rolls after you cut them, and then place them in the fridge to thaw Christmas Eve. Let them rise for an hour at room temperature Christmas morning, and then bake them off right before breakfast.
Brioche Cinnamon Buns
For the starter
2 tbs (1 oz) water
1 tbs (1/2 oz) sugar
¼ tsp instant yeast
½ cup (2.5 oz) unbleached all purpose flour
1 large egg
For the dough
1 cup plus 1 ½ tbs (5.5 oz) unbleached all purpose flour
2 tbs (.75 oz) sugar
1 ½ tbs instant yeast
½ tsp salt
2 large eggs, cold
8 tbs (4 oz) unsalted butter, soft
For the filling
8 tbs (4 oz) butter, melted
2 tbs (.75 oz) sugar
1 tbs cinnamon
1 egg mixed with 1 tsp of water (for egg wash)
Lemon glaze (recipe follows)
In an electric mixer bowl, combine the water, sugar, yeast flour and egg. Whisk by hand until very smooth – about two minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and instant yeast. Then whisk in the salt (otherwise the salt would come into contact with the yeast and kill it). Sprinkle the flour mixture over the sponge, covering the sponge completely. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside for 1 ½ to 2 hours.
Add the two eggs to the dough mixture and mix on low speed with the dough hook until the flour is moistened – about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Raise speed to medium and beat for about 7 minutes, until the dough is shiny and smooth and massed around the dough hook (it won’t completely clear the sides of the bowl). Add the butter one tablespoon at a time, waiting for each piece to be completely incorporated before adding the next piece.
Scrape the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size – about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Gently deflate by stirring it with a rubber spatula.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work space and gently roll into a rectangle (it doesn’t matter which size rectangle). Give the dough a business letter fold. Rotate the dough 90 degrees, and give it another business letter fold. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to overnight, to develop flavor.
Place dough on a lightly floured work surface and roll into a rectangle, about 14 inches by 12 inches. Brush the top of the dough all over with the melted butter. In a small bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, sugar and salt for the filling. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mixture evenly over the dough. Roll the dough up from the long side into a tight roll. Brush the final flap of dough with egg wash and pinch to seal the bottom edge. Gentle press the ends of the dough log to shorten the log – the final log should be 12 inches long.
Turn the dough so that the bottom side is facing down. With a very sharp knife, cut the log into 12 1-inch piece. Place each roll on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap and let rise until doubled – about 1-2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375. Before baking, gently brush the rolls with egg wash, then place in the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through, until the rolls are deep brown.
Remove buns from oven and place on a rack to cool. When the buns are just warm to the touch, lightly drizzle with the lemon glaze. Buns are best served warm, with coffee.
For the lemon glaze
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup (4 oz) powdered sugar, sifted
In a small bowl whisk together lemon juice and powdered sugar until smooth.