Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls
MUSIC PAIRING: Christmas Classics Playlist on Spotify
I don’t know about you guys but I’m still trying to deal with the fact that Christmas is over. When did that happen? Why did that happen?! The little kid in me will forever cry at the passing of the holidays. Is it weird that sometimes I’ll play Christmas music randomly in April?
The holidays were really different for me and my family this year. It was the first Christmas without my dad and that’s just plain hard. You guys know I love tradition and Christmas is where 90% of our family tradition resides. Of course everything mainly revolves around food but learning to navigate how different that looks when you’re missing a family member is tough. My dad loved Christmas as much as me. He drove me outta my mind half the time while cooking with his sneaky stealing of bites before things were ready but that’s part of the charm really, even if I’d never admit it.
Every year since I was a kid, we’ve done the same food during the holidays. For Christmas Eve, it’s always an appetizer-heavy spread full of beautiful cheeses, olives, veggies and dip, shrimp cocktail, baked brie…you get the idea. As much as I totally love that, it’s our Christmas morning spread that makes me wanna do cartwheels. It simply consists of sausage balls, mini quiche, fresh grapefruit-pomegranate salad and cinnamon rolls. We drink way too much coffee, usually start in on the wine before noon and I look forward to it every single year.
For the first time ever, we did Christmas in New York this year. Mom came up and split time with Allison and I which proved to be a truly wonderful, special holiday. We had a terrific mixture of plans (I finally saw the Rockettes!) and down time which was really good for the soul. As we planned out when we’d do our Christmas grocery shopping, I decided I really wanted to try my hand at cinnamon rolls from scratch. Holy balls, did I outdo myself.
I’m not confident when it comes to making yeasted dough. I usually screw it up and kill the yeast by way of water that’s too hot or whatever other nonsense I can’t usually explain. So, this felt like a huge feat to me. Luckily, gals like Joy come to your rescue with consistently delicious, well explained recipes. When I saw she had one for cream cheese cinnamon rolls, it basically looked like Back to the Future fire tracks in my kitchen after how fast I got out the door for the ingredients.
Cream cheese is delicious. So, imagine how much more delicious it is when baked into a buttery, yeasty, brown sugary dough. I’m telling you, I about lost my mind over the smell of these suckers baking. Do you think people like Martha Stewart and Nigella secretly have a cinnamon roll perfume they wear that intoxicates anyone that comes within five feet of them? I would very much like something like that.
Truth be told, this recipe is pretty easy. All it really requires is some patience and thoughtfulness when reading through the directions. I think most of the time, people who say they can’t cook are people who simply skim recipes instead of mindfully reading through each step. I’ve definitely been guilty of that myself. With these cinnamon rolls, just be sure you’ve got time set aside to work on them and you’ll be golden.
I can’t even explain how good these rolls came out. Perhaps my excitement over not destroying them like I’ve been known to do with Twix tarts is really what made them taste even better. They’re everything I want in a cinnamon roll. Doughy, gooey, not too sweet, delicate from the cream cheese, kissed with maple syrup in the filling – which is just the perfect combo with pecans, by the way – and topped with tangy buttermilk icing which is just what you need to perfectly balance the sugar.
It’s been declared that we will never again have store-bought cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning. I absolutely concur and will even say that I’d be happy to make them over and over again. Who am I?!
Why Christmas Classics? I don’t really need to answer that, do I? I mean, duh.
Recipe by: Joy the Baker
- 1 1/4 ounce package active dry yeast
- 1/2 teaspoon, plus 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup milk at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for kneading
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans
- 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
- 1/4 cup raisins
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup
- 4 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/4 cup buttermilk
- Make the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer combine yeast, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 cup water heated to 115 degrees. (I guessed and used warm water that didn't feel hot to the touch. As an FYI, you will kill the yeast if your water is too hot so use a thermometer for sure if you're uncomfortable with guessing.) Stir to combine and let sit until frothy and foamy, about 10 minutes.
- Add remaining sugar, milk, light brown sugar, vanilla, egg and egg yolk. Beat with a wire whisk until well combined. Fit the bowl onto the mixer, fitted with the dough hook attachment. Add the flour and salt and mix on medium speed until the dough just begins to come together. Turn the machine on medium-high and knead the dough for 4 minutes.
- Add the butter and continue to knead for about 6 minutes. The dough will the wet and sticky. Place the dough on a well floured work surface and knead about 1/3 cup all-purpose flour into the dough. Don’t worry, the dough still might be a little sticky. It’s ok, just set the dough to rest in a large greased bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
- While the dough rises, make the filling. Combine the sugar, dark brown sugar, pecans, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, salt and cloves in a large bowl. Stir to combine. Stir in the maple syrup. Set aside.
- When the dough has doubled in size, dump if from the bowl onto a heavily floured work surface. Gently knead the dough until it is no longer sticky, adding more flour as needed, maybe 2-3 more tablespoons. Work the dough for about 1 or 2 minutes. Once it’s no longer sticky, place a kitchen towel over the dough and let rest for 5 minutes before you roll it out.
- Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10 x 10-inch square.
- In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese with a knife until it’s smooth and spreadable. Spread the cream cheese evenly over the dough square. Fold the square into thirds like you would fold a letter to fit into an envelope. Take the open ends of the rectangle and fold into thirds again, to make a smaller dough square.
- Invert the dough so that the seam is face down and, using the rolling pin, gently roll it into a 10 x 20-inch rectangle. You may find that some cream cheese sneaks through. Be as gentle as possible with the dough, but continue to work it until you reach the size you need.
- Turn the dough so that the short sides are parallel to you. You’re going to roll from the short sides of the dough.
- Brush the top of the dough with half of the melted butter. We’ll use the rest of the butter after the rolls are baked.
- Pour all of the filling onto the dough. Spread evenly, leaving a 1-inch border at one of the short edges of the dough so the roll can be properly sealed. Lightly press the filling into the dough.
- Using your hands, lift up the bottom edge of the dough and roll it forward into a tight cylinder. Place dough cylinder seam side down on a cutting board. Using a sharp, thin knife, trim off the uneven edges.
- Cut cylinder into 6 equal slices. Nestle the slices, cut side up and evenly spaced in a butter 9 x 13-inch (light colored) metal baking dish. Cover pan with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to let rise for 2 hours. You may also refrigerate rolls overnight.
- Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Uncover the rolls. If you refrigerated them, let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before baking. Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes.
- Make the icing. While the rolls are baking, whisk together the sugar and buttermilk in a small bowl until smooth.
- Transfer the pan of cinnamon rolls to a cooling rack. Brush with remaining melted butter. Let cool for 5 minutes. Dip the tines of a fork into the icing and drizzle over the rolls. Serve warm.
- I wanted a simple, no nonsense cinnamon roll so I left out the walnuts and raisins in the filling, but I imagine they'd be delicious if you're into that.