We had a near-riot on our hands this week when we made cinnamon buns in our food appreciation classes. Apparently word traveled fast around the campus how good they were. Kids crowded into our kitchen area. I had to send some of them back onto the playground so that we could actually conduct classes.
Even I was a bit surprised that a simple biscuit dough wrapped around some sugary cinnamon could taste so good. These buns were light and tender–but with a hint of cloves in the filling, they packed a powerful flavor punch.
The one tool you will find essential for this is a pastry scraper. That’s to get under the dough and roll it into a log. Pry, lift, roll: that’s the motion you want, all along the edge of a rather long rectangle, creating a pinwheel log, after you’ve pressed the filling onto the sheet of dough. If you don’t have a traditional pastry scraper, you could substitute an extra-wide paint scraper or a drywall finishing tool. Just make sure it’s very clean. You don’t need any paint or drywall in your cinnamon buns.
Start by melting 11 tablespoons of butter (1 stick plus 3 tablespoons). The original recipe called for melting various quantities of butter at different stages of the production. But I think it’s much easier just to melt all of the butter at once in a small sauce pan. Set it aside to cool.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, mix the filling by whisking together 3/4 packed dark brown sugar (we used light brown sugar), 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Stir in 1 tablespoon melted butter, using your fingers to break up any clumps, until the mix looks like wet sand. Set aside.
In a separate, large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
In a liquid measuring cup, stir together 1 1/4 cups buttermilk and 6 tablespoons melted butter.
Pour the buttermilk mix into the flour mix and stir with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl and pressing the liquid and dry ingredients together until a shaggy dough forms. Pour the dough onto a floured work surface and press it together as you would for biscuits, kneading it a few times. Press the dough into a rectangle with your hands, making sure both sides are dusted with flour. Then use a floured rolling pin to roll the dough into a larger rectangle–about 15 inches long by 12 inches wide. The dough should be about 1/4-inch thick or a bit more.
Rub about 1 tablespoon melted butter over the dough, then pour on the cinnamon mix, spreading it all over the surface of the dough and patting it lightly with your hands. Then at the near edge of the dough use your pastry scraper to lift the dough and roll it over onto itself to form a log. When you are finished rolling, you can squeeze and pat the log along its length to make it a bit more uniform.
Grease a 9-inch metal cake pan with 1 tablespoon melted butter. Use a serrated knife to cut the log into 1 1/2-inch rounds, patting each piece lightly to flatten it a bit, then transferring into the cake pan, packing them as tightly as necessary. Don’t worry, they will separate easily after they’ve been baked.
Pour the remaining melted butter over the top of the buns, then place the cake pan on the middle rack of a pre-heated 425-degree oven for 25 minutes.
While the buns are in the oven, you can make an icing if you like. Stir together until very smooth 1 tablespoon soften cream cheese, 1 tablespoon buttermilk and 1/2 cup sifted confectioner’s sugar.
When the buns have finished baking, set the cake pan on a wire rack to cool. When the buns are cool enough to handle, use a pointed knife to gently cut around the edges of each bun and remove them to the wire rack or a sheet pan to cool further. Before serving, drizzle some icing over each bun and watch them disappear.