I recently embarked on a cinnamon bun baking marathon while coming up with this Chai cinnamon bun recipe for my Globe and Mail column. And by 'marathon' I mean making cinnamon buns every evening for three weeks straight. If only my new year's resolution had been to eat as many cinnamon buns as humanly possible, then I'd be able to cross it off and bask in my accomplishment for the rest of 2013.
I know that many people are nervous about baking with yeast and also aren't always sure if their dough looks right or if they should add extra flour. So here are some tips and tricks:
1. Make sure that you bought the right kind of yeast. The recipes calls for instant yeast, don't substitute dry active yeast.
2. The dough will be very very sticky at first. It will look more like a sticky batter than a dough, but don't add more flour! Allow the dough to knead for at least five minutes to give it time to come together. If you need to, scrape the dough up and flip it over so that the part stuck on the bottom of the bowl can knead.
3. If after 5-7 minutes your dough really and truly isn't coming together and smoothing out you can add a little extra flour one tablespoon at a time. The dough should clear the sides of the bowl but it's ok if it sticks a bit to the bottom. It's best to error on the side of sticky: adding too much flour will make your buns dense. Plus, the dough (most doughs) become less sticky as they rise.
4. If your house is a bit chilly (I know mine is.. hello Canadian winter!) then stick your dough in the oven to rise with the oven light on. The light provides just the right amount of warmth and the oven becomes the perfect draft-free environment for rising.
5. If your dough keeps trying to bounce back while you are rolling it out, let it rest for 5 - 10 minutes so that the gluten can relax. This make rolling it out much, much easier.
6. Spreading the chai butter is easiest with your fingers because it warms up the butter and helps make an even layer.
7. After rolling the dough into a log, place the log on it's seam and gently squeeze along the length to even out any areas that are thicker than others.
8. To cut the cinnamon buns without squishing them, use a very sharp serrated knife and a back-and-forth sawing motion with gentle pressure.
9. Line your trays with parchment paper that comes up over the lip of the tray, that makes it easy to pick up the buns once they have finished baking and transfer them to a wire rack
Make Ahead Method:
This works great if you want cinnamon buns for breakfast but don't feel like getting up at the crack of dawn or if you only want to bake 1/2 the batch after making them and want to save the rest for another day.
1. Follow the recipe right up to the step where you roll the dough, and cut it into buns. Do not place them in to prepared trays. Instead, put them on a cookie sheet and place in the freezer until firm. Once firm, cover tightly with tinfoil. They will last in the freezer for up to a month
2. When you are ready to bake the cinnamon buns, grease two 9 x 13 glass or ceramic baking trays and line with parchment paper. Place six buns in each tray, cover with plastic wrap, and place in the oven with the light on to rise. In my oven it took the buns 2 hr - 2 hr 15min to rise each time. Once the buns are touching, take them out of the oven and preheat it to 350. Then bake according to the instructions.
So if you want the cinnamon buns for a 9:30 am brunch then you would take them out of the freezer at 7am.. you can even go back to bed after taking them out!
It's possible to rise them in the fridge overnight, but I recommend freezing them because the fridge can be hit and miss. My fridge is small and I open the door quite often so it wasn't cold enough for the dough and they over-proofed once or twice. Other times it worked fine, but the freezer method worked every time so that's the one I'd go for. Plus if you keep them in the freezer you can bake them whenever you want over the next month.
You can also make the cream cheese icing up to a week ahead of time and store it in the fridge. Just bring it to room temperature before spreading it on the warm buns.
My favorite thing to do with this recipe is bake 1/2 of the buns right away and freeze the remaining six for later in the week. You only make the effort of making the cinnamon buns once, but you get freshly baked buns twice! Magic.
You can find my Chai cinnamon bun recipe on the Globe and Mail's website.
---> Chai Cinnamon Buns