Lately, I think about the transience of life and fear hits me, hard. Every breath I take feels measured, numbered, and I want to fill every moment with every thing. Time wasted hurts in a way that makes me think what are you doing? Live. You have no assurance for tomorrow, or even the rest of today. Do it now. Recent tragedies shake me to my core and I want to grab life by the throat, I want to suck everything from it.
My mortality is stark in the contrast of my dreams and plans for the future and it makes me want to live harder than ever.
It makes me want to hold all the people I love and never let them go. It makes me want to do every thing I possibly can to show them my love.
So, I make them cinnamon buns. What are cinnamon buns anyway, if not love?
These are the ones they always ask for. My go to, my be all and end all, the kind they adore. The good kind, the best kind. The kind where the dough is rich with butter, sugar, eggs and milk.
I get to work. These eggs are organic. Brightly colored, almost orange- the color of a setting sun. The milk is warm and releases a curl of steam. It will activate the yeast and as the dough rises and balloons past the top of its bowl, the smell of the yeast fills the air: sweet, ripe. Hardworking.
The dough feels like silk in my hands and I roll it out from counter end to counter end. It gets spread with butter- an entire stick- and it is a luxury. Not an everyday treat, certainly. A luxury for love.
Next comes the cinnamon, the sugar, the nutmeg, the ginger, the cloves. I have found that these spices serve as an aide to the cinnamon, helping it reach its highest potential. There is a little bit of salt in the filling, too. Because if I have learned anything, it is that baking mimics life. Sweetness needs to be offset.
When I roll and slice these up, perfect spirals look up at me. I already see them for what they will be- big, perfectly rounded, fluffy with spice. I cannot wait to take these out of the oven and spread them with frosting and bring smiles to faces.
I cover them with a thin, blue and white tea towel and forget about them. Let them rise again. I wait until they are staining the top of the towel with flecks of spice. Then, only then, are they ready to bake.
In the oven, they spring. Up and out. Big and round. Buns! Everyone crowds around. It smells like cozy mornings and anticipation.
When they come out, I slather them in my favorite, tangy cream cheese frosting. I have upped the delicious factor by adding vanilla bean seeds to the frosting, and they are dark, intensely flavored speckles in a creamy sea of white. The frosting swoops and glides and nestles into every bun crevice.
Soon, the frosting is on lips and nose tips. Everyone wants “just a bit more, just another quarter of that one, the inner spiral of yours”.
In this moment, we are here and we are happy. Let’s make all moments cinnamon bun moments I say, and everyone agrees.
Here’s to life. Here’s to living it with vitality and kindness and love and passion. Here is to filling every moment and using every second.
And here is to its sweetness.
Yields: 14 rolls
Highly adapted from King Arthur Flour
Why I love this recipe: this butter, milk, egg and sugar enriched dough bakes up incredibly soft and fluffy and keeps its perfect spiral shape, revealing a tasty mixture of warm cinnamon, sharp nutmeg and dark brown sugar. A classic cream cheese frosting is enhanced with a bit of vanilla bean and sea salt for the final, tangy finish.
Notes: often, I will make the dough and filling at night, roll them up, slice and tray the buns and let them rise overnight in the fridge. The long, slow rise increases the flavor of the yeast and lets fermentation do its magic. The filling, too, turns gooey and caramel-like, and when I remove the buns from the fridge in the morning, I simply let them rise for another hour before I bake them. The buns will last for 2 days at room temperature, covered on the counter.
For the dough:
- 1 cup lukewarm milk
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 stick unsalted butter, cubed
- 4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 3/4 cups granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
For the filling:
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups dark brown sugar, packed
- 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 teaspoon cloves
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
For the frosting:
- 16 oz. unwhipped cream cheese, softened
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or seeds of 1 vanilla bean
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- To make the dough: in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine all of the dough ingredients except the butter and mix until well combined.
- Switch to a dough hook and knead to make a smooth, soft dough, adding in the pieces of butter as it kneads, around 5-7 minutes. Once all the butter is added, knead for another 7-10 minutes on medium speed.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, turn to grease all sides, cover the bowl, and let the dough rise at room temperature for 2 hours. Alternatively, you can transfer the dough to the fridge and let it “retard” or rise, for 8-12 hours.
- To fill and shape the buns: remove from the fridge if they have risen there. Gently deflate the dough, flour it as needed and transfer to a lightly floured work surface. Roll the dough into a 16″ x 21″ rectangle.
- Spread the dough with the stick of butter. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt and sprinkle it evenly over the dough.
- Starting with a short end, roll the dough into a log and cut it into 12-14 slices. Place the buns in a lightly greased 9″ x 13″ pan. At this point, if you have let the dough rise at room temperature the first time, you can now refrigerate the shaped buns for 8-12 hours for the 2nd rise. Otherwise, cover the pan and let the buns rise at room temperature until they’re nearly doubled, about 30–45 minutes.
- While the buns are rising, preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Uncover the buns, and bake them until they’re golden brown, about 15 minutes.
- While the buns are baking, make the icing. In a small bowl, beat together the cream cheese and butter until completely smooth. Sift the confectioner’s sugar over the mixture and add in the vanilla bean seeds and salt. Beat together until completely smooth.
- Remove the buns from the oven. Let cool for 10 minutes, then spread the icing on the buns while they’re warm. Serve.