foolproof cinnamon buns

makes 16

inspired by Cook’s Illustrated

Ah yes, the cinnamon buns. Well, now that I’ve gotten you all weepy—lord knows I just blanketed my keyboard with a pool of tears, I’ll fill you in on these. The original recipe was featured in Cook’s Illustrated back in 2002. It was a very genius approach to cinnamon rolls, using baking powder instead of yeast. They had me at no proofing necessary.

After years of sticking to the recipe, I decided cloves had no place in my homemade version. Maybe for someone craving an adult taste. But me? I wanted the moist, gooey ones my mom made from the can, sans the chemical aftertaste. I also doubled the butter and sugar in the dough, and it makes for a better sweet bread, without being cloying.

Then I totally nixed sifting the confectioners’ sugar. I found mashing it up with the cream cheese using a fork to be a much easier and more foolproof way of getting a smooth, lump-free icing.

Lastly, after years of never being able to eat a whole mammoth one, it finally occurred to me that I could make them smaller and use a big tray to bake them. Now instead of fighting for the one gooey, icing rich center there are four—one for each of us!

Auntie has requested this as one of her top five recipes for me to make this weekend, so we’ll be enjoying these for breakfast on Sunday morning.


3/4 cup packed (136 grams) dark brown sugar

1/2 cup (102 grams) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (12 grams) cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon (4 grams) coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) butter, melted
2 1/2 cups (12.5 ounces) flour, plus more for rolling out dough
1/4 cup (1.5 ounces) granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon 4 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (4 grams) coarse sea salt
1 cup (225 ml) buttermilk
7 tablespoons (3.5 ounces) butter, melted
2 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons buttermilk
2/3 cup (79 grams) Confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 425ºF.  Combine filling ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a fork until blended; set aside.

To make the dough, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a deep bowl.

In a separate small bowl, whisk together the buttermilk and 4 tablespoons of the melted butter. Pour over the dry ingredients, and stir together with a wooden spoon until it forms a scraggly-looking dough. Knead a few times until it becomes smooth, then divide into two equal portions.

On a lightly floured surface, gently press each piece of dough into a 12-inch by 8-inch rectangle (you can use a rolling pin if you feel more comfortable). Sprinkle an even amount of cinnamon-sugar filling over each flattened piece of dough, leaving a 1/4-inch border.  Gently pat the filling into dough with your  fingertips. Roll each filled dough into a log starting from the longest (12-inch) side nearest you.  Pinch ends closed.  Cut each rolled log into eight equal pieces, you should have 16 rolls in total now.

Using a pastry brush, coat an 11-inch by 8-inch rectangular glass or ceramic baking pan with 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Arrange cut rolls in the pan, and press down with your hand to flatten slightly.  Brush tops with the remaining melted butter.  Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and filling is bubbling from the top. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for five minutes.

Meanwhile, to make the icing, use a fork to mash the cream cheese and confectioners’ sugar together into a paste. Whisk in the buttermilk until it forms a smooth icing.  Drizzle over cinnamon rolls and serve immediately.