Check It Out for Yourself – Mini Cinnamon Rolls

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I love grocery shopping and I love grocery stores. But I detest the one device that’s supposed to make my life more convenient: the self-serve check-out line. The scanners are so slow that it often takes just as long to check my own basket as it would to stand in line and wait for a paid cashier to check my items.

I suppose if I hadn’t worked a couple of years in a grocery store as a cashier, I wouldn’t have such a complex with the machines. And yes, it’s not the most glamorous job, and you dread when someone whips out a checkbook instead of cash or credit card. There’s nothing more fashionable than the grocery store employee smock. But there’s something fun about knowing the item codes of a long list of produce. There’s something interesting about interacting with people, watching what kinds of items they’re purchasing, guessing what they’ll be making for dinner.

When I lived in New Ulm, Minnesota with my parents for a year-and-a-half as I finished up my college credits and certification, I worked at one of the two grocery stores in town. I didn’t often work long enough shifts to warrant a full lunch break, but fifteen minutes was enough to motor through a chapter in a book and get some sugar back in my bloodstream to make it through the rest of my shift. I discovered a weakness for yogurt-covered pretzels and chocolate-covered gumdrops from the bridge mix in the bulk bins (which is odd because I’m not a fan of chocolate-covered fruit). And then there were the cinnamon rolls from the bakery. Unlike rolls from other bakeries, these were baked in muffin tins, so they had this beautiful mushroom effect with a tightly rolled stem and a cap covered in icing. Not such a good thing if you’re the type who likes to eat a cinnamon roll by unwrapping it, but great if you’re a muffin-top lover.

I’ve never gotten over those cinnamon rolls. I guess there was just something about a cinnamon roll with a slightly different take on its ordinary existence. And so, eleven years later, I dared to be different and gave it a try. I wanted cinnamon roll goodness on a smaller scale (they were traveling with me to church for snacks). I’ve tried mini cinnamon rolls before, but I’ve never had stellar success. I haven’t the faintest idea why I didn’t think of doing this before.

I used the cinnamon swirl roll recipe from Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook with a twice-as-much-cinnamon version of the sticky bun filling from the same cookbook (the sticky buns have a bit of ground cloves), tweaking them just a bit to make them work for me (such as proofing technique), and using my own icing recipe. 

They turned out better than I could have expected. Golden brown, smothered in icing, and exploding with cinnamon flavor (with that touch of something else… something different… something good — oh, yeah – cloves!), they were an irresistible just-the-right-size treat!

They’re totally worth checking out. 🙂

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Mini Cinnamon Rolls, Muffin-Style

— adapted from Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook

Dough

  • 1/2 cup milk, heated to 11o degrees
  • 1/2 cup water, heated to 110 degrees
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 3-1/4 — 3-3/4 cups (16-1/4 to 18-3/4 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (2-1/3 oz) sugar
  • 2-1/4 tsp. instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1-1/2 tsp. salt
Filling
  • 3/4 cup packed (5-1/4 oz) light brown sugar
  • 4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • pinch salt
  • 2-4 Tbsp. softened unsalted butter or margarine (this is for a borrowed technique from other recipes)
  1. Whisk milk, water, eggs, and melted butter together in 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Using stand mixer fitted with dough hook, combine 3-1/4 cups flour, sugar, yeast, and salt on low speed. Slowly add milk mixture and let dough come together, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes. (If after 4 minutes dough seems very sticky, add remaining 1/2 cup flour, 2 Tbsp. at a time, until dough clears sides of bowl but sticks to bottom.) Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds. Place dough in large, lightly greased bowl; cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, 2 to 2-1/2 hours. (I heated the oven to 200 degrees, turned it off, and let the dough rise in there for just over an hour till it was doubled.)
  2. Mix filling ingredients.
  3. Grease mini muffin pan–I have two pans and ended up needing to use 8 sections of the second pan, which yielded 32 rolls. 
  4. Transfer proofed dough to lightly floured counter and roll into 12 by 16-inch rectangle, with long side facing you. Cut in half vertically to make two 6 by 16-inch rectangles. Spread softened butter over each rectangle, leaving 1/2-inch border along top edge. Sprinkle filling mixture over dough, leaving 3/4-inch border along top edge. Starting at long side of one rectangle, roll dough, pressing lightly, to form tight cylinder. Pinch seam to seal. Very gently stretch to form cylinder of even diameter, pushing ends in to create even thickness. Using serrated knife and gentle sawing motion, slice cylinder in half, then slice each half in half again to create evenly sized quarters. Slice each quarter evenly into thirds, yielding 12 rolls (end pieces may be slightly smaller, and this is where I ended up getting more rolls–I cut each quarter into quarters, yielding 16 rolls; thirds seemed too large for the muffin pan). Place rolls in prepared muffin pan, one per “cup”. 
  5. Repeat with second rectangle.
  6. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap, and let rise in warm, draft-free spot until puffy, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. One hour before baking, adjust oven rack to lowest position, place baking stone on rack, and heat oven to 350 degrees. (If you use the baking stone (which I didn’t), the top of the oven is a great place for proofing. Otherwise, you may put the rolls in the warm oven again; just be sure to remove them when preheating the oven to bake them. I would then preheat the oven about 20 minutes before baking.)
  7. Bake rolls until golden brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Let rolls cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes, then invert onto rack and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. You may need a spoon to carefully loosen the rolls from the pan as the filling oozes and caramelizes during baking.
Icing (this is my own)
  • 2 Tbsp. softened butter
  • 3 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2-4 Tbsp. milk
  1. Combine butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add milk, one Tbsp. at a time, until icing is spreadable but not runny.
  2. Spread over rolls. Serve or if taking somewhere, let set at room temperature until icing is hardened. Store in container that is covered, but not tightly (frosting and rolls will get extremely soggy).

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