03 July 2008

Impossible Reincarnation

If only I could capture the smell of cinnamon rolls rising, the soft yellow brioche dough expanding and exuding that warmness that adds delicacy to this otherwise heavy, humid afternoon. Sight is the closest I can come... aside from providing the steps that will allow you to fill your own address with such aroma. Luckily, I can do both.

And these cinnamon rolls have done something for me, as well. They’ve provided a temporary bane for my distressed summer soul – lethargy, unstructured days and unimaginative future prospects will force dss upon many people. Lets revolt by way of the senses... sight, taste and smell, that is.

Inspiration often arises from heart wrenching loss, when one’s mind is violently forced to reorient itself around some new vacancy. There are degrees of such violence, of course: travel, moving, death of friend or family... Here, however, I refrain from comparing the loss of a bakery to the death of a loved one; I find such comparison slightly depressing for a number of reasons. However, concerning what they say about taste, sense memory and the like, the psychological implications could be comparable... though still enough to incite a worthy cringe at lamenting the disappearance of a baked good. (The loss of this particular bakery, however, incites another, loss-of-independent-business tinged dialogue altogether...)

So, I must insert here that this recipe is an attempt at recreating the perhaps un re- creatable. Unfortunately -- or perhaps fortunately –- we can’t bring the dead back to life. Even when it comes to life given at the hand of a human – a baker more specifically. So when Bower’s Bakery closed for good last Spring (ah! Spring is now last spring!), and I took the final bite of the cinnamon rolls so coveted for reasons I will let your own mind put into words...

... I decided that my taste buds would not settle for any concept of finality a propos cinnamon roll. Behold, attempt number one.

The results? Well, I would call these more cinnamon sugar brioche rolls than the classics-by-a-shorter-name I had envisioned. But while even I don’t want to be caught with ten cinnamon rolls waiting impatiently in the refrigerator, suffocating in plastic wrap as the mornings slowly open -- one by one -- to breakfast, these lighter versions don’t seem as fatigue-inducing as the full bodied originals. In fact, I don’t even know why I am comparing them, for the brioche version has its own personality altogether.

Cinnamon Sugar Brioche Rolls
Adapted from "Baking With Julia” by Dorie Greenspan

I cut the butter way down in this version. The brioche is as found in the original recipe, though the original roll recipe was for pecan sticky buns. I practically omitted the extra butter and step of rolling the dough and refolding it to create more layers, as one would do for croissants. The result was, as I said before, much more light and airy than had I used the four sticks of butter called for. If done again, I would add way more filling, using Saigon cinnamon rather than the generic brand. Also, you could easily add any glaze or topping to your own craving... I was just in a minimalist mood.

For the Brioche:

To make the sponge you will need:

1/3 cup whole milk, warmed to about 100° F
2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 large egg
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

In the bowl of a mixer, combine the milk, yeast, egg and 1 cup of the flour. Mix with a spatula until blended. Dust the remaining cup of flour over the mixture. Set aside to rest for about 30 to 40 minutes. The flour coating the sponge should crack after this time.

To make the dough you will need:

1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon fine quality sea salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter at room temperature (6 oz) plus 3 to 4 tablespoons, melted

To the sponge, add the sugar, salt, eggs and one cup of the flour. Mix in a heavy-duty mixer on low speed with the dough hook attachment until just combined, about 1 or 2 minutes. Keep the mixer on low speed and slowly add ½ cup of flour. Once incorporated, increase the speed to medium and beat for about 15 minutes. Here, what you are looking for is a dough that comes together, globing around the dough hook and slapping the sides of the bowl. After about 10 minutes, if still no slapping has sounded and dough is not sticking to the hook, add 2 to 3 additional tablespoons of flour. It is important for the dough to stay in the mixer for the full 15 minutes... the final texture of the brioche depends upon it.

***The mixer becomes quite hot after this amount of beating, so it will need to cool after finishing the dough. I also had trouble detaching the bowl from the stand of the mixer after such heavy beating... be forewarned.

To incorporate the butter into the dough, it must be of the same consistency; that is, smooth, creamy and cool, not at all oily. With a medium sized piece of parchment or wax paper, smear the butter with your hands or a spatula until it reaches the desired consistency. Add the butter to the dough, bit by bit, with the mixer on medium-low. The dough may fall apart while adding the butter. This is normal. After all the butter has been added, reduce the speed to medium and continue mixing until the dough comes back together and slaps the sides of the bowl once again, about 5 minutes. If the dough refuses to come together after 2 or 3 minutes, add an additional tablespoon of flour. The dough should be soft, sticky and cool, clinging to the dough hook and sides of the bowl.

Butter a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled, about 3 hours.

Collapse the dough by lifting its sides away from the bowl. Cover the bowl again and place in the refrigerator overnight or for 4 to 6 hours, letting the dough double in size once again.

Divide the dough in half, returning unused half to the refrigerator while working with the first half. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a long rectangle, roughly 11 inches wide, 13 inches long and ¼ inch thick.

Melt the 3 or 4 tablespoons butter and brush half of the butter over the dough. Sprinkle the filling (see recipe below) very generously over the butter, pressing it into the dough with the rolling pin. Roll the dough into a long log.

Wrap the log in plastic and chill until firm, about 45 minutes.

Repeat with the other half of dough.

When chilled, remove plastic wrap and using a serrated knife, cut each log into 7 equal parts. Butter two, 9-inch round cake pans and sprinkle with any leftover cinnamon sugar mixture. Place rolls into cake pans, one in the middle and a circle of six on the edge. Set aside to rise on last time, for about 1 ½ to 2 hours. They should touch each other after this final rise.

Preheat the oven to 350°F, placing the oven racks in the middle of the oven. Bake the rolls for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden. Remove from the oven and immediately invert them onto a serving dish. If not removed from the pans quickly, they may become difficult to take out. Drizzle glaze (see recipe below) over hot rolls. Enjoy at room temperature or just warmed.

For the Filling:

3 tablespoons brown sugar, firmly packed
9 tablespoons granulated sugar
7 tablespoons Saigon cinnamon

Combine all ingredients.

For the Glaze:

3 or more tablespoons whole milk
1 cup powdered sugar
3 or more tablespoons Saigon cinnamon
1 or more tablespoons vanilla extract

Combine all ingredients, stirring with a whisk until smooth.

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