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Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls

  I have a non-cookie recipe today!  And not just any non-cookie recipe, but a non-cookie cinnamon roll recipe.  It also just so happens to be the best cinnamon roll recipe ever.

  At least in my book, but I'm pretty sure these will also go in your book once you've tasted them.  Cream cheese is folded right into the dough, creating a lovely creamy texture like none other.

  I don't know about you, but I'm quite particular about my dough-to-filling ratio.  For me, this fits the bill exactly.  Not so much filling to make it mushy and gross, but not too bready to make it feel like less of an indulgence.  

  I mean, if you're going to take in the calories at all, they might as well satisfy your dough-to-filling ratio.  Maybe that's just me though.  

  Also, orange zest is always a lovely touch, just a hint.

  Now, the recipe may seem daunting, but I've included some photos to simplify it a bit.  So it will seem longer than it really is, due to the in-yo-face pics.  If you don't want to waste major ink in printing them off, the printing option I have lets you remove images.  Everybody wins! 

  Anyway, you really need to try this recipe.  Scared of yeast?  Don't.  Just don't use that excuse.  It's totally lame.  Get in the kitchen and show who's boss.

Cream Cheese Cinnamon Rolls
Yield: 8 large rolls

Ingredients for the Dough:
  • 2 1/4 tsp. (1 package) active dry yeast (instant yeast also works)
  • 1/4 cup plus 1/2 tsp. sugar, divided
  • 1/4 cup warm (but not hot) water
  • 1/2 cup milk, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp. light brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for kneading
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan

Ingredients for the Filling:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped pecans (optional)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
  • 1/4 cup raisins (optional)
  • 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tbsp. maple syrup
  • 4 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Ingredients for the Icing:

  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk

In the bowl of a stand mixer combine yeast, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and 1/4 cup water heated to 115 degrees F.  Stir to combine and let sit until frothy and foamy, about 10 minutes.

Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, milk, light brown sugar, vanilla, egg, and egg yolk.  Beat with a wire whisk until well combined.  Fit the bowl onto the mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.  Add the flour and salt and mix on medium speed until the dough just begins to come together.  Turn the machine on medium-high and knead the dough for 4 minutes.

Add the butter in chunks and continue to knead for about 6 minutes.  The dough will be wet and sticky.

Place the dough onto a well floured work surface and knead about 1/3 cup flour into the dough.  The dough will still be quite sticky, but that's ok, you'll get rid of that later.  For now just set the dough to rest in a large greased bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until doubled in size (this can take some time, no worries).

Getting ready for its rise, I forgot an after picture.  Sorry!  Just imagine this doubled and poofy.

While the dough rises, make the filling.  Combine the sugar, dark brown sugar, pecans, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon, salt, and cloves in a large bowl.  Stir to combine.  Stir in the maple syrup.  Cover and set aside.

When the dough has doubled in size, dump it from the bowl onto a heavily floured work surface.  Gently knead the dough for 1 or 2 minutes, adding flour as needed, until it's no longer sticky.  Once it’s no longer sticky, place a kitchen towel over the dough and let rest for 5 minutes before rolling it out.

Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 10 x 10-inch square.

Here starts the lack of natural lighting, bear with me.

In a small bowl, mix the cream cheese with a knife until it’s smooth and spreadable, zap it in the microwave for a few seconds if necessary.  Spread the cream cheese evenly over the dough square.

Fold the square into thirds like you would fold a letter to fit into an envelope.

Take the open ends of the rectangle and fold into thirds again, to make a smaller dough square.

Invert the dough so that the seam is face down and, using the rolling pin, gently roll it into a 10 x 20-inch rectangle.

You may find that some cream cheese sneaks through the dough.  No worries, just be as gentle as possible and roll until you get to the right size.  Once you've reached your size, turn the dough so that the short sides are parallel to you, if they aren't already.  You will be rolling up the dough jelly-roll-style from the short ends, not lengthwise.

Brush the top of the dough with half of the melted butter.  Set aside the rest of the butter to use after the rolls are baked.  Pour all of the filling onto the dough.  Spread evenly, leaving a 1-inch border at one of the short edges of the dough so the roll can be properly sealed.  Lightly press the filling into the dough.

Using your hands, lift up the bottom edge of the dough (make sure it's the short edge!) and roll it forward into a tight cylinder.  Place the dough cylinder seam side down on a cutting board.  Using a sharp, thin knife, trim off the uneven edges (you'd better eat those).  Cut the cylinder into 8 equal slices (this is easy if you just cut the cylinder in half, and then the separate halves into quarters).  Nestle the slices, cut side up and evenly spaced in a buttered 10x15 inch baking dish.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place to let rise for 2 hours.  You can also let the rolls rise in the fridge overnight.

Ready to bake!

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Uncover the rolls.  If you refrigerated the rolls, let them sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before baking.  Bake until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes.

While the rolls are baking, whisk together the sugar and buttermilk in a small bowl until smooth (orange zest is highly recommended).  And also, if you're as obsessed as I am, you may brown the remaining melted butter.

Transfer the pan of cinnamon rolls to a cooling rack.  Brush with remaining butter.  Let cool for 5 minutes.  Dip the tines of a fork into the icing and drizzle over the rolls.  Serve immediately.

Totally worth it all.

Sources: adapted from Joy the Baker, originally from Saveur October 2008