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'Bread Lady's' ultimate cinnamon rolls bake faster with this genius chef trick

Acid jump-starts the yeast, shortening the dough's rising time, meaning you can turn out a dozen warm cinnamon rolls in just three and half hours.

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One holiday season, Sarah Gonzalez cranked out 10,000 cinnamon rolls between Christmas and New Year's Day. In the almost five years her Spring Hill Bakery was open in Spring Hill, Tennessee, she suspects she sold hundreds of thousands of those sought-after rolls. 

Now Gonzalez, the author of "Baking with the Bread Lady," focuses more on her role as a teaching chef and creative. As such, she's more than happy to reveal the secret to baking large batches in a short span of time: white vinegar.

The acid jump-starts the yeast, shortening the dough's rising time, meaning you can turn out a dozen warm cinnamon rolls in just three and half hours.

"Adding that acid is like giving the yeast a Red Bull," she said. 

Vinegar also lends a tanginess that tastes as if the yeast has been doing its work for quite some time. 

A filling of salted butter, brown sugar, vanilla and honey adds complexity, as well. White sugar only adds sweetness, but brown sugar adds a comforting toastiness from the molasses that gives it its color.

Crowning the whole thing is a true cream cheese icing befitting any cake. 

A note on baking dishes: Gonzalez recommends using three 8X8-inch disposable baking pans with four rolls in each. That way, you can give a few away as gifts.

Making the best cinnamon rolls with Sarah Gonzalez, "The Bread Lady."
Nashville Tennessean

Food is a way to connect with people, Gonzalez said, and that's the point of making big batches, especially around the holidays.

"Baking and eating baked goods is supposed to make you happy," she said. 

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Ultimate Cinnamon Rolls

Yield: 1 dozen cinnamon rolls

Prep time: 1 hour

Inactive time: 2 hours

Bake time: 20-22 minutes

Total time: 3 1/2 hours

Ingredients

For the dough

Ultimate Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing
Ultimate Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing Courtesy photo

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

2 ½ cups warm water

2 to 2 ½ pounds bread flour

2 tablespoons kosher salt

⅓ cup white sugar

⅓ cup canola oil

2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

For the cinnamon filling

1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened

2 cups dark brown sugar

¼ cup dark honey

¼ cup ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the cream cheese frosting

10 tablespoons salted butter, softened

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened

4 cups powdered sugar, sifted

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Instructions

For the dough:

In a 4-cup measuring cup, proof yeast by adding warm water (no hotter than 115 degrees) to yeast and mixing together with a whisk.

Allow to sit undisturbed for approximately 10 minutes. You are looking for foam to form on the water.

While yeast is proofing, add flour, salt, sugar, oil and vinegar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment.

Once yeast has become foamy, add to flour mixture and mix on low speed until dough comes together. If dough is not pulling away from the sides of the bowl add a little more flour at a time until it does. Once dough pulls away cleanly from the sides of the bowl, stop mixing and wait 10 minutes for dough to hydrate.

Turn out dough into a large, greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 1 hour or until dough doubles in size. This will take less time in warmer conditions and more time in colder conditions.

Take rising time to make cinnamon filling (recipe follows).

After the dough has risen, turn it out on a floured surface. Gently form into an oval. Pat dough flat with your hands first to release the air. Roll dough into a rectangle, correcting as necessary until dough measures approximately 30 inches wide and 20 inches tall. Spread filling over dough using spatula (or bowl scraper) taking care to leave 1 inch along the top edge clean so it will seal when rolled.

Begin rolling the dough into a tight coil, starting at one corner and working across. When you get to the other end, work back the other way, tugging lightly as you go to ensure the roll is tight. Continue this pattern until you reach the top.

Pull the top edge over, stretching slightly and sealing it to the rest of the roll. Stretch the long roll a bit to even out any thick areas.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a sharp knife, trim the two ends of the dough and discard. Then measure and cut the roll in half. Cut each half in half so you have four equal sections. Cut each of those sections into thirds so you have 12 equal rolls. Carefully transfer rolls to three 8 x 8-inch pans that have been sprayed with nonstick spray.

Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until rolls double in size (approximately 15-20 minutes). Bake for 20-22 minutes, or until tops are golden brown and bounce back when pressed lightly.

Tips

  • Rolling out the dough into a rectangle can be tricky. If you find that as you are rolling, your dough tends to resist rolling easily, it’s letting you know it is overworked. Allow it to rest for two minutes, and then continue rolling. The gluten in the dough should be relaxed enough to cooperate.
  • As you’re rolling the dough into the log shape, you may find that it begins to roll unevenly like a rug sometimes does. Stretch the unrolled dough even with the rolled part and continue rolling up.
  • If you find that your log is thicker in some parts and thinner in others, you can stretch the log longer to thin out the thicker parts or bunch up in the areas that are thinner. This will help you achieve a more consistent thickness throughout.

For the cinnamon filling

Make sure you start with room-temperature butter and whip all of the ingredients into a fluffy paste similar to a cake frosting. You want to be able to spread it over the dough easily and evenly. If the filling is too cold, the dough may tear. If it’s too warm, it’ll be a bear to roll up.

Mix butter, brown sugar, honey, cinnamon and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Whip until light and fluffy.

Cinnamon filling can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Just bring it up to room temperature before using. 

Sarah Gonzalez, author of "Baking with the Bread Lady," frosts cinnamon rolls in her kitchen in Spring Hill, Tenn., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022.
Sarah Gonzalez, author of "Baking with the Bread Lady," frosts cinnamon rolls in her kitchen in Spring Hill, Tenn., Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Stephanie Amador / The Tennessean

For the cream cheese frosting

Cream together butter and cream cheese in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, occasionally scraping down the sides to ensure even mixing.

Add powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing on low and then whipping on high. Add vanilla and give a final whip. If frosting is too thick, add a tablespoon of milk. Frosting should be thick like cake frosting. Ice cinnamon rolls when they have cooled. 

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