Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Rolls

Do you ever get on a kick with a certain food or ingredient? I seem to get a bit obsessed with cranberries every winter. Even though cranberries are in season in the fall, I always associate them with winter. Maybe because they're red, which I associate with Christmas, which goes with snow, which goes with winter. Or maybe it's because their tart flavor is perfect for brightening even the dreariest of winter days. Besides, pumpkin keeps me plenty busy all fall, so a girl's gotta have something to obsess over when it becomes less acceptable to put pumpkin in everything.

So when my mom and I were discussing cinnamon rolls the other day while plotting to make some in our respective homes, and when I started thinking about what kind of twist I could put on them, cranberries sprang to mind. (I had just made pumpkin oatmeal cinnamon chip cookies the previous weekend so didn't think I could get away with making pumpkin cinnamon rolls that weekend.)

I poked around on Google to get a feel for good ratios of cranberries:sugar:dough. By far, Smitten Kitchen was the best version and most informative I came across, though I added some embellishments of my own. For the cranberry filling, I added a bit of cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, with inspiration from the cranberry crostini from a couple years ago. I also used butter and cream cheese in the filling, since I think cream cheese adds a delightful extra gooeyness factor to cinnamon rolls. And I sprinkled in some almonds as well.  I was also tempted to add a bit of fresh thyme, since the cranberry thyme scones recipe I found a few weeks ago was superb. That may still happen the next time I make these rolls.

For the dough, I wanted to let my bread machine do the mixing and kneading, so I used the cinnamon roll dough recipe from the little book that came with the bread machine, but added some orange zest per Smitten Kitchen's recipe.

My other adjustment to the dough was to leave out the yeast. No, this was not intentional. No, the dough did not rise very well at all without it (funny how that works). An hour into the rising time, the dough didn't seem any larger, but I attributed it to the cold weather. After a couple more hours, I started thinking through what could be wrong, and it finally hit me: I had no recollection of getting the yeast out of my fridge and measuring any into the dough. So I worked some yeast into the dough, and after another 2-3 hours of rising time, it finally puffed up a bit. So if you make these rolls, do yourself a favor and add the yeast at the beginning like a normal person.

Cranberry Orange Cinnamon Rolls

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and my bread machine's recipe book
Yield: 12 rolls (more if you cut them a bit thinner)

Note: Plan to prepare the dough and shape the rolls the night before, then let them rise overnight in the fridge, then bake the next morning

Zest from 1 orange or 1-1/2 clementines - use about 3/4 in the dough and 1/4 in the filling
1/2 cup water
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. sugar
2 Tbsp. oil
1-1/2 tsp. salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
2-1/4 tsp. active dry yeast

3 Tbsp. butter, softened
2-3 Tbsp. cream cheese, softened (I used reduced fat)
1 to 1-1/2 cups fresh cranberries (thawed, if frozen)
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 of the orange zest from above
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 tsp. cloves
1/16 tsp. nutmeg
A couple handfuls of sliced or chopped almonds (optional)

2 cups powdered sugar
About 1/4 to 1/3 cup water (or orange juice)
Smidge of maple extract (or vanilla)

Make the dough and let it rise: Following your bread machine's directions, measure all dough ingredients into the bread machine, then use the dough cycle. (Alternatively, if you don't have a bread machine, just use your preferred yeast dough making method. Smitten Kitchen's recipe and instructions are great and include directions for those who have a stand mixer and those who don't.) Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel, and let rise until doubled in size. Punch down before rolling out and shaping into rolls. (Note: many bread machines include this rise time as part of the dough cycle. If yours does, you don't need to let it rise twice before shaping.)

Make the filling: If they're not already out on your counter, get out the butter and cream cheese to let them soften. When they're soft, stir them together in a small bowl; set aside. Pick through your cranberries and discard any suspicious ones. Use a food processor to pulse the cranberries until they're pretty finely chopped but aren't a puree (or just chop them finely by hand). Scrape out into a small to medium bowl. Then add the brown sugar, orange zest, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Stir to combine well. Set aside.

Go ahead and spray a baking pan. I think the pan we used was an 11 x 7 glass baking dish.

Roll and shape the dough: When the dough has risen, punch it down and work out any large air bubbles. At this point, you may need to let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes before rolling out. On a well-floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle about 18 inches wide by 12 inches deep. Spread the butter and cream cheese mixture evenly over the dough. Then spread the cranberry mixture evenly over the dough. For both the butter/cream cheese and the cranberry mixture, I used a basic soup spoon to scatter dollops of filling around the dough, then used the back of the spoon to spread it around. It doesn't have to be perfect. Sprinkle in the almonds, if using.

Now, use a knife or pastry cutter to cut your rectangle in half, into two 9 x 12-inch rectangles (this will make it easier to roll. Starting with one of the 9-inch edges near you, roll the dough up and away from yourself, rolling as tightly as possible. There will be some cranberry juice leaking out. Embrace it. Using your knife or pastry cutter, cut the log into 6 or 7 slices, each about 1 to 1-1/2 inches thick. Carefully transfer each slice/roll to the prepared baking pan. Repeat the process with your other 9 x 12 rectangle.

Rise again, then bake: Cover your baking dish with plastic wrap, then place in your fridge overnight. The next morning, remove rolls from the fridge about 30 minutes before you want them to go into the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20-25 minutes.

Make the icing: While the rolls bake, measure powdered sugar, water, and maple extract into a medium bowl. Use an electric mixer to mix until well combined and smooth. Start with less water; add more as needed to reach your desired consistency. When the rolls come out of the oven, drizzle with the icing.

  • If you have a favorite cinnamon roll dough recipe, just use that but add orange zest.
  • I was a little worried that the fresh cranberries would release too much juice and result in soggy rolls. But that wasn't the case at all! To quote from Smitten Kitchen, "that puddle of cranberry juice run-off jams into a gooey brown sugar cranberry caramel and winds around and through the buttery, tender yeast-raised spirals." Yes, please!
  • These rolls were quite sweet, but not quite too sweet for my taste. I think they would have been equally good with about 1/4 cup less brown sugar in the filling. 
  • For the almonds, I used a very light hand. So they were barely there but didn't add a whole lot of taste or texture. I think walnuts or pecans would also be good.
  • I made my icing with water, but orange juice would have been lovely. Also, the quantities above yielded more icing than we used; you may prefer to use more icing than we did.