The weather lately feels like a moody teenager, swinging wildly between seasons: a hot, sunny morning one day then a raging rain storm lashing at my windows the next.
In Vermont last week, the air was crisp and cool to match the fall foliage. I drove home by way of the Hudson Valley, spending a few days with friends. I needed a wool hat to counter the chill; we spent the evenings outside in the hot tub, steam rising in the cold air, or camped out drinking wine around the outdoor fire pit. And yet today, buttery sun is pouring in through my windows. I wore a t-shirt to run in Central Park. The clock at Columbus Circle read 72 degrees at 10 AM.
This is all to say that I'm ready for some seasonal consistency! I can't take the wavering back and forth. Should I commit to sweatpants? Can I wear tall leather boots? Is it lasagna weather yet?
It's making me even more excited about the holidays. Snow and sleet and mittens and red, ruddy cheeks from the cold. And of course, the food.
Every year, my mom makes dozens of cinnamon rolls in round cake pans for gifting to friends and family,
Hers aren’t the doughy, bready monstrosities we’re used to seeing in airports and supermarkets. Rather, they are tightly wound thin coils of tender dough shot through with a sticky cinnamon sugar filling.
Restraint here is admirable, because she has hit on the truth that less can mean more. Holding back yields a subtler form of decadence. Using a thinner dough lets the filling soak into the inner coils, making the heart of the cinnamon roll sticky and moist and sugared. Everyone knows the inside bite is the best part, and big puffy cinnamon rolls lose that chewy sweetness.
I’m still learning, and hoping to come close to her version someday. This recipe below is not it. But thanks to whiskey salted caramel, they are very excellent in their own right (I am like a proud parent here, I should make a bumper sticker: "my cinnamon rolls on are on the honor roll at Hereford High").
As I stood barefoot in my kitchen mixing the dough (the recipe for which I found on the back of the Domino's brown sugar box!), I kept thinking: Couldn’t these be more exciting?
Don’t get me wrong. A simple cinnamon roll is a beautiful thing. But I was staring idly at our bar (as one does in late morning, dreaming of 5 PM), and a bottle of whiskey happen to be in my line of sight.
Whiskey salted caramel sauce! Yes! I set about making a simple caramel sauce. (You’ll notice mine uses milk instead of cream. That is not culinary trickery, I just didn’t have any cream.)
After it came together, sticky and golden in the saucepan, I poured in a generous measure of whiskey and a hefty dose of kosher salt. I let it cool, then rolled out my dough.
Cover your dough with the cinnamon sugar filling, as if you're making regular cinnamon rolls, then spread the caramel sauce over it. The sauce may be sort of sticky and hard to spread evenly, but that's okay. It all bakes into something delicious, no matter how messy.
You can frost them after baking, but they really don't need it.
Whiskey Salted Caramel Cinnamon Rolls
For the dough:
1 package active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold unsalted butter
For the filling:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup milk or cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup whiskey
4 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
For the icing:
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
To make the dough: Whisk together the eggs in a small bowl. Add the yeast and warm water and stir to dissolve the yeast. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl. whisk together the flour, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter using a pastry cutter or fork until it is in coarse lumps. Pour the egg/yeast mixture into the bowl and stir until it comes together in a ball. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it is smooth and elastic (about 2 minutes). If it is too sticky, add a little bit more flour, but be careful not to add too much. Add a tiny bit, then keep kneading, and only add more if it really stays too sticky.
Place the kneaded ball of dough in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel. Let rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours, or until about doubled in size.
While the dough rises, make the caramel sauce. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and heat it over medium heat until it starts to melt and turn golden brown. Add the rest of the sugar and cook, stirring, until it all melts and turns a deep amber color. Remove the pan from the heat and VERY CAREFULLY pour the milk or cream in. It will bubble FURIOUSLY and be terrifying, but don't panic. Just keep stirring and it should smooth out. If it looks funny in texture and not smooth, don't worry. Just put it back on the heat (medium-low this time) and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. Cook, stirring constantly, until smooth and the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and add the salt and whiskey. Set aside to cool.
When the dough has risen, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface into a rectangle about 1/4-inch thick.
Spread the remaining 2 tablespoons softened butter over the dough. Sprinkle the cinnamon and brown sugar over the butter. Using a spoon, spread the cooled caramel sauce over the filling. It might be a little too sticky to spread in a even layer, but just do the best you can to make it evenly distributed.
Starting with the long edge closest to you, roll the rectangle into a long log. Using a serrated knife or dental floss (dental floss is the best here), slice the dough into 2-inch rounds (or a little thinner).
Place the rolls into a greased 9-inch round cake pan. (I like to grease the pan, then line it with parchment, and then grease it again because the caramel can really stick to the bottom of the pan). You can also make these in a rectangular pan, or even just bake them on a baking sheet or in large muffin tins.
Bake the rolls for about 24 minutes (slightly less if your rolls are thinner). Remove from the oven and let cool for at least 15 minutes before frosting (if you want to frost them).
To make the frosting, mix together the milk and sugar, adding more milk or more sugar to get the consistency you like. Add some vanilla extract if you want some flavor. Spread over the rolls.