Cinnamon Orange Honey Buns
Low hanging rays of light streak through the barely lit kitchen, bouncing off dull metal tools and brightly colored kitchen towels. A bowl of oranges glow brightly on one side of the kitchen as a ray strategically drawn through the room highlights the citrus. Clouds of ivory white flour hang in the air like a light fog, slowly leaving a snow-like covering throughout the kitchen.
Carefully-quiet clanks, taps and clunks barely fill the dusty kitchen air as milk is measured and heated, a mixing bowl is warmed and yeast is stirred and dissolved. Flour, eggs, honey and orange are added with a splash and soon butter and salt follow into the deep, stainless steel bowl. Flour is tossed on an old, tattered butcher block with a few flicks of the wrist. A lump of soft, sticky dough is turned in on itself; the sweet orange honey dough slowly builds structure and form as it is kneaded about the dusty surface.
A heavy glass bowl, draped with orange and white simple plaid towel, rests by a warm window, it’s contents emanating a delicate sweet, yeasty aroma. A simple cinnamon sugar filling is mixed; cinnamon dust tickles the nose as a cloud puffs up from the small bowl. A sneeze is muffled in a sleeve; care is taken not to wake anyone. Then, a simple honey butter glaze is melted and thickened. The smells in the kitchen build in intensity, hinting at what is to come.
By now the kitchen is bright with morning sun; the mess made in the previous hour no longer hidden by long shadows and dim, early morning light. Dirty, dough covered hands collect rogue pots and bowls, scatted spoons and tools and wipe up the thin layer of flour covering everything. A pile of dishes fill the sink. Eyes roll, dreading the misery awaiting in the form of a sponge and far too much elbow grease for dawn. An idea and everything is tossed in the dishwasher without a second thought of what is caked on, stuck in, or glued to the dishes – surely the dishwasher can handle it.
A tented towel and strong scent of yeast signal a ready dough. With care the airy mound of dough is deflated and kneaded quickly. With the dough left to rest for a moment, a years-old, trusted cast iron skillet is fetched and coated with a liberal helping of soft, sweet butter. Dough is rolled out with a large dust covered rolling pin, filling sprinkled on, and the concoction is tightly rolled up. Cut after cut and the cast iron skillet is slowly filled with the familiar spiral of honey buns.
A quick proofing and soon the rolls are baking away in a hot oven, dough overflowing up the sides of the skillet into a mountain of rich, sweet deliciousness. Eyes pry themselves from the alluring view the oven provides as busy hands carry an eager body off to collect coffee, grind beans, fill a french press and pour in barely boiling water. A timer is set and before it can chime the perfect smell of brewing coffee bounces about the kitchen. Tired bodies are awoken by the myriad of decadent aromas floating through the house.. A smorgasbord of plaid PJs fill the kitchen as eyes stare at the oven timer – :04, :03, 02, :01, :00. Barely awake men and women jump up as my hands, carefully protected by a kitchen towel, pull the hot cast iron skillet from the oven.
Coffee is poured and steamy, finger burning, orange cinnamon honey buns are plucked from the skillet. Tired eyes, hungry mouths, and excited conversation of what that day will entail fill the kitchen. Smiles fill silent moments after plates are licked clean and cups emptied of their sweet and bitter contents. The sun just barely peaks over the tree line as the day begins for my family, my day having begun three hours earlier with a simple mission to rouse honey-glaze-covered smiles from those closest to me. Mission accomplished.
Cinnamon Rolls: While cinnamon rolls are quite easy to prepare, there are many steps in this breakfast and dessert transcending treat. I suggest reading over the recipe at least once before starting. While I’ve baked these in a cast iron skillet – which I believe gives cinnamon rolls a superior crust – you can bake these in a cake pan or glass dish, so long as it is about the same size (nothing smaller than 10″ in diameter).
- 1 Honey Orange Yeast Dough (recipe follows)
- 2 ounces butter
- 8 ounces sugar (split into 5 ounces and 3 ounces)
- 2 ounces honey
- 1½ ounces corn syrup
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1½ teaspoon orange zest
- 1 egg (lightly whisked for an egg wash)
- 3 ounces pecans, chopped
- Preheat an oven to 350°F. Liberally butter a 10" seasoned cast iron skillet.
- Add the butter, 5 ounces sugar, honey, corn syrup and water to a heavy bottomed pot. Bring to a boil, mixing well, and remove form the heat. Set aside.
- Mix together the remaining 3 ounces sugar, cinnamon and orange zest in a bowl. Set aside.
- Roll out the dough (after it has already risen once, been kneaded and rested again) on a lightly floured surface, using as little flour as you can. Roll the dough out to form a 9" x 15" rectangle with the long side facing you.
- Brush the top of the dough with the egg wash (you may not need all of the washes, just enough to cover the top of the dough).
- Sprinkle the sugar, cinnamon and orange zest mixture over the egg washed dough, leaving a quarter inch area bare along the top of the dough.
- Starting closest to you, tightly roll up the dough from the long side, working away from you. Once it is rolled up, lay the roll on the seam so that it won't unroll as you cut it.
- Cut the rolled dough log into 8 equally sized buns. Place the buns into the buttered cast iron skillet (7 around the outside and 1 in the center), tucking the edge of the roll just barely under the roll (this is to help it from unwrapping).
- Set the buns in a warm place and let them rise until almost doubled in volume (take care not to let them rise too much).
- Once almost doubled in volume, pour half of the honey-butter glaze sauce over the buns. Place the glazed buns in a preheated oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until the center is browned evenly and the rolls seem set and don't jiggle.
- Remove from the heat and allow the rolls to cool before serving. Just before serving, pour some warmed honey butter glaze over the buns.
Yeast Dough: While yeast dough can seem picky and tricky, it is actually quite easy when a few simple rules are followed. First, yeast is very particular about its temperature, so be sure that all the ingredients you add are between 100 and 115 (if you can control the temperature of course). Before adding ingredients to the bowl, heat the bowl by running warm water through it; be sure to dry it before adding the ingredients. As for heating the milk, this is done for two reasons (first, to get the temperature up to activate the yeast and second to kill an enzyme in the milk which left alive will impede the yeast’s ability to do its job).
Never rush the rising times and always pay attention as these are the most important parts of any yeast dough. You should always let the dough get to at least double in volume for the first rising time. For the second time, or the final rise time before baking, you shouldn’t let it completely double in volume as the dough will continue to rise in the oven. Once it has risen to about 1 and 3/4 times the volume, you can begin baking it.
For rising dough, the warmest place in your kitchen is best as dough rises ideally around 85°F. If your kitchen is cool, you can preheat an oven at 400°F for just 1 minute until it is just warm feeling. Place the dough in the oven after the oven is turned off and let it rise there with the door shut. Avoid places that experience drafts.
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 1 cup milk, heated to 115°F
- 1 ounce honey
- 2 ounces sugar
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- 2 eggs, at room temp.
- 1 pound 5 ounces bread flour
- 4 ounces unsalted butter, melted
- 1 teaspoon salt
- In the bowl or a stand mixer, or bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warn milk.
- Add the honey, sugar, orange juice, orange zest, eggs and flour. Mix until a dough forms. Cover the bowl and let the dough rest for 20 minutes.
- Add the melted butter and salt and knead the dough for 5 minutes until the dough is elastic. The dough should be slightly sticky to the touch.
- Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover. Place the bowl in a warm spot (preferably around 85°F) and let the dough rise until it is doubled in volume, about 1½ to 2 hours.
- Once doubled, punch the dough down (to deflate the air bubbles) and knead the dough for a few seconds to redistribute the yeast. Allow the dough to sit for another 20 minutes before using the dough.