When a recipe uses a superlative like “Ultimate” in its title, I tend to be a little skeptical.
But in this case, I found the Ultimate Cinnamon Bun recipe claim to be intriguing. That’s because I’ve been on an unofficial quest of sorts to find the best cinnamon buns in the Sea to Sky.
My search has ranged from disappointing (I once got a cinnamon bun that didn’t have any cinnamon in it) to satisfactory, but few have really WOWED me. The cinnamon bun from Hot Buns that I was served at the finish line of the Comfortably Numb Trail Run is the exception – it was extremely delicious and the best I’ve had, thus far, in the region. The best I’ve found in Squamish thus far is from Zephyr Cafe – somewhat surprising, as they’re known more from their healthy veggie stuff than their sweets.
While I am no cinnamon bun newbie, I’ll admit to being somewhat of an amateur when it comes to baking my own buns. I can only recall making cinnamon buns once before at a friend’s house. We couldn’t believe how long the dang recipe took to put together. In fact, the Bread Illustrated one took even longer – two days – but that seems about par for course with most of the breads in the book. I am no longer phased by multiday recipes – is there a badge for that?
(Note – it is possible to bake this recipe all in one long day, but I’ll explain why I opted for the two-day method later in this post.)
I’ve wanted to try the ultimate cinnamon buns for quite some time now, but based on that first baking experience, I knew that if I baked eight cinnamon buns, there was a good chance I would eat all eight in a single day (seven, maybe, if Cedric could intercept). Even I have my limits, so I waited patiently until a day where we had a total of six people staying over at our house.
The recipe makes a great big ball of enriched dough – meaning it’s got the usual flour, yeast, and salt, but also some whole milk, eggs, sugar, butter, and even some cornstarch (that’s a first!). After rising, you stretch out the heaping yellow ball of dough into an 18″ x 18″ square. You coat it with soft butter (I did this with my hands – oddly satisfying), then sprinkle on a hefty dusting of the filling, which is comprised of brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Then you roll, cut, and rise.
A note on this part: I trimmed the doughy ends of the rolled log of pastry. They didn’t have any filling (i.e., good stuff) and this allowed them to sit flush in the baking pan.
At the second rising stage, when the buns have been rolled and sliced, you have two options: let it rise an hour, then bake, or let it rise in the fridge between 16 and 24 hours, then bake. Since nothing beats freshly baked cinnamon buns, I opted for the latter. This required me to get up a little early, since the buns have to be taken out an hour before baking. I timed the thawing with the oven pre-heating process, then baked the buns for 37 minutes (a happy medium between the suggested 35 to 40 minutes).
I had pre-made the cream cheese glaze the day before, and I was planning on following the directions, which say to pour half of the glaze onto the just-out-of-the-oven cinnamon buns, then wait half an hour and spread on the rest – but the cinnamon buns smelled SO GOOD and we were all ready to eat. We all iced our own cinnamon buns to taste, and I didn’t have any issues with the icing melting in. Maybe that’s because we ate them rather quickly – if you’re making these ahead of time, you’ll probably want to let them sit before the final frost.
However, if that’s the route you chose, I’m sorry to tell you that you’re making a terrible mistake – there are few things in life as decadent as a fresh-out-of-the-oven cinnamon bun. In this particular case, some of the filling melts and pools around the base of the bun, acting as a slightly chewy caramel sauce that undoubtedly would not be as satisfying after cooling. If you think that sounds like a mess to clean, not to worry – the recipe calls for a clever sling of foil over the pan, making clean up easy peasy.
I know what you’re wondering: are these really the ULTIMATE cinnamon buns? Yes. Yes they are. The dough is light and fluffy and perfect. The filling is perfection and the ratio of bun to filling is just so. The icing is excellent, the portion sizes are generous, and all is right in the world. I received many compliments and zero complaints from my fellow cinnamon bun testers.
I have had very few recipes fall short of fantastic from the Bread Illustrated cookbook – and when that is the case, it’s usually something I did on my end. It is nice to be able to rely on a recipe – you don’t have to test it out before serving it to guests, because it’s probably going to turn out very well. Keep up the good work, Bread Illustrated!