I am a Brit. Ergo, I like buns. And more specifically, I am me. So I like soft fluffy sweet buns, topped with a sticky sugar icing. And in an ideal world, those buns would be further enhanced by the addition of cinnamon, or vanilla, or raisins, or nuts, or a combination of those things, or all of the above.
I decided to make some, with cinnamon and vanilla as the stars of the show.
Swirls of cinnamon, butter and sugar, golden baked sweet dough, and a dreamy vanilla cream cheese glaze for the top.
I developed this recipe after quite a bit of research. And by research, I don’t just mean that I ate a lot of buns (though, I did). I scoured the internet and books and stopped strangers in the street and questioned them intensely to work out how to make the perfect bun. Everyone has a slightly different take on the ideal ingredients, and method. Some I liked, some I doubted, and some I borrowed, and eventually after trial and error I developed my own recipe- so this is the benefit of many cooks’ wisdom, filtered, processed and added to, and rolled up (a bit literally) into one batch of buns.
I decided to make the cinnamon sugar filling as a kind of paste, so that the cinnamon got evenly distributed. This mixture is made of light brown sugar, cinnamon, and butter, and little bit of salt to bring the flavours out.
In the dough, I used buttermilk rather than milk, for its acidic and tender crumb-making properties. Whole eggs and butter are added for enrichment.
I used ‘instant rise’ yeast, which means that this bun dough needs just one rise, rather than two, and that makes for a (relatively) speedy recipe. Instant rise yeast is also packaged as ‘bread machine’ yeast, and basically it means that you can bung it into the mix with all the other dry ingredients immediately, and don’t have to wait for the yeast to interact with warm water and sugar for 10 minutes beforehand. It is also the reason that just one rise will suffice for this dough. Instant rise yeast, we salute you.
Use plain flour for this dough, not bread flour- the latter has too much gluten in it, which will make your buns tough. No-one wants that. If you can get it, type ’00’ flour is great for its extra silkiness and super ability to absorb fats, thereby giving a superior texture. I used it in mine on this occasion, but normal old plain flour will work perfectly.
Once the dough has been kneaded, it should be left to prove (i.e. rise) in a warm place until it has roughly doubled in size. My batch here was placed in the airing cupboard, and took 90 minutes to achieve pillowy perfection.
Once the dough has risen, it should be kneaded a few times until smooth again, then rolled out into a large rectangle. Spread the cinnamon butter sugar over the whole rectangle, roll it up into a satisfying fat squidgy dough log, and chop it into 12 even slices.
Lay the slices swirly-side up in a greased baking tin and bake at 190°c for about 25 minutes. They will make your house smell like a bakery and you will feel really happy about that.
When they’re baked through, and are a deep golden colour, and the swirls have popped up a bit and the sugar on the top is crusty and crunchy… smother the buns in a cream cheese icing, made from cream cheese, icing sugar, vanilla and a dash of milk or cream. I practically drown mine (see the first picture, above). I love this icing. You can’t taste the tang of the cream cheese, but it helps to take the edge off the sweetness of the icing sugar. I’m also pretty liberal with the vanilla extract here, so my icing is never snow white… you can get clear vanilla flavouring, but I’ve yet to see ‘real’ vanilla extract which is clear. I’d rather go with the rich dark brown stuff, for this icing anyway.
All the people I’ve made these buns for like to eat them in different ways- some like them without too much icing, some like them cold, and some like them a day old so that they’re crustier. Personally, I think these are best eaten while still warm from the oven, and while the icing is still drippy and runny.
But everyone agrees that a cup of tea is an excellent accompaniment.
Ingredients for Cinnamon Buns with Cream Cheese Icing
For the bun dough
600g plain flour (type ‘oo’ is good)
1 packet (7g) instant/bread machine yeast
1 teaspoon salt
85g butter, melted
For the cinnamon sugar filling
90g light brown sugar
110g caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
65g unsalted butter, melted
4 teaspoons cinnamon (or to taste)
Pinch of salt
For the cream cheese icing
175g icing sugar
100g cream cheese (half a standard pack)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Dash of milk or cream (about 2 tablespoons)
Tiny pinch of salt
How to make the dough
- Mix up the dry ingredients, but reserve some of the flour (about half a teacup full). You’ll only decide whether you need to add that once you’ve added your liquid and you start to knead the dough- don’t worry if you don’t end up using it.
- In a measuring jug, whisk together the buttermilk and eggs. Add the very warm- but not scalding- melted butter (you don’t want to cook the eggs), and whisk briefly to combine. Pour most of this liquid into the dry ingredients. Reserve about a quarter of a teacup of the liquid though. With a wooden spoon, mix mix mix stir stir stir, until the dough is coming away from the sides of the bowl.
- Transfer the dough to a clean worktop upon which you’ve sprinkled a little plain flour. Start to knead the dough- if it is very wet and sticky, add some of your reserved flour. If the dough is crumbly and too dry, add a little of your reserved liquid mix. (This may sound vague, but your dough will absorb more/less moisture depending on all kinds of factors, including the weather. Go by eye- the dough should start to become smooth after a couple of minutes, and be moist but not sticky.) Add more flour to the worktop as you need to, which will stop the dough sticking, and remember that this will eventually be absorbed into the dough too.
- Knead the dough for about 10-15 minutes until it has a silky smooth texture and is springy to the touch. Or if you have a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment you can use that, mixing the dough for about 6 minutes.
- Put the springy, smooth dough ball in a lightly oiled (or buttered) bowl, and turn it all around to get a thin coating of oil all over it. Then cover the bowl with a clean tea towel or a loose piece of cling film and put it in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until the dough has roughly doubled in size. You can tell the dough is ready if, when you stick your finger into the dough, it leaves an impression and doesn’t immediately spring back.
How to make the cinnamon sugar mixture
- In a small mixing bowl, stir together the sugars, cinnamon and salt.
- Melt the butter, and pour into the sugar mixture along with the vanilla extract, stirring well to combine.
How to assemble the buns
- Once the dough has risen, ‘knock it back’ by gently punching it down, then lift it out of its bowl and knead it back a forth a few times on a floured worktop.
- Preheat the oven to 190°c.
- Roll the dough into a large rectangle, about 18 inches by 12 inches. Make sure the long edge is nearest you. Spread the cinnamon mixture evenly all over the dough rectangle.
- Starting from the far edge, start to roll the dough towards yourself until you have rolled the dough into a giant log.
- Cut the dough log into 12 equal parts. You should see the cinnamon sugar spiral whirling round inside the dough.
- Place the buns swirly-side up in a well-greased baking tin (I actually prefer to use those disposable foil trays you can get, because once the buns are eaten, it’s easy just to throw it away…or recycle it).
- Place in the oven and bake for approximately 25-30 minutes, or until the buns are a rich deep golden colour, and have risen and puffed.
- Once the buns are baked, take them out of the oven and leave to cool slightly while you prepare the cream cheese icing.
- Put the cream cheese into a medium-sized bowl, and beat it with a spoon or spatula until soft and smooth. Add the icing sugar (preferably sifted to avoid lumps) gradually, beating well after every addition. Add the vanilla, milk or cream, and salt. By this time, the icing will be quite runny. If you see any lumps of sugar, you can beat them out by whisking the mixture vigorously.
- Pour the cream cheese icing over the slightly cooled cinnamon buns.
- Serve immediately to people who don’t mind getting sticky.