Some cold winter morning you just might need a special hot-n-homemade hug from a giant yeasty cinnamon roll. On other days you might want a perfect little bite-sized nugget of cinnamon and apples all rolled up in a warm little bun that’s dripping in orange-zested icing. We’re presenting the “other day” and we’ll show you how to make this simple yeasted dough for these winning mini buns using traditional ingredients plus, for a limited time offer, we’ll throw in options for organic coconut palm sugar with a honey topping.
Check out our Way Big Wowness Rolls:
I’ve shared Grandma Matsen’s recipe for old-fashioned homemade cinnamon rolls with you in the past. You might remember these from Mrs. Matsen’s special recipe card box collection that was given to me by her grandson. (I’m having so much fun exploring her treasure trove of recipe cards!)
I made Grandma Matsen’s Sexy Cinnamon Rolls a bunch of different ways — with honey in the center, sprinkled with cocoa, big sizes, small sizes and in cute heart-shaped pans.
New Year Changes Can be Big or Small:
I feel a change coming on (the New Year kinda does that to people). I’m thinking that I like the idea of having one little bitty flavorful yeasted cinnamon roll in the morning. Maybe with a pretty vintage teacup of exotic Assam Mangalam tea or with an Antoccino espresso instead of the usual cuppa joe. Okay, maybe 2 little bitty yeasted cinnamon rolls. Set some time aside for a slow food romp with twice-risen dough, or, follow my lead, and do the first rise in the evening with follow-up rise when you rise in the morning. I think I see a slow food adventure on your week-end bucket list.
And, if you’re like me, you cooked up a storm over the holiday season and maybe ate up a storm also. So it could be “time to slim the cake slice”, as my baker friends might say. Yeah, I’m thinkin’ this bitty size might come in handy this time of year. Could we say these are “diet” cinnamon rolls? Naw, guess not, but still they’re way smaller and that counts (or subtracts) from something, right?
Because our family changed holiday travel plans at the last-minute, I hosted a family dinner for 20 at my house on Christmas Day, with a little help from the family and (eek!) 4 days of prep time (a week-end plus 2 vacay days). Last time I prepped for a big family Thanksgiving dinner, I started getting ready about 4 weeks prior. Maybe 6 weeks. How long does it normally take to get ready for a big holiday dinner? Just 2 days before Christmas, my sister and I used my pick-up truck to haul in a big white-flocked tree. I swear, all the Christmas trees were nearly gone by then. Or, at least the kind I envisioned in my little sugar-plum brain. I didn’t have time to root through the garage rafters for stored supplies so I dashed down to the local Target store and found what I thought were darling ornaments.
Sister also helped me polish the silver and iron the lace tablecloths. We decorated the house with an L.A. retro theme and scored a dusty box of vintage Christmas CDs (behind the carpet steamer in the back closet). So we lit lots and lots of candles, scattered pinecones everywhere, decorated the tree and turned up the Sinatra yuletide tunes.
Brother Bill, our resident meat expert, arrived on Christmas morning. When he walked in the door wearing a red apron, I was overjoyed. He was ready to work it! And he was carrying his own knives — and his family-famous green bean casserole. Yes!
Brother Bill started right in roasting up the turkeys with his masterful skills. Yes, I said turkeys, plural. In fact, we had 2 big turkeys (and a big ham) on this last-minute menu. One turkey was a 21-pounder Heritage turkey (natural mating habits, longer living, pasture-raised birds that taste a little like wild turkey) that I brined for 2 days in apple cider, spices and salt. BTW, just TRY to find a big, fresh, organic Heritage turkey 2 days before Christmas in L.A. It takes a whole lot of trying-not-to-sound-frantic phone calls and some fancy meat market dancin’.
The second starring attraction was a 24-pound Kosher turkey (Rabbi standards applied, raised on a vegetarian diet with no antibiotics). It was pre-brined (hooray!) by Whole Foods Markets (and it was heavenly). I bought 2 turkeys because the butcher explained that some people don’t like the game flavor or the darker meat of a Heritage Turkey (it’s awesome, but it cooks faster than a typical white-breasted turkey so I think folks over-cook it and maybe dry it out). I wanted to be certain that everyone was happy in an abbondanza sort of way — so it took 2 big turkeys to tango that day.
A family friend, Felix, sent over a gorgeous cooked holiday ham from his father (a retired chef who makes dozens of holiday hams for friends each year). Sister Christine baked Grandma Bessie’s Cheese puffs and hors d’ouevres and she brought 2 of her best pumpkin pies. My nephew’s girlfriend brought an amazing giant lemon cheesecake. And I cooked and baked and readied the house for the arrival of kids coming home from college.
Oh, and I also re-caulked the master shower in between prep of the banana bread, 4 dozen Russian Tea Cakes and the cranberry sauce because, well, it sprung a big leak just 12 hours before the event. Oye!
At about 2 a.m. on Christmas morning, my son, Michelangelo, helped me skin and roast 3 pounds of raw almonds to send home with dinner guests (that’s called “very fresh-roasted” in my book). The little jars may even have still been warm when we handed them out.
But it was worth every trial and tribulation because the family was joined together again (with a few sad exceptions) after a very difficult year with the loss of our darling mother. Granny Vi, as she was affectionately known, passed away in the summer and we’re still reeling from the loss. Just before dinner, a special actor and family friend, Janet Fontaine, recited a special Christmas letter written in the style of our mum. It was touching and great. And we were blessed to have a wonderful array of food and drink to enjoy together.
One of the dishes I prepared for Christmas was my country applesauce (nicknamed “gold”). I made a big batch using 3 pounds of Cripps Red and 3 pounds of Goldrush apples, slow-simmered with a little sugar and cinnamon.
Somehow we had a little applesauce left over — so this idea of how to put it to good use has been stirring since then. And, as we start to remove the ornaments from the tree, our little cup of gold is about to morph into a bright surprise tucked inside each sweet bun.
Alternative Sugar Exploration:
My friends have been urging me to explore alternative sugars so I tested this recipe with an option for organic coconut palm sugar. Although it may not really be a healthy substitute for refined sugar (it has the same calorie and carb count), I do like the taste of it. It doesn’t taste like coconut but more like a cross between brown sugar and dark molasses. It’s rusty-brown in fine grains and it feeds the yeast nicely (it dissolves in liquid) but it’s not very sweet. It has a tang of sweet but also a savory kick. If you use it for this recipe, top the bun with a good drizzle of honey for a cute little honey bun or just drizzle on the orange icing. Pros: unrefined (for the most part), vegan, non-GMO and made from pure coconut flower blossom nectar. Thank you, Andrew Wilder of Eating Rules, for encouraging me to explore unprocessed foods, or at least less-processed foods in my case.
The coconut sugar: Here’s what the coconut palm sugar looks like (the only difference in the recipe is to use 4 Tablespoons of it instead of using 3 Tablespoons of granulated sugar) and the dough will be much less sweet.
Okay! Let’s do this mini thing!
Make a List and Check it Twice:
Small Spray Bottle (for water spritzing of the dough to keep it moist during rise)
Danish-style dough whisk (for stirring initial dough in bowl)
Pastry Brush (for spreading softened butter on the rolled dough)
Mini muffin paper cups (a good quality brand with perfect release is Paper Chef)
Mini muffin pans (I used one with 12 mini cups and one with 24 mini cups)
Cooking spray (to baste the liners, just in case)
Optional: Bread Machine with a dough feature
And we’re off!
Mini Apple Cinnamon Roll Ingredients:
Note: I made 36 mini rolls plus a small loaf of bread with this recipe so, if you want to make all the dough into mini rolls, then double the filling and icing.
3 cups whole wheat flour, fine quality
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons sugar (substitute 4 Tablespoons coconut palm sugar for a much less sweet flavor)
2-1/2 teaspoons rapid rise yeast (or bread machine yeast)
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup warm water
In a large bowl, stir and fully incorporate all ingredients using a heavy wooden spoon or a bread whisking tool, being sure to moisten the flour, knead it into holding shape, then let it rest for about 30 minutes covered in a warm place (I cover the dough with a towel and placed it in a lighted, non-heated oven). This will soften up the dough a bit.
Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it is “baby-bottom smooth” and let it rise in a clean covered bowl in a warm spot for about 1 hour.
Bread Machine Option:
Place all the ingredients in the bread machine container and select the “dough” feature to produce an unbaked first-rise dough that is very soft and supple to the touch. Most bread machines take between 1 hour and 15 minutes to 1 hour and 45 minutes to complete the kneading and “first rise” tasks. I used my bread machine and it produced this pillow-soft dough.
Turn the kneaded and risen dough (for either hand or machine kneaded options) onto a lightly floured surface and form a rough square or circle. Cut the dough into 4 portions for easy handling. (I used 2 cut portions for 36 mini apple cinnamon rolls and I rolled the other 2 portions into a small bread loaf shape and made an interesting loaf of coconut palm sugar bread).
Rock n’ Roll it Out:
Roll one of the portions of dough on a lightly floured surface into the shape of a long rectangle, about 18″ long by about 7″ wide (or just eyeball it the length of your fingers to your elbow with the width measured by the size of your hand from your fingertips to your wrist).
Spread the Word of Goodness:
1 cup homemade applesauce (or fine quality chunky-style commercial applesauce)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 Tablespoon granulated sugar (substitute 2 Tablespoons coconut palm sugar for a less sweet taste)
1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (or melted room temperature)
Spread the filling ingredients over the rolled-out dough by spreading the butter with a pastry brush, sprinkling the cinnamon and sugar and dotting little bits of applesauce in little clumps, leaving a little dough bare at each edge.
This is How We Roll (and Slice):
Roll the dough over the filling into a long, skinny log and slice the roll into 1″ to 1-1/2″ disc circles and place them into the paper-lined mini muffin pans.
Tip: the knife cut presses the sliced disc closed a bit so place the cut side down inside the muffin cup and spread open the circular seam on top if necessary so that the dough blooms as it rises like little flowers opening their petals to the sun.
Once all the slices are placed into the muffin pans, they need to rise one more time uncovered in a warm spot for another hour. I recommend that you spray them lightly with water every 15 minutes to ensure the dough stays moist during the second rise.
As an alternative, you could do what I did and place the muffin pan loaded with dough rolls (lightly covered with wax paper) in the refrigerator overnight, then, in the morning place the pans on the counter to come back to room temperature. After they come back to room temperature, let them go through a second rise uncovered in a warm spot for up to 1-hour until they are doubled in size, spritzing them with a light mist of water every 15 minutes.
And here’s what they look like all puffed up and ready to bake.
Put them in a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees and bake then for approximately 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown.
In order to bake them on the center rack, I baked one in each of my double ovens.
At this point, it’s all about the cinnamon and apple aroma filling your home, calling to the kids and to your friends and neighbors.
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon heavy whipping cream (more or less for to achieve a pourable consistency)
1 teaspoon very finely grated fresh orange zest
Substitute honey for all of the above it you are going for a more natural style of cinnamon roll.
In a cup or small bowl, mix the powdered sugar with the heavy whipping cream until it becomes smooth and lump-free with a consistency of maple syrup. Zest the orange peel into the frosting and mix well. Drizzle over the tops of the rolls using a spoon or a fork.
Go ahead, try one! Going in for a bite!
Pop it into your mouth in one bite (or 2 bites if you’re being polite).
Or just do what I do and ogle it for a while, maybe photograph it before you taste.
I think these little buns make the perfect treat for kids and company (and selfie).
Coconut Sugar Bread:
While you were looking over the photos, I popped the loaf-shaped dough into the oven at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Out pops an interesting small loaf of bread. It is not sweet but has a flavor akin to a light and fluffy molasses bread. I’ll post the details this bread on our sister site, bakethisbread.com.
Next step for me, packing up a basketful of these little treasures for my food writer friends. Since it seems like everyone in L. A. likes their sweets micro size, I think they’ll like the petite size but I’m wondering if they’ll like the less sugar-sweet honey-topped version more than the real-deal sugar bun. I’m thinking of taking bets. ha!
Thank you for joining me on our little apple-cinnamon journey that included an experiment with new and different types of sugar. If you have experience with coconut sugar, let me know in the comments section. I’d like to play with it further to add to my newfound exploration into the evolving world of sugar.