Sweet Rolls for Mom

(originally published May 2002, in Co-options, the newsletter of Sevanada Natural Foods Cooperative in Atlanta, GA. http://www.sevananda.coop)

When I was a kid, I always liked the idea of making breakfast in bed for my mom, but I could never pull it off without waking her up. This month, we’ll learn how to make cinnamon rolls and sticky buns. Maybe you’ll actually be successful making breakfast in bed for someone you love. Remember – Mother’s Day is May 12th!

Whichever sweet rolls you choose to make, they will require a little time, but are actually very easy. They should be made with bread flour, which contains more gluten than all-purpose or pastry flour. The dough recipe calls for half white and half whole wheat flour, but you can make it with all white (unbleached) flour for really puffy, soft rolls if your conscience will allow you to! I am including directions for making the dough with a bread machine, a stand mixer, and a food processor. If, however, you don’t have a machine to do the work for you, you can still make wonderful yeast breads by hand. Many people consider this the only proper way to do it, and it’s just plain fun. No matter how you plan to mix and knead your dough, it’s good to understand how making yeast bread works.

Yeast are active creatures – tiny plants related to fungi. The word yeast comes from the Sanskrit word “yasati”, which means “to seethe” or “to boil.” When added to warm water (and especially when given some food), dried baker’s yeast will wake up and begin expelling carbon dioxide, causing the water to foam. (I hope it’s not belaboring the obvious to mention here that baking yeast, brewer’s yeast, and nutritional yeast are all very different critters. Only baking yeast will work to make bread.)

Yeast like warm water, but not too warm. The liquid you mix with the yeast to “proof” it (to check that it is still active and to get it started working) should be around 100˚ F. Splash some of the water you’re planning on using with your yeast onto your wrist. It should feel pleasantly warm, but not hot. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast. After mixing the yeast and water together with a bit of sweetener (unbleached sugar, maple syrup, etc. – yeast aren’t picky), let it sit for about 5 minutes. You should see some foaming by then. If not, toss it and get some fresh yeast. Yeast will keep for months tightly wrapped in a plastic or glass jar in your freezer. If you bake much at all, it is cheaper to buy yeast in bulk than those little individually wrapped envelopes. Check the Sevananda cooler (near the cheeses and dried coconut) for bags of bulk yeast.

When you knead the dough, keep it on a lightly floured board, but don’t rely on adding too much extra flour to keep it from sticking. The dough should remain fairly soft and supple. Adding too much flour will cause the rolls to be dry. Fold the dough over, press it down, turn it, fold it over again, press it down, etc. What you are doing here is helping two amino acids, gliadin and glutenin, to meet up and form silky sheets of gluten in the dough. When kneading, you can be fairly aggressive (hit, punch, take out your frustrations), but try to keep the outside of the dough surface smooth. This gluten “skin” will help to trap the little bubbles of carbon dioxide that the yeast “exhale” into the dough, and those in turn will cause it to rise. Knead the dough for 5 to 10 minutes. When the dough is properly kneaded, it will feel about the same consistency as your earlobe. You can also perform something called the “windowpane” or “membrane” test, which is described in the recipes below.

Let the dough rise in an oiled bowl covered with either a clean, damp tea towel or a piece of oiled plastic wrap. Let the dough double in size, which will take from 30 minutes to a little over one hour, depending on the temperature in your kitchen. You can tell that the dough has doubled when it passes the “finger-poke” test. See the recipes for a description of this test.

When the dough has risen sufficiently, press it flat and knead it a bit more. This is to bring the yeast back into contact with food (sugars) so they can exhale some more carbon dioxide bubbles into the dough and make it even lighter and airier.

If the dough sighs and collapses when you test it, it has over-proofed. It will have developed some stronger, more sourdough-like flavors, which might or might not be good. Next time, keep a closer eye on the dough. If you leave the dough for too long without deflating it, the yeast will actually suffocate and drown in their own wastes (carbon dioxide and minute amounts of alcohol). If this happens, your bread will not rise well the second time.

No matter which kind of sweet roll you are making, roll your dough out on an oiled (or sprayed) countertop or one of those nifty flexible cutting boards you can get at most kitchen supply stores. Roll or pat the dough out to a rectangle about 9 x 18. Sprinkle your fillings over the dough evenly, leaving a one-inch margin along the back long side (the side farthest away from you). Roll the dough up starting with the long side nearest you. Cut rolls into 16 even slices. Baker’s trick: To make even slices, cut long roll in half, then cut each half in half, then each quarter in half, then each eighth.

Cook’s Notes: When filling your sweet rolls, don’t go overboard. The best, most beautiful, and least messy cinnamon rolls are more bread than filling. Too much filling will cause the rolls to fall apart, so use a light hand. I like to fill them with just a heaping 1/2 cup of cinnamon sugar (1/2 cup unbleached sugar or Sucanat, 1 1/2 tablespoon cinnamon). If you are making standard cinnamon rolls, you may add finely chopped nuts or raisins (or both, or other dried fruit) at this point, but go easy. If you are making sticky buns, save the nuts and raisins for the topping.
Basic Vegan Sweet Roll Dough – Hand, Mixer, or Food Proccesor Version

Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett

2 teaspoons yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1 12.3 oz package soft Mori-Nu silken tofu
1/4 cup maple syrup Grade B
1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Hand mixing directions: 1) Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm (not hot) water. Let sit until it foams, about 5 minutes.

2) Puree tofu in blender or food processor until smooth. Add maple syrup to mixture. Stir in dissolved yeast and water.

3) In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients except for yeast. Stir in liquid ingredients. Knead in bowl for 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Add a bit more flour or water if necessary. Properly kneaded dough will feel like your earlobe and will pass the “windowpane” test – see notes.

4) Place dough in oiled bowl, then turn it oiled-side up. Let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 1 hour). Dough is ready to roll out when the mark from a finger inserted 1 inch in the dough remains when you remove your finger.

Mixer Directions: Same as above, but mix using paddle for 3 minutes, then switch to bread hook. Knead dough with hook for 3-4 minutes, until it passes windowpane test (see notes below). Proceed as above.

Food Processor Directions: Follow your machine’s instructions for mixing/kneading yeast dough, being careful not to overwork the dough (it can overheat quickly and kill the yeast). Otherwise, follow steps as above.
Basic Vegan Sweet Roll Dough-Bread Machine Version
Recipe By: Lisa T. Bennett

1 12.3 oz package soft silken Mori-Nu tofu,
1/2 cup maple syrup Grade B
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole wheat bread flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
2 teaspoons yeast

Bread Machine directions – add to machine in order above. Machine will puree tofu during mixing. Bake on basic cycle for a mildly sweet loaf, or use dough cycle to make shaped rolls. If you wish to add other ingredients (raisins, nuts, etc.), do so when prompted by your machine or check manufacturer’s directions.

Check consistency of dough after first kneading. You might need to add up to 1/2 cup extra flour. Dough should form a coherent lump, not a ragged and sticky mass. Add flour slowly, a bit at a time, until dough comes together.

To make cinnamon rolls or other shaped items, remove dough from machine after it rises once. Roll dough out to make cinnamon rolls, or stollen, or any other sweet breads or rolls you desire.

Notes: The “windowpane” or “membrane” test: Remove a small bit of dough from the side of your dough lump. Try stretching it out until you have a transparent spot in the center of the stretched dough. If the dough will not stretch enough to become transparent without breaking, then it needs more kneading time.

Basic Cinnamon Buns from One Batch of Basic Vegan Sweet Roll Dough:
See directions above for rolling out, filling, and cutting rolls. Place rolls, cut side down, onto a sprayed sheet or jelly-roll pan. Leave about 1/4 to 1/2 inch between them. Spray tops lightly with pan spray. Cover loosely with plastic or a damp towel. Let them rise until doubled in size (about 30-45 minutes in warm weather, up to 90 minutes in cool). You may refrigerate the rolls at this point for up to 2 days, pulling them out 3-4 hours before you wish to bake them. Bake at 350˚ F on the center rack of the oven for 20-30 minutes, or until they are golden brown.

Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes, then glaze with Fondant glaze if you wish.

White Fondant Drizzle for Cinnamon Buns
Sift 4 cups (about one pound) of unbleached powdered sugar into a bowl. Add 1 teaspoon lemon, orange, or vanilla flavor and 6 tablespoons to 1/2 cup warm soymilk (full fat). Add only as much soymilk as you need to make a thick, pourable icing. Drizzle onto cinnamon rolls, and cool for another 20 minutes before serving.

Sticky Buns with Caramel Topping from One Batch of Basic Vegan Sweet Roll Dough:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 1 cup of Sucanat, 1 stick unsalted soy margarine, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cream together for 2 minutes on high speed. Add 1/2 cup brown rice syrup and 1 teaspoon lemon, orange, or vanilla extract. Continue to cream for about 5 minutes, or until light and fluffy.

Spread this mixture 1/4 inch thick into the bottom of your baking pan(s). The pans should be at least 2 inches deep. Sprinkle in nuts and raisins now if you wish, but go easy. Place cinnamon rolls cut side down into the pan(s) (see cinnamon roll recipe for panning and rising directions). After rising, bake at 350˚ F on the bottom rack of the oven for 35-40 minutes, or until the rolls look and feel cooked through. Remember that the heat has to go through the pan and the layer of caramel to cook them, so they take longer than the undressed Cinnamon Rolls. When the sticky buns are finished, remove from oven and cool on rack for 5-10 minutes. Flip them out onto a serving tray and spread any glaze that remains in pan back onto rolls. Let them cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Either of these rolls can be frozen and reheated (briefly) in the microwave to restore them to nearly “fresh-baked” status.