It’s my favorite season, in spite of the days getting shorter. In spite of, or maybe because of, the growing sense that each perfectly crystalline, sunny day is an inexorable step toward the gray and brown world of November.
But what a way to go. The colors, smells, and foods of autumn are filled with the accumulated sweetness and energy of summer’s sunlight. Breathing in, you can almost feel the universe humming as it vibrates through your being.
Eating local, seasonal food is a way to take in all that energy and make it your own. Here in Vermont, the many glories of fall appear on the table in the form of squashes, green tomatoes, chard and leeks, and potatoes. And apples. Glorious handfuls of sweet/tart goodness in the full range of colors from russet brown to yellow, green, and every shade of vermillion. Antique varieties, favorite standbys, new crosses, all gleaming and at their very peak. It’s almost daunting, trying to come up with enough ways to celebrate and cook with them while they’re so fresh and wonderful.
There’s pie, of course. I’ve made hundreds of pies. Pies in front of audiences of hundreds at a time. Pies for parties, weddings, demonstrations of all sorts. I’ve made a DVD of every kind of pie crust imaginable that also included tips on rendering lard in a crock pot. People have paid actual money for it; I occasionally still get fan mail. You and I will talk pie, and soon, but today’s thought has to do with cinnamon rolls.
I want to share my favorite sweet roll dough with you. It’s tender and light; sour cream is the key ingredient. I found it during the course of my day job duties, while exploring a Farm Journal Cookbook. I’ve been using this dough ever since, combining it with any number of fillings and glazes.
For fall I’m reaching for beautiful fresh apples, mixed with cinnamon, of course. The other ingredient that makes this recipe exceptional is boiled cider. It’s a very New England sort of ingredient.
In days gone by, cider was a near-universal drink, more common on tables than water or beer. Apple scions came over with the first settlers and spread across the new land as fast as they did. Preserving the apple crop was important, and hard cider was one of the ways that happened, in addition to root cellar storage and drying sliced apples in the rafters. Even the maple sugaring pan was put to use; fresh cider was cooked to down to 20% of its original volume, to a syrupy consistency.
Boiled cider is the bright, intensely concentrated flavor of pure apples in a bottle, and if you haven’t tried it, you’re in for a rare treat. A few tablespoons in anything apple turbocharges the flavor in a way that is purely eye-opening. There are hundreds of other ways to use it in the kitchen: marinades, salad dressings, glazes, …. I’ve written about some of them here.
For these rolls, there’s a splash of boiled cider in the apple-cinnamon filling, and the glaze is made with it, too. These tender spirals of dough carry all the glorious apple flavor of fall, inside and out. Let’s bake them together.
Boiled Cider Sweet Rolls
Cooking the grated apples releases and concentrates their juices; a little flour mixed with the cinnamon and sugar helps stabilize the filing and keep it intact as the rolls bake.
Some other tips for this recipe:
-using sour cream right from the fridge will slow this dough down considerably. It’s worth the time to heat it for a minute at half power in the microwave before mixing.
-after the first rise, just dump the dough on the counter and pat it into shape; this is the point when dough is most willing to go where you’d like it to. If you feel you just have to knead it a bit, cover and let it rest for 10 minutes so it can relax before you roll it out.
-cutting the dough with dental floss will give you the best looking spiral possible; cutting with a knife presses the soft dough down and squishes the rolls. If you only have a knife to use, make it a sharp one and try to cut by drawing it back and forth through the dough; press as lightly as you can while you do so.
1 cup (8 ounces, 227g) sour cream
2 tablespoons (1 ounce, 28g) unsalted butter, soft
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces, 99g) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons instant or active dry yeast
1/4 cup (2 ounces, 57g) lukewarm water
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups (17 ounces, 482g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/4 cup (2 ounces, 57g) unsalted butter
4 cups (about 1 pound before peeling, 2 medium) tart cooking apples, peeled and coarsely grated
2 tablespoons (1 1/4 ounces, 35g) boiled cider
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (5 5/8 ounces, 161g) brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
¼ cup (1 ounce, 28g) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
Boiled Cider Glaze
1 cup (4 ounces, g) confectioners’ sugar, whisked through a strainer
1 tablespoon boiled cider
1 tablespoon milk or heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the dough: Combine all of the dough ingredients in the order listed a large mixing bowl, holding the last cup of flour in reserve. Mix and combine until you have a soft, smooth dough, adding half of the reserved cup of flour if needed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (use the last 1/2 cup of flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking), and knead for 5 minutes. Scrape out the mixing bowl, grease it, and return the dough to the bowl. Cover and let rise for 1 hour, until doubled.
You can also combine all of the dough ingredients in the pan of your bread machine set on the dough cycle. If you’re using a bread machine, there’s no need to warm up the sour cream. The machine will keep the dough at just the right temperature throughout its cycle.
For the filling: While the dough is rising, melt the butter in a large skillet. Add the apples and salt, and cook over medium heat for 6 to 8minutes, until the apples soften, release their juice, and most of the juice cooks away.
Add the boiled cider and stir in. Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, and flour and sprinkle over the apples. Stir until the apples are coated. Cook for 1 more minute, until the mixture thickens. Remove the pan from the heat and cool to room temperature.
Turn the risen dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat it into a rectangle shape. Roll the dough out to an 18” x 10” rectangle
Spread the filling over the dough, leaving 1/2” uncovered along both long edges.
Roll up the dough from the long edge toward you; pinch the seam closed.
With the seam side down, mark the roll into 12 equal pieces. Take a 12” piece of unflavor dental floss and run it under the log. Cross the ends over the top at one of the marks, then pull each end so that the floss cuts through the dough. Repeat until 12 rolls are cut. A sharp knife will also do, but the spiral won’t come out looking quite as sexy and defined.
Place the rolls, cut side up, in a greased 9” x 13” pan. If you have a photo opp planned for these guys, line the pan with parchment that hangs over the long sides of the pan and grease the parchment. Cover the pan with greased plastic and let rise for 45 minutes. 20 minutes into the rise time, preheat the oven to 375°F.
When the rolls are puffy-looking but not quite doubled, remove the plastic and bake for
25 to 30 minutes, until golden brown
Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a rack.
For the glaze: Mix all of the ingredients together until smooth; drizzle or spread the glaze over the cooled rolls.
Get 'em ever so slightly warm, if you can!