No-Knead Sourdough Partial-Wheat Orange & Vanilla Glazed Cinnamon Rolls

These cinnamon rolls are a mouth-full in more ways than one (ba-dum-ch)! Alright, alright—kidding aside—cinnamon rolls have long been one of my favorite cooking projects. For years, I was loyal to Ree Drummond’s recipe, but that’s all in the past after I succeeded in my version of unbelievably soft buns (seriously, how can something that’s sourdough and half-wheat be this delightfully squishy?). My recipe is a heavily modified combo of Basically’s Cinnamon-Date Sticky Buns and King Arthur’s Sourdough Cinnamon Buns.

If you’re like me, the first thing you’re wondering before you even consider baking: “yeah but like… how long is it going to take?” Well, here’s my approximate breakdown: this recipe takes about 30 minutes of initial active time + 2 hours of mostly-passive time + 6 to 24 hours of totally passive time, then a short burst of around 20 more minutes active time before baking. I can’t tell you how long it will take you to gather ingredients in your own kitchen, find your rolling pin/wine bottle, etc. but it’s probably going to be around an hour of actual work (I promise, it’s v worth it) and minimum 10 total hours between start and finish. My recommendation: Make this in the afternoon, chill overnight, then finish it in the morning for breakfast. Perfect for when you have overnight guests or for holiday mornings.

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls with Orange Vanilla Glaze

Recipe Inspiration: Basically’s Cinnamon-Date Sticky Buns
Makes 8 cinnamon rolls

Ingredients

Dough

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • 6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 100 grams sourdough discard*
  • 50 grams brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 200 grams all-purpose flour
  • 150 grams whole wheat flour

Filling

  • 6 Tbsp. butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon

Glaze**

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. orange juice (or milk, for a milder flavor)
  • 1 Tbsp. orange zest (from about 1/2 of the orange)
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or 1/4 tsp. vanilla bean paste

Preparation

Dough

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine buttermilk, vegetable oil, sourdough starter, brown sugar, egg, yeast, salt, and baking soda. Mix on medium speed with the bread hook until relatively homogeneous, about 1 minute (break up remaining clumps of brown sugar/yeast/starter with your fingers if needed).
  2. Add flours and mix on medium speed until fully combined into a tacky dough, about 2 minutes. Alternatively, mix by hand or with a wooden spoon in a large bowl until well combined.
  3. Scrape bowl to incorporate any tough bits of dough stuck to the side into the main dough mass. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or a lightly damp clean kitchen towel.
  4. Let dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. After the half-hour, fold it several times over itself in the bowl. If you’ve never done this before—don’t overthink it. We aren’t really “kneading” here. Just imagine that you’re bringing all the dough that’s sitting at the bottom of the bowl to the top, in 6 or so big stretchy folds. Repeat resting-and-folding process 3 more times, resulting in a total of 2 resting hours and 4 folding sessions. The dough will magically become less sticky and more elastic with each folding round (this is because the wheat flour fully hydrates and the gluten develops).
  5. Chill dough in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 6 hours but up to 1 day.

Filling

  1. Mix softened butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon together until combined. Set aside until ready to use.
  2. Turn chilled dough out onto a lightly oiled surface and roll into a 16×12-inch rectangle (if necessary, lightly oil your rolling pin to avoid the dough sticking).
  3. Spread cinnamon butter evenly over the whole rectangle, then roll it tightly into a 16-inch log.
  4. Slice log into 8 rolls and place them into a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or 13×9 pan. You can also use basically any other medium/large baking dish. The rolls will almost double while baking, so use whatever will give them an inch or so of space on all sides. Cover pan and let rise until rolls look and feel puffed, about 30 minutes (they will not rise much in this time).
  5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once preheated, bake rolls until deeply golden brown on top, about 25 to 35 minutes.

Glaze**

  1. Combine powdered sugar, orange juice or milk, orange zest, and vanilla to create an icing.
  2. Let cinnamon rolls cool for 10 to 15 minutes, then pour glaze evenly over cinnamon rolls. The rolls are best when enjoyed warm and fresh. Store leftovers covered tightly at room temperature, and warm before serving.

Notes

  • *I keep my sourdough starter at around 100% hydration, so adjust your liquid/flour minimally as needed for a starter that resembles thick pancake batter.
  • **I like the childhood nostalgia of an orangey Pillsbury pop-canister cinnamon roll, but you have options with your icing. For a classic vanilla glaze, omit the zest and use milk. For maple icing (my second fave), use milk and substitute 1/4 tsp. maple extract for zest. For coffee icing, use coffee or espresso instead of juice/milk and omit zest.

No-Knead Bread: An Exercise in Patience

I discovered magic last weekend. Okay, maybe not “magic” so much as the otherworldly combination of flour, water, yeast, and salt that is Mark Bittman’s No-Knead Bread. And maybe “discovered” isn’t quite right either. I’ve made this recipe before—I think it was in 2016. I vaguely remember liking it. It stuck around as a half-remembered Sunday cooking project, filed away in the maybe-I’ll-try-it-again-sometime drawer.

See, I didn’t know what I had happened upon that first time. This recipe requires a little, well, discipline. It took me a long time to come back to because it takes about 12 to 18 hours just for its first rise.

What person is on that kind of schedule?! 8 (or even 10) hours? Sure! I’ll make it in the morning and bake it in time for dinner. But 12 to 18 hours? I’ve done that math, and unless you’re an insomniac, that kind of resting period means you’ve gotta plan for this bread the day ahead. I don’t know about you, but on the weekends, I’m not trying to have that kind responsibility.

Or at least, that’s how I’ve always felt. When I made this bread the first time, I definitely did not give it its alone time. I figured, 6 hours is enough, right? I was younger then—impatient. But after seeing a miracle happen in my cast iron last weekend, I did a little research. Here’s why it’s important to let your bread dough have a good, long think:

  • Structure. With the long resting period, the formation of gas from the yeast and the movement of the resulting bubbles around the wet dough is what is essentially doing the “kneading” that you were being spared from. Score!
  • Flavor. You know why sourdough is so delicious? All those yeasty, malty, and yeah, sour flavors that develop from yeast that’s been doing it’s own thing (for a long while). When yeast is allowed to ferment at a slow rate for a long time. The easiest way to accomplish this is at cool temps. Which leads me to…

What changes I made to the recipe. I combined the 3 cups flour, 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast, and about 1 1/2 cups water (plus a tablespoon or two more when it looked a bit dry), just until a dough formed. I covered the bowl with a towel and gave it 10-ish hours at room temp. I made the dough around 8 a.m. though, and there was no way I was going to meet the deadline. I stuck that situation in the fridge overnight, and it worked out perfectly. Plus, I had fresh baked bread in the morning, so I basically killed it on all fronts.

After it’s cold-stint, I gently formed the dough into a ball and layed it, seam-side down, on a piece of plastic wrap sprinkled generously with cornmeal (I should’ve used the clean towel the recipe suggested). It took about 2 hours or so for the dough to come back up to room temperature and rise to the stage where it wasn’t readily springing back when (gently) poked.

At that point, I stuck the cast iron in the oven and preheated to 450°. The cast iron got 25 minutes to fully preheat, at which point I pulled it, added a drizzle of veg oil, and tried to gracefully flip the dough onto the skillet. The dough hit the skillet in a lopsided lump, but that didn’t stop either of us. After baking covered for 30 minutes and uncovered for 20 more minutes, it was a beautifully golden brown, only slightly lopsided, boule.

Fluffy slices of bread sitting on a wooden cutting board.

It was still slightly warm in the middle when I couldn’t wait any longer. I sliced into it to find a shatteringly crisp crust, a light and airy middle, and perfect crumb. It was delicious on its own, but spread with a thick smather of butter and strawberry jam—it was absolute heaven.

So… I’m not going to be postponing another year before I make this again. I can barely hold off a week. I can’t wait to try again, and take some of Kenji Lopez-Alt’s advice about an even longer bulk proof and better salting. Next time, I’ll add more water to start instead of struggling to incorporate more into a dry dough, use a clean tea towel (as recommended), and I’m definitely going to make a double/triple batch. I need this bread at the ready for me to bring to every dinner party, to give as gifts to everyone I know, and for every breakfast toast and mid-afternoon snack. It’s more responsibility than a single-day Sunday project, but I think I’m ready for the commitment.

9/27/19 UPDATE:

I have indeed made no-knead bread many, many times since writing this a few months ago. I’ve added different seeds and herbs, messed with the method, and even tried a gluten-free version (admittedly, not great). I made the Serious Eats version, but didn’t prefer it over the classic NYT/Mark Bittman recipe.

It’s become a nearly-every weekend project for eating at home and giving as casual gifts. While I do still chill it for a night or day in the fridge if something comes up, I usually just make the dough around 2pm, shape it the next morning, and bake it when it looks sufficiently puffed.

My biggest tip: after the dough’s first bulk rise, I’ve found that the easiest, best thing to do is to shape the boule, put it on some floured parchment paper, and set it back in the wiped-out proofing bowl. This helps the dough to get a higher vertical rise, since it’s not spreading on the counter horizontally as well. Then, just use the parchment sling to transfer the dough and set it directly into the hot Dutch oven, put the lid on, and bake. You’re welcome.