Growing up, cinnamon rolls were never really a thing I ate.
It was always my mom's cinnamon bread. Two huge loaves would emerge from the oven, oozing with hot cinnamon sugar on the inside. The best spot is the lower right corner which is both chewy and gooey from housing all of that sugar. The second best spot is the middle, for obvious reasons.
In my sophomore year of college I started my own bread making adventures. First, it was some basic sandwich rolls. If I remember correctly, they were kind of lumpy but I considered them to be a success. Then, I graduated to making sweet breads. But, I never went all the way to make cinnamon bread. I always end up making cinnamon rolls or monkey bread because it's easier to handle smaller chunks of bread rather that two large loaves. It's also a sacred thing that my mom makes.
Now I'll eat cinnamon rolls but not some sugar-coated monster from Cinnabon. They must be deliciously soft and not too skimpy on the sugar and cinnamon. Frosting is optional but it does add a nice touch. And they're double the fun to make, especially in a Christmas tree shape, though mine turned out to be a fat Douglas Fir-looking thing.
I think I'm more obsessed with the swirls than the actual tree shape.
They're just too beautiful.
Winter time in California is the best time to make bread. It's cold but not freezing so the bread can rise slowly. Plus, it's an excuse to turn on your oven. Like my Chocolate Swirly Princess Leia Buns, this bread is also a sweet dough with sugar, milk and eggs. And it is also very soft when stirring and kneading. You want to see the layers in the dough as it rises. That's how you know you'll get lovely soft layers in your cinnamon rolls when it comes out of the oven.
You also want more cinnamon sugar mixture than you think. Don't worry if it falls out when you cut it into the rolls, just sprinkle it back on top.
This Cinnamon Roll Christmas Tree also makes a great Christmas breakfast. It can be cut and assembled the night before. Pop it in the fridge for the second rise and remove it at least 2 hours before baking. (i.e. while you're opening presents and going gaga at what Santa brought).
Alternatively, place the dough in the fridge after kneading. Remove it at least 2 hours before assembly time.
Dreamin' of more soft, fluffy cinnamon rolls for Christmas.
Cinnamon Roll Christmas Tree
Slightly adapted from the Christmas Tree Bread in Mary's Bread Basket and Soup Kettle
Yields: One 18 roll tree
2¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
¼ cup water
½ cup warm milk
¼ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup melted butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3-4 cups flour
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons white sugar
Proof yeast in a small bowl or measuring cup with the warm water, about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, blend the milk, eggs, butter, sugar and nutmeg until well combined. Add the yeast and 1½ cups of flour. Stir until smooth.
Continue to add flour until a soft, workable dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl is formed.
Turn out on a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10-15 minutes.
Place in a greased bowl, and cover to let rise for about 1½ - 2 hours. (At this point, you can also put the dough in the fridge to rise overnight. Remove from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before shaping, about 2 hours.)
Punch down the dough and knead lightly. Cover and let rest for 15 minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter and mix together the cinnamon, nutmeg, and both sugars in a small bowl. Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.
Roll out the dough into a rectangle approximately 18" x 12". Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with the sugar leaving about ½-inch around the edge.
Roll inwards, using the long side and pinch the ends together. Turn your cinnamon roll log over so the seam-side is down. With a sharp knife, cut into 18 1-inch thick pieces. Arrange the cinnamon rolls in a Christmas Tree pattern, leaving space in between each of the rolls. The row order is 1-2-3-4-5-2-1.
Cover and let proof for about 45 minutes - 1 hour or until doubled in size. (At this point, you can also put the dough in the fridge to rise overnight. Remove from the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature before baking, about 2 hours.)
Bake in a 350ºF oven for 18-20 minutes or until the top is golden brown. In the meantime, assemble the frosting. Add enough water to create a frosting to the desired consistency.
Drizzle the frosting over the hot Cinnamon Roll Tree.