I was all prepared to blog about homemade cinnamon rolls, using a recipe from one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, The Breakfast Book by Marion Cunningham. I had high expectations, but something went wrong: The rolls were not as puffy as they should have been, and they turned out dry and over-browned (not quite burnt, but very close). Since every recipe I have made from this book has been incredible, I can only imagine that it was something I did (or didn't do). When good recipes go bad, you can learn a lot from investigating what went wrong. Learning from your mistakes can make you a better baker, but only IF you can solve the mystery of what happened.
It started out fine - I made the dough the night before and let it rise slowly in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, I rolled the dough out, brushed it with butter and sprinkled it with cinnamon sugar. So far, so good.
Then, I rolled the dough into a long log:
Then, I cut the dough into several sections:
Next, I put the pinwheel pieces into muffin tins. I covered them and allowed them to rise a second time (for about an hour):
Here is where things went wrong.
1) Looking back, I should have chosen a different pan. This muffin tin has a dark, non-stick coating. I usually shun these pans altogether since they cause things to brown too quickly. I never use them for cakes, but I wasn't thinking about how it would affect cinnamon rolls. Hey, it was early and I hadn't had my coffee yet, so I had a serious lapse in baking judgement.
2) If you must use a dark non-stick pan for ANY type of baking, lower your oven temp by 25 degrees. If all you have is one of these pans, don't worry, just lower your oven temp and watch them carefully. I forgot to set the oven for 325 instead of 350 - this small adjustment could have saved my poor rolls.
3) I would actually try not using a muffin pan at all next time. Although the recipe calls for baking them in individual muffin tins, I think I would prefer baking the rolls close together in a cake pan, so that they all bake together and stay soft on the outer edges.
4) Don't rush it - These rolls were not as puffy as they should have been because I rushed the second rising time. After an hour they didn't seem to have fully risen, but I baked them anyway because at this point it was late morning and everyone was starving. You just can't rush anything with yeast, it won't be light and soft.
5) I should have listened to my nose. I could smell the wonderful smell of "doneness" but told myself it was way too early for them to be done. The recipe said 20-25 minutes, and I had set my timer to check them at 19. But they started to smell done at 15, because I cooked them in a dark pan without lowering the temperature, they were done much more quickly. By the time I checked on them at 19 minutes, they were overbrowned and dry.
My family still ate them, and I learned a good lesson, so it wasn't a complete disaster. But it is SO disappointing to start a recipe the night before and baby it along, only to have it fail. The upside is that I used the leftover scraps to form a braided cinnamon bread, which turned out great!