My great-grandmother's recipe for melt-in-your mouth orange sweet rolls with hints of cinnamon and cardamom.
Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, this is the time of year we celebrate the circles of family, friendship, and community. We revisit childhood memories and Christmases passed, and create new ones to treasure. We exchange gifts with people close to us, to thank them for being in our lives and contributing to who we are, and who we are becoming.
For that reason, I like to reach back in time to make traditional dishes that have stood the test of time. Like this Boston Brown Bread Recipe, which dates back to the early 1800's and was steamed in cans. I've updated it to bake it in a Steamed Pudding Mold. And cinnamon rolls have been a favorite for a very long time. And these soft tangzhong cinnamon rolls are the softest ones I've ever made, thanks to the tangzhong method.
A few generations ago, my family all lived in Alabama, a comfortable distance from each other so they could be a part of everyone's everyday life. I think that's true for most of our families - things weren't so mobile then. Living near each other, it was easy to create and hold family traditions close, and pass them onto the next generation; and I imagine it was important to all of them, particularly this time of year. Today with everyone scattered across the country, it can be easy to lose track of these touchstones in our lives, but I would argue the distance makes them even more important as a way to connect us to each other and to our family heritage. And for me, that begins with food.
My great-grandmother, Mamma, was known for hosting lots of family holidays and reunions at her home. I first had these little orange rolls at one of her family brunches, and they remain to this day one of my earliest food memories. I was in her kitchen, and must have been young, because I can remember having to look up at the kitchen counter. People were bustling all around me, and I wasn't sure where to stand so I could be out of the way, but still part of the love being passed around. Someone, one of my relatives, crouched down to offer me one of these soft little rolls still warm from the oven. The drizzle was sticky and a little messy, and I remember being not so sure about that. But their aroma and softness convinced me to try them, and as they melted in my mouth, my world was transformed. I'm sure my mom eventually got me into the dining room and maybe got something else into my tummy besides these orange rolls, but I have no memory of any of that. I only remember standing in Mamma's kitchen eating these rolls, and being amazed that something could taste this good.
I confess I don't make these tender morsels every year, and don't honestly know if Mamma did either, but I find myself yearning for more tradition in my life, a deeper connection to my family, and have decided that making these sweet-roll puffs over the holidays will be our newest family tradition to pass onto future generations with love.
A few baking notes:
- If you've never made bread before, and have a Kitchen Aid or other standing mixer that came with a dough hook, this is a great, easy recipe to experiment with. There's next to no kneading by hand, and sits overnight in the refrigerator for its first rise.
- This is considered a sweet yeasted dough, and can be sticky if you're kneading by hand. If I'm not using a dough hook, I need to use more flour to make it manageable, which will change the texture slightly.
- My best success for light texture in these rolls have come from kneading the dough with the hook for 15 minutes. It's very smooth and silky by then.
- You may not see a large rise of the dough as it comes out of the refrigerator, but trust me, this will be a light, airy sweet roll. The slow overnight rise builds a lot of great flavor into the rolls.
- As an alternative, depending on your schedule you can opt for the first rise in a warm draft-free area of your kitchen, shape the rolls, place them in a baking dish, and then move them into the refrigerator for an overnight rise for the second rise. If you don't bring them to room temp before baking off, your baking time will be a little longer than that suggested in the recipe.
- On a cold winter morning, I do the second rise in my microwave oven. I first heat up a cup of water to boiling in the microwave, put it to the side, slide the dish with the rolls in, and close the door. The hot water will keep the interior of the microwave slightly warm for the yeast to expand and grow. If you decide to put them in a warm oven, make sure it's not too warm or the butter filling will melt and pool around the rolls, which can hinder how much they rise.
Mamma's Orange Refrigerator Rolls
Orange Refrigerator Rolls
- ½ cup water
- ¼ cup butter ½ stick
- ¼ coconut oil the original recipe calls for shortening
- 3 ounces sugar
- ¾ teaspoons salt
- 1 packages dry yeast
- ½ cup warm water 105 - 110 degrees F
- 1 large egg slightly beaten
- 3 cups 13.5 ounces all-purpose flour
Cinnamon - Orange Filling
- 6-8 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoon orange zest
- ⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/16 teaspoon ground cardamom
Orange Glaze (Optional)
- 1 cups confectioners sugar
- 2 ½ tablespoons orange juice
- 1 tablespoon crème fraîche
Refrigerator Rolls and Assembly
- Bring ½ cup of water to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat, add the butter and coconut oil, and stir until melted. Add the sugar and salt, and continue to stir until the sugar dissolves. Cool to lukewarm.
- Pour the warmed ½ cup water into a large bowl, sprinkle the yeast over it, and stir to dissolve. Allow to sit until the yeast begins to expand and billow. Add the butter / sugar mixture and stir to mix.
- Add 3 cups flour or enough to make a thick dough and mix thoroughly. In my great grandmother's day, this likely meant a lot of kneading. For me, I put everything into the bowl of my Kitchen Aid, fitted it with the hook attachment and let it knead the dough for 15 minutes on the lowest speed, until the dough is silky and stretchy. The best way to check the stretchiness (glutenous) of this dough is to dig the hook in and pull a piece of dough up. If it quickly tears, keep kneading.
- Cover and put in the refrigerator overnight.
- About 2 - 2 ½ hours before serving the rolls, turn the dough out onto a floured workspace, divide in half and roll out each portion into a 12" X 8" rectangle.
- Spread the Cinnamon Orange Filling (recipe below) on the dough, dividing it between the two rectangles. Roll up each rectangle like a jelly roll and slice into 18 equal slices for small rolls, or into 12 slices for larger rolls
- Place the rolls in 3 greased 8" or 9" square baking pans. Let rolls rise for 1 ½ hours.
- Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the rolls for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Drizzle the Orange Glaze over the warm rolls and serve.
- Combine the sugar and orange zest in a bowl, and rub between your fingers until the sugar has absorbed all the zest. It will be damp. Add the spices and rub into the sugar mixture.
- Place the softened butter and the sugar mixture in the bowl of a mixer and beat together until it's completely mixed.
- Spread on the rolled out dough rectangles using a knife.
Orange Glaze (Optional)
- Mix together the confectioners sugar and orange juice until the sugar liquifies. Mix in the crème fraîche.
- Drizzle over warm rolls fresh from the oven.