I call these rolls “cheater” because I use yeast in them. They’re made with my sourdough discard, left from feeding my starters three times in a 12 hour period before I use the starter to make bread. Each time you feed a starter, you’re supposed to discard half of the mixture from the previous feeding, so your starter can consume the flour easily and get happy and strong and bubbly.
That’s how starter needs to be before making bread, but for these rolls, you can put your discard in a covered bowl and leave it overnight without feeding, if you wish, before you start the cinnamon roll dough. That’s because of the addition of instant yeast, and that’s the cheat. I dump my white, whole wheat, and seven grain starter discard together, and that’s what I use to make my cinnamon rolls and other discard goodies.
Instant yeast is great. I buy it in bulk at Winco. For those like me who grew up with the little red-and-yellow packets of regular yeast that you were supposed to activate in warm water or milk with a little sugar, to make sure it was bubbly before you started making dough with it, instant yeast is like magic. You don’t have to add it to warm liquid. You don’t even have to add it to liquid first. So this recipe is easy, fast, and still has the sourdough taste from the starter without the wait. (Sourdough typically takes 8-12 hours to double.)
The other nice thing about this recipe is that you can play not only fast with it, but loose. I have used 3 cups of sourdough discard, pretty much the same amount of the other ingredients, and have just added enough flour to get a workable, kneadable dough, however much flour that turns out to be. I ended up with about 30 cinnamon rolls that time. But usually, I have about 2 cups of starter discard left, so these are the approximate amounts I use. I’ve been winging it for several batches now, but the last two times, I thought I’d measure so I could write up a recipe. They always turn out tasty no matter what I do.
Cheater Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
2 cups of sourdough starter discard (it doesn’t have to be freshly fed)
2 teaspoons of instant yeast
½ cup milk (I use milk kefir because I’m lactose-intolerant)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup softened butter or butter substitute (I use MELT because I’m lactose intolerant)
1 teaspoon salt
Beat all these ingredients together in a mixing bowl until well combined. (I use my stand mixer with the dough hook.)
Add approximately 3 to 3 ½ cups flour, ½ cup at a time. When you can’t use a hand mixer any more, use your hands to work in the flour, or use your stand mixer with the dough hook to work the flour in until you have a dough that just cleans the bowl. I then use my stand mixer to knead the dough on medium speed for about 5 minutes. After that, I hand-knead on a lightly-floured board, adding more flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about another 5 minutes. If you’re doing it all by hand, you’ll be mixing and kneading for about 10 minutes. (This is too much for my arthritic hands, so my stand mixer has been a Godsend.) Shape the dough into a round ball.
Now, just a little dough lesson here. Press your fingertip into the dough ball. (Use your knuckle if you have long fingernails.) Your finger should leave an indentation for a moment, but the dough should spring back and the dent should disappear. That’s the quality of elasticity you want, and it tells you your dough has been kneaded sufficiently to develop the gluten that holds breads together. Take note of this for later, because you’ll want to see just the reverse after the first proof.
Lightly oil a bowl or lidded container with a bit of mild-flavored oil, and place dough ball inside, turning to coat the top with the oil. (I use a square, plastic container with an airtight lid. I like the shape because when I turn the dough out to roll it, it’s closer to the rectangular shape I want.)
Cover the dough with a tight-fitting lid or plastic wrap or shower cap and place in a warm spot to double. With instant yeast, the dough will double in size in about 1 ½ hours.
(See, cheater! Regular sourdough would take at least 8 hours, maybe longer. I’m willing to wait for bread, but I want the cinnamon rolls done before the grandkids get home from school!)
While the dough is rising, prepare ingredients for filling; prepare your pan/s.
Ingredients for filling:
Soften ¼-1/3 cup butter or butter substitute (how much butter you use is up to you, and also depends on how much dough you have.)
Mix approximately ½ cup sugar with 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon (again, it depends on personal taste and how much dough you have. You might need more cinnamon sugar if you have a big batch of dough.)
Grease a 9×13 inch pan with butter, shortening, or cooking spray. (I use the paper that was wrapped around my MELT butter substitute and a little baking oil if necessary.)
When the dough looks like it’s doubled, press your fingertip or knuckle lightly into the center of the dough mass. Unlike the last time, your finger should leave an indentation in the dough. The dough should not spring back into shape.
That tells you the dough has risen enough to go on to shaping your rolls. (If the dough is still springy, leave it to rise longer but check about every 15 minutes.) If the dough is ready, press the dough back lightly into the container with your knuckles and turn/scrape out onto a floured board. How much flour you need depends on how sticky your dough is. You’ll be able to tell when you press down the dough if it is sticky or not. Never use more flour on your board than necessary to keep the dough from sticking at this stage. (Sourdough doughs tend to be sticky. How sticky your dough is depends largely on the qualities of your particular starter. )
Pull and stretch your dough into a roughly rectangular shape, then use a floured rolling pin to roll it smooth and straight. I usually roll mine out to about ¼ inch thickness. Spread the softened butter over the dough, keeping it at least ¼ inch away from the edges. Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over the butter, keeping it away from the edges. Then it’s time to roll.
I roll away from me. Some people like to roll toward them. Do what feels natural to you. Starting on one lengthwise edge, roll as tightly as you can toward the other edge. When you get to the end of the roll, pinch the dough together tightly with your fingertips all along the length of the roll to seal it. Sometimes it helps to moisten the edge of the dough slightly or moisten your fingertips, especially if you’ve put too much flour on your board! Make sure there is flour on the board where the seam is going to land when you turn the roll onto the seam. Push the ends of the dough into the tube you’ve made, and pinch them to seal, again with moistened fingers, if necessary. Now you’re ready to slice.
I always used to cut my cinnamon rolls with my sharpest knife, but I learned about string cutting on The Great British Baking Show, and it really does work better. Cut a length of cotton string or dental floss long enough to wrap around the roll a couple of times. Using a knife or bench scraper, mark your cuts by pressing lightly into the roll about 1 ½ inches apart. Slide the string under the roll to the first mark, bring the two ends up and cross them, and pull on the ends with equal pressure at the same time.
The string cuts evenly all the way around and through without the distorting pressure of the knife, and your cinnamon rolls will be rounder. As you cut each roll, place it in the prepared pan with sides just touching. (You may need an extra pan if you made a lot of dough. I sometimes use a small bread pan for just two or three extra rolls that won’t fit in the big pan.) Don’t overcrowd the pan. The rolls won’t rise or bake well if they don’t have room to grow. I can usually fit 18 at the most in the 13×9 inch cake pan.
Cover your pan of rolls with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place to double again. This should only take about 30 minutes. When rolls have doubled, preheat your oven to 375 F and bake the rolls for about 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a rack to cool.
Mix vanilla glaze, if desired. Drizzle over rolls when they are cooled but still slightly warm, so the glaze soaks in a little bit.
1 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2-3 teaspoons milk
Add the milk one teaspoon at a time to the powdered sugar and vanilla, beating hard with a spoon, until you get a thick, but pourable glaze. Drizzle with the spoon over the rolls until you’ve got the amount of glaze you like. Now, some people I know make double the glaze and really glop it on! That’s okay, if you like them that way. Other people make a cream cheese frosting. I’m something of a purist. A cinnamon roll is all about the sweet roll dough and the cinnamon for me, so I like a light, drizzled glaze best. I want the cinnamon to be the star of the show, and in these rolls, it is.
Note: The last time I made these, I was out of powdered sugar, so I made a honey-caramel syrup with about ½ cup of water and ¾ cup of sugar, boiled together until just starting to thicken and take color, and then I added about ¼ cup of honey and a teaspoon of cinnamon. (The honey keeps the caramel syrup from hardening.) I poured that shiny glaze over the cinnamon rolls, and it kept them really moist during the week it took Dennis to eat them all. Later, I wished I’d used my vanilla sugar instead of plain sugar in the syrup. Next time!