I’ve been waiting for the chance to incorporate a familiar recipe into one of these challenges, and this was it.
Sweet buns can include many different single-serving rolls made with an enriched, yeast-leavened dough, and it seems like Britain has one for every region—Bath buns, Chelsea buns, Colston buns (actually from Bristol), Cornish saffron buns, London buns—each one has a signature look, flavor or ingredient.
For this challenge under the Great White Tent, four of the seven remaining bakers (Remember, nobody went home last week!) chose to make Chelsea buns, which look a lot like what we in America call cinnamon rolls, but there is a difference, as this blogger points out: “Cinnamon is optional in a Chelsea bun but not so in a cinnamon roll. And currants, or other dried fruits, are optional in a cinnamon roll but not so in a Chelsea bun.”
Chelsea buns hail from Chelsea, in the southwest part of London, where they were invented in the 18th century by, wait for it…the Chelsea Bun House. Apparently they were so famous for their (ahem) buns that they were patronized by Kings George II and George III and their families. The Bun House was also known for its hot cross buns, which were traditionally eaten on Good Friday, but in 1792, the crowds that gathered outside the Bun House as early as 3:00 on Good Friday morning were so huge that the proprietress (unfortunately only known today as Mrs. Hand), had to make a public announcement that she would not be making hot cross buns the following year, only Chelsea buns.
But I digress.
Because I love cinnamon rolls, and I grew up with my mom’s recipe for cinnamon rolls, I wanted to use her recipe. But I wanted to put my own spin on it. A couple spins really.
I had heard so much about cardamom buns on the Great British Baking Show that I researched adding cardamom to the dough. Turns out it’s a Swedish thing, where the rolls are called kardemummabullar. They are also twisted into cool knot shapes, so I thought, why knot?
Another flavor combo I wanted to incorporate was inspired by my favorite doughnut shop, Cranky Al’s, which features a Maple Bacon Long John that is sinfully delicious! Totally unhealthy for you, it is basically a plain long john slathered with maple frosting and topped by a single slice of bacon, so you get bacon in every bite!
I know this is not a revolutionary combination, by any means, but a maple-bacon cinnamon-cardamom roll sounded like a little bit of heaven to me, so I set out to create it!
I started with the bacon. Not just any bacon. It had to be Spiced Maple Candied Bacon. I borrowed from this recipe on AMindFullMom.com but eliminated most of the spices to concentrate the flavor on cinnamon and cardamom. It’s an easy recipe and avoids the mess of cooking bacon on top of the stove. I may never go back to making bacon in a frying pan!
Then I took my mom’s cinnamon roll recipe and doubled it, because Paul Hollywood wanted 24 rolls that were all the same size, and I wasn’t sure I’d have enough if I made a single batch. I looked around the interwebs to figure out how much cardamom to add, and found this recipe on epicurious.com that is strikingly similar to my mom’s recipe, but with the addition of cardamom, so I went with that.
For the filling, I wanted to incorporate maple syrup, so I found this recipe for Finnish cinnamon-cardamom rolls that uses birch syrup, for which I substituted maple syrup. Through a bit of trial and error, however, I found that the cardamom in the filling was too overpowering, so I eliminated the cardamom and boosted the maple flavoring with a little bit of maple extract. And, of course, added the bacon.
Shaping them was a bit tricky. I tried following the directions here, and then I found this video that made it seem almost Zen-like, but I don’t think mine were long enough, so I basically just twisted the dough and then wrapped one end around the other to form a semi-knot.
I went back and forth on topping them. While I like a bit of icing on my cinnamon rolls, I don’t appreciate the ones where the frosting is so thick it competes with the bread and the filling. I also wanted to add a little more maple flavor to my rolls, and I thought a maple buttercream would do nicely, so you’ll see in the photos that I did a light drizzle of icing. But I had some problems with the buttercream splitting, I think because the maple syrup was too much liquid for the amount of butter. So in hindsight, I think I would prefer a maple glaze like the one in this recipe instead.
There’s a whole subplot to this story about how this simple bake turned into a week-long fiasco involving (a) an unexpected trip to the emergency room, (b) a near-panic attack when I thought my yeast had gone bad so I started over but then it turned out the first batch was fine so I ended up with triple the amount of dough the original recipe called for, and (c) a virus that didn’t allow me to even think about cinnamon rolls let alone bake them so I was able to confirm the recipe’s assertion that, yes, you really can leave the dough to prove in the refrigerator for up to three days!
But that’s all behind me now, and I can honestly say that this was one of the most successful bakes I’ve made so far. Because I ended up with a triple batch, I was able to share them with several friends and neighbors, and one friend, who’s sampled many of my bakes, called it “one of my favorites this season!” Shout out to Lori—Thanks!
Maple-Bacon Cinnamon Knots
For the Bacon:
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a jelly roll pan or large roasting pan with foil. Lay wire rack inside pan on top of foil. Lay out bacon slices on rack. It’s okay if they overlap a little, but not too much.
- Mix syrup and spices together. Brush half of mixture onto bacon slices. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and use tongs to turn each piece over. Brush with remaining syrup mixture. Return to oven for 10-15 more minutes or until bacon is dark and crispy. Let cool on rack, then dice into ¼- to ½-inch pieces.
For the Dough:
- Heat milk and cardamom in a saucepan over low heat until just warm (105-115°F.). Pour into a large mixer bowl. Whisk in yeast and let sit until foamy, about 10–15 minutes.
- Add eggs, flour, sugar and salt to yeast mixture and mix with dough hook attachment on low speed until well combined. Increase speed to medium and continue to mix until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Gradually add butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing to incorporate slightly before adding more. When all the butter is incorporated, transfer dough to a smooth surface lightly dusted with flour. Knead for 10-15 minutes, sprinkling more flour onto surface if needed to keep dough from sticking.
- Transfer dough to a large greased bowl, cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let sit at room temperature until doubled in size, 1–1½ hours. Punch dough down, cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.
For the Filling:
- Mix all ingredients together to form a paste.
Directions for forming and baking the rolls:
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Return half the dough to the bowl in the refrigerator while working with the first half. (If you halved the recipe, however, there’s no need to do this.)
- Roll out the first half of the dough to a ¼-inch thick rectangle, about 12×16 inches. Spread half the filling over two-thirds of the rectangle, then sprinkle the same portion with half of the diced bacon. Fold the plain third in, then fold the opposite third over that (like folding an envelope). Roll to a rectangle about 12×8 inches and ½-inch thick. Slice lengthwise into strips about 1 inch wide. (For smaller rolls, cut about ¾-inch wide strips.)
- Working one at a time, lay each strip on a clean work surface. Holding one end between thumb and forefinger, twist it with the other hand as illustrated in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v3DkWtbcWDI&feature=youtu.be. Then wrap the strip around two or three fingers twice and tuck in the end. Don’t worry if they don’t look like the photos; just make sure they’re twisted tightly so they will rise while baking.
- Place the twists on parchment paper–lined baking sheets, spacing them evenly apart. (I was able to get about 6 rolls on a baking sheet.) Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until doubled in size, 45–60 minutes.
- Repeat for the other half of the dough. (It might be best to wait until the first half is in the oven so the second batch can rise while the first half bakes.)
- Place racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat to 325°F. Bake rolls for 25-30 minutes, rotating pans from top to bottom halfway through, until deeply golden brown. Remove rolls to racks to cool. Top with icing or glaze, as desired, or just sprinkle with demerara or turbinado sugar.