Saturday, November 24, 2007

Cinnamon Bun Bake Off: The Holiday Baking Warm-Up Lap

Note: I'm posting this from the Detroit Airport Northwest Airline World Club near Gate 74 waiting from my flight back to LGA (LaGuardia) using a very nice gentleman from Ohio's computer (I love the holidays, everyone is so nice).

Last Sunday, right before the Best Food Holiday aka Thanksgiving a few of us gals, Lisa, Helen, Sara, Laura Rebecca, Marce, Kelly, Chris, and I decided to get together for a little pre-holiday baking. You know, just to get our game on before the big bakeathon starts in December. This little "tea party" was the brain child of Lisa, who after we did the Peter Reinhart cinnamon rolls from "The Baker's Apprentice" for the September Daring Baker Challenge wondered out loud to us what the difference was between these rolls and those ubiquitous mall and airport Cinnabon™ rolls were. Wouldn'tcha know it but darling Lisa went out and found us a knock-off Cinnabon™ recipe and asked us if we wanted to bake them together using an IM conference (for the woes of seven of us trying to get THAT to work, go read Lisa ever and always hilarious post here).

We decided to start at 10AM East Coast time but since Marce and I both had brunch plans, we got up earlier and got the dough rising. We were joined by Helen, Lisa and Sara. Pretty soon everyone was on and all of us were chatting back and forth about dough and baking and you know, normal tea party chat. The only exception was Kelly who was experiencing technical difficulties (you read why right?? No, well go read about that when you are done here. It is a hoot and besides you get an inside tip on someone who will be staring in her own food programme very soon or should be).

Ever the engineer, I decided to truly do a side by side comparison as well as test how close the knock-off recipe really was to the Cinnabon™ rolls. I had gone to the local mall the night before to pick up a four pack of Cinnabon™ rolls as well as pulled the four leftover Reinhart rolls out of the freezer and popped then in the fridge to defrost. Also, since the knock off recipe called for margarine instead of butter (Ewwww...) I had to buy a box of margarine (Nothing that costs .99 for four sticks can be good). I decided to make two half batches of the knock off recipe. One with butter because I wanted to eat a roll that I knew would be good and one with the margarine because I suspect that mouth feel of the Cinnabon™ roll comes from trans fats found in margarine, oleo, or a Crisco™ wannabe. When I explained on IM why I was going to all the trouble, Sara chimed in "You really ARE a scientist aren't you??!!" (Nope, just play one on TV, ha-ha)

The doughs came together pretty well. My kitchen was really cold but that was OK because I was going to have to retard the doughs during their rise anyways. After I got the doughs made, I popped then in a fridge to rise slow while I went to New Haven to have brunch with some friends. I really hated to leave the party as I'm sure it was a riot.

By the time I got back, I had puffy doughs that needed about 20 minutes of rise time at room temperature before I could form the rolls. This gave me a chance to bake the thawed Reinhart rolls and make the frosting. I also got caught up on the days baking from Kelly, who was doing her best Food Network Host impression online via a live video feed of her kitchen (Um...Kelly can host a show let me tell you. Much better than a few of the bubbleheads we are forced to watch on Food Network) and Helen, who was on the video feed's chat. I found out that the rolls came out really well for everyone and that the consensus was that the knock-offs were gooier and more cinnamony than the Reinhart rolls and the frosting knocked it out of the park.

So, how did my head to head taste off come out? Here are my tasting notes:

Reinhart Rolls:

dough rose nicely, great flake in finished roll, good balance of flavor, lemon zing really nice, frosting OK but not my favourite

Mall Cinnabon™ Rolls:

very doughy, almost uncooked in middle, roll chewy and heavy, cinnamon to the max flavour, frosting one step above bakery cake frosting (i.e. I could eat a whole bowl of it).

Knock-Off Rolls with Margarine:

Dough rose nicely but slow, good flake but not as chewy as Cinnabon™, cinnamon flavour close but not quite as cinnamony as Cinnabon™, Frosting (with margarine as recipe called for) was almost exact replica of the Cinnabon™ frosting with same texture and same flavor.

Knock-Off Rolls with Butter:

Dough rose same as margarine dough, flake was very close to Reinhart dough with same texture and consistency, cinnamon flavour was same as knock off (I'll use more cinnamon next time I make them), and the frosting with butter was better than the Cinnabon frosting because it had the same flavor but didn't leave that weird film on the roof of my mouth (not that I don't like that in bakery frosting....)

So, which of these will I make again? Probably none of them. I have my own recipe I've spent a few years perfecting that I think combines the best of all these rolls. I am however going to use this frosting recipe for my rolls and every once in a while add some lemon to my rolls because that little bit of citrus really does heighten the cinnamon flavour.

Thanks Lisa and gals for asking me to bake with you. I can't wait to do it again.... OH WAIT!!! Hum, isn't it about that time again?