Blessed with parents who work in the aviation industry, I travelled a lot as a child and to very exotic places. While my school friends vacationed in Italy or Croatia or Carynthia (go on, look it up!), we spent our summer and winter holidays in Hawaii, Mauritius or the Bahamas, where we stayed on an island so small that golf carts were the only means of transportation. Every morning, my sister and I would walk to the bakery, a cotton candy coloured shack amidst a row of cotton candy coloured houses, and pick up a bag of freshly baked cinnamon rolls. They were, and still are, the best cinnamon rolls I have ever eaten. Soft and doughy, and sticky with cinnamon and sugar syrup. Oh the stickyness! Glorious! Even the Swedish version is pale by comparison.
Last year I came across a recipe for cinnamon buns, I think it was in the aftermath of The Great British Bake-Off. They sounded sticky, but turned out to be just too much like Danish pastries, very flaky, a bit dry and not exactly cinnamony, but the recipe was a good starting point and so I kept tweaking and researching and finally – success! Sticky, soft, doughy cinnamon buns. They are quite a lot of work and not exactly ‘fuss free’ to make, but well worth the effort. Just don’t eat them in bed, because these buns really are sticky as hell!
For the dough:
250ml whole milk
50g unsalted butter
500g strong white breadflour
30g caster sugar
1 teaspoon salt
a sachet of fast acting dry yeast
1 large egg, beaten
For the bun filling:
150g light soft brown sugar
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
60g unsalted butter, softened, for spreading
For the sticky topping:
165g light soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup diced fresh figs
pinch of salt
To make the dough, melt the butter in the milk over a low heat, and once it is melted, let the mixture cool to lukewarm. In a large bowl mix together the flour, salt and sugar, and yeast (check the instructions on the sachet, some kinds of yeast need to be dissolved in warm water first). Add the milk mixture and the beaten egg, and knead everything together in the bowl until you have a soft dough. To get the gluten going, knead the dough for about 10 (loooong) minutes on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic. Form a giant dough ball and let rise in a bowl covered with a clean tea towel until it has doubled in size, about one hour.
Next, make the topping by combining milk, brown sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to a simmer, take off the heat, stir in the roughly chopped figs and set aside.
Roll out the dough to about 40x50cm and spread with the very soft unsalted butter. Sprinkle over the sugar-cinnamon mix. Starting from the long end, tightly roll the cinnamon sprinkled dough into a roulade, trim the ends and cut into 12 1.5cm thick pieces. Put the rolls in a greased 25x30cm baking tin with the cut side up. Spoon half of the fig topping over the rolls. Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled in size, circa 45 minutes (I told you, not exactly fuss free).
Preheat oven to fan 180°C and bake rolls for about 30 minutes. Cover with tin foil for the last ten minutes. Drizzle the remaining fig topping over the slightly cooled buns. Serve warm with a cup of strong coffee, just like the Swedes do.