Come cold weather, a luxe set of flannel pajamas feels like the best things about childhood and adulthood ran smack into each other. These homemade cinnamon rolls with whiskey cream feel a lot like that, too. Their swirl of warm cinnamon is fragrant with holiday tradition and Santa Claus and magic, while the bourbon in the whiskey cream blasts you right past taxes to the pleasures and privileges of being an adult.
And this season, when we are nearest to our child selves, is the perfect time to make them. Young families, like mine, try our hand at various experiences, wondering what will stick and become ours in the way that traditions cement families together. These cinnamon rolls, with their quick rise and simple, pantry-staple ingredients, make a good candidate for a ritual worth repeating every Christmas morning—or even just every wintry weekend. After the dough has puffed, it’s rolled out, painted with butter, and showered with cinnamon sugar before baking—a particularly Zen-like activity that’s made even better with Miles Davis in the background.
Maybe baking cinnamon rolls will become your defining family tradition, or maybe it’ll be just another bright moment on a long garland of happy winter experiences. Where exactly it will take you remains a mystery until next year, but for now, it’s a chance to taste all of your Christmas wishes, past and present, come true.
CINNAMON ROLLS WITH WHISKEY CREAM CHEESE
Yield: 12 cinnamon rolls
For the dough:
1 c. whole milk
4 Tbs. butter
4 Tbs. sugar
3 tsp. active dry yeast
3 c. all-purpose flour
1⁄2 tsp. salt
2 egg yolks
For the filling:
12 Tbs. butter
1 c. brown sugar
3 tsp. ground cinnamon
1⁄2 tsp. nutmeg Pinch of salt
For the frosting:
1⁄2 c. cream cheese, at room temperature
2 Tbs. butter, at room temperature
2 1⁄2 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. whiskey
1) Combine milk, butter, and sugar in a small saucepan. Stir until sugar has dissolved and butter is melted through. Remove from heat and let cool until warm, not hot.
2) Place sweet milk and butter mixture in a large bowl and sprinkle yeast over liquid. Stir and allow mixture to sit for 5 minutes to activate and become foamy. Add 3 cups of flour, salt, and the egg yolk to the milk and yeast mixture. Stir until incorporated; add flour a tablespoon at a time if the dough feels too wet. Form the dough into a ball and knead briefly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes.
3) Roll the dough out into a 9×12-inch rectangle on a floured surface. Spread with about 8 tablespoons of melted butter. In a small bowl, stir together cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown sugar. Sprinkle generously over melted butter. Roll into a tight coil and slice into 12 pieces.
4) Use the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter to lightly grease a 9×13–inch baking pan. Place rolls in pan, leaving a little room between them. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 ̊F, remove plastic wrap and bake the cinnamon rolls until puffed and golden brown.
5) Meanwhile, whisk together butter and sugar until fluffy. Fold in the cream cheese and whiskey until smooth; store in refrigerator until ready to use. Spread over warm rolls.
*Adapted from a recipe by Joy Wilson