A Gift for a Friend: Vanilla Latte Cinnamon Rolls

Perhaps the thing that I love most about food is that every recipe has a story all its own.  Every dish invokes a feeling of emotion brought on by an ingredient, an aroma, or the flavor.  Food brings comfort.

When I’m developing a new recipe, something has often driven me to combine specific flavors.  Inspiration can come in many forms, be it a memory, a trip to the Farmer’s Market, or as in this case, a Friend.

When I began blogging just under two years ago, I had no idea how many truly wonderful people that I would meet.  I honestly thought that only my husband and immediate family would read this little blog, so when the rest of y’all showed up, I was thrilled–to say the least.  Even more surprising are the friendships that have begun over reading about each others lives.  Whether you are a Blogger or not, thanks for hanging out with me.  I love ya like my own!

Wanna know who else I love?  Jeanne.  Girlfriend & I get along so well that she’s like my Sister from another Mister.  (And Mrs., for that matter.)  If you haven’t stopped by Jeanne’s place yet, you really should.  To know her is to love her.  Her kind heart and Laugh at Life attitude is truly infectious.  Jeanne’s the kind of gal that will surprise you with an apron in the mail because she saw some fabric that reminded her of you.  She also sends hilarious cards or goodies just to let you know that she was thinking of you–even though you are in near daily contact with each other.  Jeanne’s that kind of friend.

Being that I live in the (now) Great White North, and Jeanne lives in the Very Tropical South, we often talk about how cool it will be on the day that we are able to hang out together on the front porch.

These Vanilla Latte Cinnamon Rolls were inspired by the thought of that day.  So these are for you, Jeanne–my sweet friend and lover of Vanilla Lattes.  One day we will be sitting on the porch stuffing ourselves with cinnamon rolls, sipping steamy mugs of chai, and watching the world go by.

As for the rest of you–no worries!  Cinnamon rolls are on the house! I made enough to share. :)

By the way, today happens to be Jeanne’s birthday, so if you’ve got a minute and want to pop over to her blog to wish her a Happy Birthday…why that would be Mighty Awesome of you!

Now let’s make Vanilla Latte Cinnamon Rolls!  This recipe is made over 2 days, and three steps: dough, filling, and icing.  None of the steps are overly complicated, so don’t let the two-day-think freak you out!  The extra time is just for the dough to chill out in the refrigerator.  Actual hands-on time the first day is less than 30 minutes.  Cool?  Good.

Let’s start with the sweet dough:

Pour the milk and half & half into a Dutch oven…or, a wide bottomed pot of some sort.

Add the sugar…

then pour in a little canola oil, and set it over medium heat.

Whisk to emulsify the oil into the milk mixture.

Slice a whole vanilla bean lengthwise, and scrape the caviar from the inside of the bean.

Wrap the vanilla bean caviar in plastic wrap so that it doesn’t dry out.  This will serve as the flavor base for the icing.

Float the (now) empty vanilla beans in the pot–this will infuse a layer of vanilla flavor into the dough.

Continue to heat, whisking occasionally until the mixture just comes to the beginnings of a boil.  You will see tiny bubbles and a little foam form around the inside edges of the pot.  The (just barely) boiling breaks down the enzymes in the milk that will otherwise inhibit the yeast from doing it’s thing and getting the dough to rise.  Flat cinnamon rolls are a real bummer, man!

Whatever you do, do not allow the milk mixture to come to a vigorous boil, or the half & half may start to separate.  Separated half & half is also a big bummer.

So after the milk mixture has come to a (not vigorous) boil, turn off the heat, and fish out the vanilla bean hulls.  I’d love to say that you can use the bean hulls for another application, but after swimming around in milk products, I’m afraid that you’ll have to pitch ’em.

Allow the milk mixture to cool to lukewarm, that is to say–still a bit warm to the touch, but definitely not hot.  Think of the temperature that you might heat the contents of a baby’s bottle for a feeding.

Not that I have much experience with heating baby bottles because my boys were very Anti-Bottle, but that is (NOT) a story for another time. 😉  Moving on…

And I totally apologize for the Nursing Babies reference in the middle of a food post.  I don’t know what came over me.

Once the milk mixture has cooled to lukewarm, set a large mesh strainer over the pot and add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to the strainer.  Sift the dry ingredients through the strainer and over the milk.

Sprinkle the yeast over the whole she-bang.  I almost always use Rapid Rise yeast or Instant yeast because they are more feisty and get to work fast.  Active Dry yeast will also work.

Stir the dough together with a wooden spoon until everything is well combined.  The dough will be sticky but not super wet.  Drape a clean towel over the pot.  Allow to rise in a warm, draft-free area until the dough is doubled in bulk–between 1 to 2 hours, depending on how frisky your yeast is feeling that day.

Truth: Once the dough has completed the initial rise, it can be used at anytime.

More truth: The dough is much easier to handle and well behaved if you pop a lid on the pot, and refrigerate the risen dough overnight.  The dough will rise a little more, and the dough will be less sticky because the flour will have absorbed more of the wet stuff.  I highly recommend overnight refrigeration.

Helpful Tip: Take the butter and cream cheese required for the filling and icing out of the ‘fridge that night so that it’s ready to go in the morning.

Filling = unsalted butter, ground cinnamon, salt, and brown sugar.

In the morning, take the dough out of the refrigerator, and let it sit in the pot at room temperature while you whip up the filling and icing.

Blend the filling ingredients well with a hand mixer.

Set the filling aside while you tackle the icing.

The Filling = powdered sugar, cream cheese, brewed coffee, half & half, melted butter, and the caviar from one vanilla bean.

Be sure the both the melted butter and brewed coffee have cooled to room temperature before making the icing.

Place the softened cream cheese in a bowl with the powdered sugar, and then pour the half & half, melted butter and coffee over top.

Add the vanilla bean caviar and half & half to the bowl.  The vanilla bean caviar will give the icing a robust vanilla flavor that can’t be replicated with vanilla extract. Besides, you end up with all those cool vanilla bean specks in the icing, so you know exactly what you are getting.

Blend the icing with a hand mixer until it is smooth and creamy.  The icing is perfectly pourable, which is exactly how we like it.  I double-dog-dare you to try not to eat a spoonful of the icing.  It’s inevitable.  Make peace with that fact.

Finally!  We are ready to assemble the cinnamon rolls!  Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Generously grease four 9-inch pie plates with cold, unsalted butter.  I end up using a total of about 1/2 tablespoon.

Clean and dry your work surface (read: counter.)  I spray mine with equal parts hydrogen peroxide and water, mixed with a few drops of essential oil.  Spray the counter.  Wipe clean.  Dry with another cloth.  Done.

Generously dust the counter with flour so that the dough doesn’t stick.

Turn the dough onto the prepared work surface, dusting the top with flour.  Roll the dough into a 24″ x 8″ rectangle-Ish.  Don’t go getting out your rulers and straight-edges on me!  Just eye-ball it, and it’ll be just fine.

Use and offset spatula to spread the filling evenly over the dough.

Keep the filling to within 1/2″ of the edges of the dough so that it stays nicely tucked inside later on.

Now if your counter is anything like mine, the pesky dough will stick a little bit regardless of how much flour I through down ahead of time.  If this happens to you, gently loosen the edges with a bench scraper or thin spatula.  Keep the scraper (or spatula) handy in case the middle sticks, too.

Tightly roll the dough over the filling, beginning on the longest side opposite you, and rolling toward yourself.

Take your time to make sure that the roll is nice and tight.  We don’t want any loosey-goosey cinnamon rolls around here!  Pinch the edges closed to seal in the buttery filling.

Slice the roll into 1″ pieces, and set them in the prepared pie plates. I usually get 24 pieces, or 6 cinnamon rolls per plate.  Except for when I get 22 pieces, and end up with 2 plates with 6 cinnamon rolls and 2 plates with 5 cinnamon rolls.

I try not to let that bother me.  😉

Let the cinnamon rolls rest in the pie plates for 10 minutes before baking.

Bake at 350° F for 16 to 18 minutes or until they are lightly golden brown.  Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.

Pour the icing over the warm cinnamon rolls.

Use an offset spreader to ensure maximum icing coverage over the cinnamon rolls.

Spreading icing is an excellent job for the Chief Kitchen Helper.

The benefit of pouring icing over warm cinnamon rolls is that it gives it the opportunity to nestle in the grooves.

Nestled icing is a very good thing.

Happy Birthday, Jeanne!  I hope you all enjoy the Vanilla Latte Cinnamon Rolls.

By the way, these cinnamon rolls freeze beautifully!  I tell you how to do it in the printable recipe:

Vanilla Latte Cinnamon Rolls


Makes 22-24 cinnamon rolls

For the Dough:

1 ½ C. 2% milk

½ C. half and half

½ C. granulated sugar

½ C. canola oil

Empty hull from one vanilla bean (see icing)

4 ½ C. all-purpose flour

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. baking soda

2 ¼ tsp. active dry yeast

For the Filling:

1 C. unsalted butter, softened

1 ½ Tbs. ground cinnamon

¾ C. light brown sugar, packed

1/8 tsp. salt

For the Icing:

2 ½ C. (1 pound, weight) powdered sugar

3 Tbs. half and half

3 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

3 Tbs. brewed coffee, cooled

4 oz. cream cheese, softened

Caviar from one vanilla bean (see dough)

For the Dough:

  1. Before applying heat—pour the milk, half and half, canola oil, and sugar into a Dutch oven, whisking to combine.
  2. Slice a vanilla bean open lengthwise. Scrape the interior “caviar” from the vanilla bean and place it in an airtight container for the icing. Take the now empty vanilla bean hull and float it in the milk mixture.
  3. Heat the milk mixture over medium heat until it begins to simmer and bubble around the edges, whisking occasionally. (Do not allow the mixture to come to a rapid boil.)
  4. Turn off the heat, remove the vanilla bean hull, and allow to cool to lukewarm (warm, but not hot to the touch.)
  5. Once mixture has cooled to lukewarm, sift the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda over top. Sprinkle the yeast over everything, and stir with a wooden spoon until blended. Dough will be very sticky.
  6. Cover the Dutch oven with a clean towel, and allow mixture to rise until it doubles in bulk–about 2 hours. After the initial rise, place a lid on the pot, and refrigerate overnight. The dough is quite sticky, and will be easier to work with after being refrigerated. Refrigeration also slows the yeast, still allowing the dough to rise.  At this point, I usually take the butter for the filling, and the cream cheese for the icing out of the ‘fridge and set it on the counter so that it is ready to use in the morning. (You do what makes you comfortable.)
  7. The next morning, take the dough out of the refrigerator, and allow it to stand at room temperature while you prepare the filling and icing.

For the Filling:

  1. In a small bowl, combine the softened butter, ground cinnamon, and packed brown sugar with an electric mixer until thoroughly blended; set aside.

For the Icing:

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar, softened cream cheese, half and half, melted butter, and brewed coffee until combined. Add the reserved caviar from the vanilla bean, and continue mixing until the bean flecks are distributed throughout. At this point, the icing is soft, gooey, and pourable—perfect
  2. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set it aside.

To Assemble the Cinnamon Rolls:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375º F.
  2. Generously grease four 9-inch (glass or aluminum) pie plates with butter; set aside. (I normally use about a tablespoon of cold butter to grease all of the pie plates.I, however, do not recommend using dark and/or nonstick pans as they cook the outside of the rolls too quickly, darkening/crisping the outsides before the centers are done.)
  3. Turn the dough out onto a clean, well floured work surface.  Have a bench scraper handy.
  4. Lightly flour the top of the dough, and roll it evenly into a 24” x 8” rectangle. Dough will be about ¼ inch thick.  If at any time the dough sticks to the rolling pin, sprinkle the dough with a little more flour.
  5. Use an offset spatula to spread the filling over the dough to within 1/2 inch of the edges.
  6. Beginning with the long side farthest from you, tightly roll the dough over the filling towards yourself. Take your time to roll it tight—we don’t want any loosey-goosey cinnamon rolls!  If at any point the dough is sticking to the work surface, gently run a thin bench scraper under it to loosen without tearing the dough.
  7. Once the dough has been rolled, pinch the edges and seams together to seal the buttery goodness of the filling inside.
  8. Use a sharp knife to cut the roll into 1 inch pieces. Place the pieces (cut side up) into the prepared pie plates, about an inch or so apart. I usually place 6 rolls in each pie plate—one in the middle, and five around the perimeter.
  9. Once all the rolls are cut and nestled in their pie plates, allow them to rest for about 10 minutes. Now is an excellent time to preheat the oven, if you haven’t already.
  10. Bake the cinnamon rolls for 16-18 minutes, or until they are lightly golden brown around the edges, and the centers are set, but not browned.
  11. Remove cinnamon rolls from the oven to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  12. After 10 minutes, pour the icing over the cinnamon rolls—you will have more than enough icing to cover 24 rolls. Pouring the icing while the rolls are still warm will allow it to seep into the creases of the rolls. This is a very good thing. Use an offset spatula to ensure that the icing is covering every exposed inch of the cinnamon rolls.
  13. Allow rolls to cool for another 10 minutes, if you desire to serve them warm; or, you can allow rolls to cool completely before eating, depending on your preference.
  14. Store leftover cinnamon rolls tightly wrapped at room temperature for up to 2 days.

Worth Noting:  Once baked, iced, and cooled, these cinnamon rolls freeze beautifully! Just tightly double-wrap the pie plates with plastic wrap, and then wrap them again with aluminum foil.  Freeze for up to 2 months.  To serve, allow rolls to thaw on the counter overnight, remove the plastic wrap from the pie plate, replace the foil, and reheat at 325 degrees for about 10 minutes to warm.

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  1. Amy says

    Oh.my.word. Please make these for me someday. Pretty please. With sugar and a cherry on top!! I will be your friend forever and ever and ever. Well, ok – that’s already completely true. But, I will shout your praises from the rooftops! Also totally already true – as I direct friends to your blog absolutely all the time. How about a great big hug when I see you in a few days? Ok, you’ll be getting that any way, too. Drat!! I have nothing to offer but my unending BFFness – but I would still be ever so grateful if you did, someday, share a vanilla latte cinnamon roll with me. <3

    • says

      Is that a hint?

      You are so sweet and supportive, Amy. For you my friend, I may just have to whip up another batch. Goodness knows my boys would suffer through an sixth consecutive weekend of cinnamon rolls. You’d have first crack at them, though. 😉

      • Amy says

        Gosh, if that was (only) a hint in your book, I need to brush up on my begging skills! :) What time should I be there for breakfast?

        No, not necessary of course – I couldn’t possibly put your boys through such torture on my behalf. Someday this summer though, maybe I could come over, sit at your kitchen table, and watch you make them – because I simply cannot imagine the commitment and intestinal fortitude required to make a two-day recipe. I need to learn from the Master! (And maybe you’d let me lick the bowls??)

  2. says

    Since you make it look so beautiful and easy, I am going to need you to just send a batch my way! :) I need those, I promise, they look sooooo good.

  3. says

    Holy smokes! That’s the nicest thing ever! And they look SO fabulous. Made my mouth water almost as much as my eyes. Gotta say – I teared up a little reading this. The time you put into developing the recipe, the thought you put into designing them just for me, the hours it took to make them (and practice making them), the drudgery of your boys having to taste-test them over and over again – well, words just can’t express how much it means to me. I love you to pieces. I think I’m going to need to make a batch of these for the ladies of Hoegarden. They start arriving next Thursday, so I’ve got one week to whip these bad boys up. (Although I’m tempted to make a big batch and eat all of them myself, too.)

    Thank you so much, Kirsten. Love the cinnamon rolls, but I love you even more.

    BBF’s Forever,

    • says

      You are so very welcome, Sister! And know you know the reason behind all the semi-cryptic cinnamon roll questions. 😉 You’re the best! I hope that you do make these for Hoegarden weekend for all of your ladies. I can’t wait to hear all about that weekend.

  4. says

    Happy Birthday to Jeanne (I tried to visit her site but both your links didn’t work). She is a lucky lady to have you create these beautiful looking cinnamon buns just for her. I love fresh vanilla beans and bake with them all the time. I can imagine how delicious these buns and frosting are.

  5. says

    Kirsten! Your ode to Jeanne (and the celebratory recipe) were beyond sweet. Describing her as a sister from another mister (and mrs.) was beyond hysterical. But in all seriousness, the words that you used to describe your personal relationship with her were so special to read.

    Also, I get such a smile when I think of The Sons and Your Apron! It’s going to be a lifelong battle, sister.

    • says

      Indeed it is! That boy (#1) had it on this morning before I woke up at the crack of dawn! I had to give him a little hip check for good measure, just so he knows who’s boss apron he’s filching on a regular basis. Besides, one day he’ll be bigger than I am & the hip check might actually hurt. 😉

  6. says

    When I started blogging I never thought that I would find so many wonderful people with whom I would share my sad and happy moments! I can totally relate to you and your blog friend. The rolls are perfect as always Kirsten and it is the best gift you could make to your friend!

  7. says

    woohoo! Love both cinnamon rolls AND lattes–this will have to be great…

    The nursing baby reference had me laughing OUT LOUD…

    And once again, I learned a lot–many little tidbits tucked in there…
    Thank you!
    aloha to you–

    • says

      Ha! Glad you can appreciate my digression. Well, if I ever make it to your little slice of paradise, I promise to come with the recipe in hand so that we can make cinnamon rolls. Although, I fear that Dr. Dave may never let me come again if corrupt your house with my Butter & Sugar Ways. 😉


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